By Esther Williams
This week I am in Rwanda, finding out how soaring global food prices and climate change are having an impact on rural communities ahead of World Food Day on October 16.
No matter how many times I travel to Africa, the beauty of the dramatic mountains and lush green valleys never cease to amaze me. Rwanda is stunning. It is known as the land of a thousand hills, and as we do the two hour drive to the projects we are visiting it’s easy to see why.
What is more difficult to understand is how a country with such green fertile land can also still have some big challenges when it comes to feeding its people.
Sixty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Eighty percent are engaged in subsistence farming, growing food for just their families to eat. So poverty in Rwanda is closely correlated with farm productivity.
The most serious risk of hunger exists among farmers who fail to diversify from staple crops, such as kidney beans and sweet potatoes. The problem is worse when harvests fail due to unpredictable weather conditions. This is something that aid agency Tearfund is working with communities to address, through its local partner, Moucecore.
I met an amazingly inspirational man called Jean, who was a genocide survivor and lost everything he had. Today, after being taught organic farming techniques and learning the importance of farming different types of weather-resistant crops, he is able to feed his family. He also sells the produce that he grows on his farm.
“Three years ago my life was not good, but now business people come to my home to buy my beans,” he tells us in a proud but gracious way.
I heard many stories like his as we walked through the villages and talked to people. It was great to hear positive stories about Rwanda’s food situation improving. The country has a long way to go. As I have said, there are big challenges ahead. Later this week we will meet communities that haven’t had access to the same support as Jean.
That said, after the pain of genocide, this country has made remarkable progress. It is tipped to be the first African country to achieve Millennium Development Goal One, which is to eradicate extreme poverty. With men and women as focused and determined as Jean, I can’t see why this wouldn’t be achieved.