Healing with livestock in Rwanda

Danielle (center) with

Danielle (center) with Dennis Karamuzi (left) and Heifer beneficiary,Holindintwali Cyprien (right). (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

This is the first in a four-part series on our visits to farmers working with Heifer International in Gicumbi District, Rwanda.

Recovery is a word you hear a lot in Rwanda. From public service announcements on television to billboards—it’s the motto for a place that just 15 years ago was literally torn apart by genocide. More than 250,000 were murdered in 1994 as ethnic strife turned neighbor against neighbor in one of the bloodiest civil wars in African history.

Recovery—and healing—are also things I heard a lot about during my visit with Heifer International Rwanda. “Heifer is helping a recovery process,” explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it’s close to the border with Uganda. Residents who weren’t killed fled to Kigali for safety.

In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer International works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how raise them.

Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group—because they were giving farmers “very expensive cows,” says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn’t understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s. And Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows—including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture—which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

Heifer introduced a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide. And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.”

And these animals don’t only provide milk—which can be an important source of protein for the hungry—and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program.

Stay tuned for blogs about our visits with three farmers who received cows from Heifer International.

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