6 November 2012

Rwanda: Nyamagabe Embarks On a Journey of Economic Transformation

Nyamagabe — For ages there was a traditionally accepted myth that defined the then Gikongoro prefecture now Nyamagabe district.

The area had the tag of the country's poorest region. Its population relied solely on subsistence agriculture.

Many migrated to other parts of the country taking on casual work in the quest to Improve their lives.

And, for some of those who stayed, they continued to endure the hardships.

"Gikongoro was synonymous with hunger, poverty and so many other negative things", Eliphas Sibomana, 48, a local resident, says. "Just hearing that name [Gikongoro], one would almost immediately think of the worst living conditions possible".

"Many of us lived in poverty and we never imagined that the situation would improve"

But, as days went by, things started changing and a ray of hope appeared.

Today, official figures indicate that poverty has dropped by 2% between 2006 and 2011.

But still, the total number of those below the poverty line is still high. Statistics indicate that 73.4 per cent of the district's total population are below the poverty line, as revealed in this year's Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey released by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

"The target is to decrease the number and bring it to 30 per cent by 2015," the mayor of Nyamagabe, Philbert Mugisha, says.

"It is a hard task. We are aware of that. But various strategies are being used to reach to that end".

The district, for instance, leads in certain sectors like education where 95 per cent of all young kids attend and finish primary school. Access to clean water is said to be about 80 per cent of the population while the health insurance coverage stands at 98 per cent by last year.

But, much of the district's success is observed in the agricultural sector-with a significant increase in productivity.

According to local officials, the majority of local families depend on farming for survival and revolutionising agriculture has become critical in transforming people's lives.

But, that was as well a difficult task in the 'arid' lands and where the population had lost hope of getting higher agriculture yields.

Programmes like Land consolidation, crop intensification programme, terracing and the extensive use of fertilisers all have played a big role in increasing output.

By press time, there were no official figures of how the productivity has grown but officials and local residents insist there is a significant improvement in the productivity.

"Residents now have enough food for consumption and there is a surplus for market," the mayor reveals, as he notes that the growing of selected crops including Irish potatoes, tea, coffee and wheat, among others, has boosted productivity.

As an example of how agricultural production is moving up, mayor Mugisha says this year the district targets 20 tons of potatoes up from 15 last year.

"That was something impossible in the past. It is a big target which was somehow impossible some years back," he says.

And, residents themselves attest to the change.

"Since I started using fertilisers and planting selected crops, my production has almost doubled," reveals Claudette Mujawamariya, a resident of Kigeme sector.

"From the same plot where I used to get 5 kilograms of beans, I am today getting at least ten," she adds.

"We are now living a relatively improved life compared to the previous years".

In order to diversify sources of incomes, and shift from an economy which relies entirely on agriculture, the district leadership is trying to create many jobs for the youth.

"At least, 4200 individuals are expected to get employed through the Vision 2020 Umurenge programme (VUP) only," Mugisha says.

VUP is an integrated local development initiative initiated in 2009 to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth and social protection.

The social protection programme currently covers nine sectors out of the 17 that make up Nyamagabe district.

According to the mayor, many individuals will be employed through the public works component of the programme.

It is estimated that over Rwf600m will be injected in various developmental activities in the district, mainly the construction and maintenance of public infrastructures-activities which will create many jobs for locals, according to officials.

And, connecting many households to the national electricity grid is seen as another critical area which can improve people's livelihoods in the district.

According to the mayor, access to electricity is one of the key priorities in the district 'because energy is one of the key determinants of economic growth".

"We want to move from the current 3.5 per cent [who have access to electricity] to at least 10 per cent of access among our population by the ends of this fiscal year," Mugisha says, emphasising that electricity gives the opportunity for the creation of many jobs and the diversification of people's occupations.

Mindset change

During the 'Gikongoro era', little did the population know about the ability to take up the matter into their hands and push them out of the bad conditions due to poverty.

"We were convinced that we could not get rid of poverty", Eliphas Sibomana, a native of this area, regrets.

"That belief was due to ignorance", he adds.

According to the old man, mentality played a key role in sinking local people into poverty and preventing them to look up for solutions to their situation.

He affirms that people 'were locked up in beliefs that they were somehow condemned to poverty".

"But now that has changed and we are actively involved in the quest for better living conditions", he notes.

"Earlier, I hardly found enough food to feed my family but now from the same plot of land I have a surplus for market", Sibomana adds.

"From my agricultural activities, I have now managed to acquire a cow and many other small livestock animals including goats and chickens".

The district mayor, Philbert Mugisha, also agrees mindset change played an important role in the socio-economic transformation of people's lives across the district.

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