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What We’re Reading: Roger Thurow Encourages Rwandan Farmers to “Keep Up the Momentum”

By Emily Riemer

This week, Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow on Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, posted a blog reporting on an unusual situation for farmers in Kirehe, Rwanda — an agricultural surplus. Thurow examines the situation, interviewing Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda’s minister of agriculture, and discusses the positive impact of USAID’s Feed the Future initiative as well as the need for continued momentum and perseverance by farmers in Rwanda in the face of a recent agricultural surplus. (Thurow’s piece, “Keeping up the Momentum,” is part of a weekly series called Outrage and Inspire that he writes for Global Food for Thought, the blog for the Global Agricultural Development Initiative.)

Since 2007, when Rwanda’s President Kagame refocused his efforts on permanently eliminating hunger in his country, spending on agriculture development has increased to about 7% of its budget from less than 3%, according to Minister Kalibata. And while two-thirds of the country’s districts were below daily food requirements then, today, there are none.

While this effort led to a much-needed increase in production, it also brought on new problems. Prices were falling and there was the potential for food spoilage. Farmers’ enthusiasm and motivation were waning. They needed markets for their produce right away. Says Minister Kalibata, “‘We have the food, but we have no post-harvest network. When you talk about gaining food security without putting these other things into place, it’s wishful thinking.’”

In the effort to keep up momentum and enthusiasm among farmers, Kalibata says she welcomes the help of the Feed the Future initiative, the Obama administration’s effort to end hunger through agriculture development. Feed the Future invests in post-harvest infrastructure — post-harvest losses in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa can run as high as 30% to 50% of production.

Opportunity is also responding to these needs of farmers in Rwanda and all over sub-Saharan Africa. Our agriculture finance program strives to connect smallholder farmers with markets for their harvests. Through a grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation, Opportunity will develop strategic partnerships with extension service providers to equip farmers with training and market linkages that can help to improve crop productivity and household income. It is also providing 90,000 smallholder farmers in Africa with access to financial services, including savings products and weather index crop insurance to protect their assets.

As Roger Thurow highlights in his post, when it comes to solving global hunger, it is not only production that’s needed, but an infrastructure that allows for a way to ensure financial security through that produce as well. After all, asks Minister Kalibata, “How can I tell the farmers to plant more maize? Unless we sell this, how can we get them to grow more? That’s the challenge of creating food security.”

Click here to read Thurow’s full article on the blog Global Food for Thought.

Writer and agricultural expert Roger Thurow is co-author of the author of the book, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. He will be a featured speaker at Opportunity’s Microfinance Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 8-9, 2010. To attend the conference, and meet many more experts in agriculture, microfinance and international development, visit our conference information page.

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