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United to achieve food security in Rwanda

Technical colleges and universities tend to view each other as strangers and competitors. One rolls up its sleeves and gets hands on. The other discusses and researches the best way forward. But for a subject as important as national food security, the stakes are high enough to find a common approach. And when practical and theoretical come together, the yields can prove bountiful.

Strengthening Education for Agricultural Development (SEAD)
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Strengthening Education for Agricultural Development (SEAD) SEAD will find out the problems farmers in Rwanda face and how they can be solved, both from a scientific and vocational point of view.
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Challenge

Rwanda is enjoying a period of sustained economic growth, as urban centres such as the capital Kigali and secondary cities expand rapidly. This means more families to feed, and a burgeoning middle class with the funds to buy more quality produce. However, the agricultural sector is not yet ready to meet this rise in demand.

Famously hilly, Rwandan farms are predominately built on terraces with small plots that are intensively cultivated, as owners try to make the most from their land. Climate challenges bring extremes of water supply at different times of the year. As with many developing countries, younger people have watched their parents struggle on the land, and are keen to move away from the family farm.

Shifting from subsistence farming to a market economy with the potential for export remains the aim, but feeding a fast growing rural and urban Rwandan population will need to first take place. In particular, farmers lack many of the techniques and skills needed for value addition in agriculture, such as higher-yield seeds or getting milk to the processor before it spoils.

To continue on its upward trajectory, Rwanda needs to turn a traditional, localised craft into an efficient industry that’s fit for modern society.

Approach

NUFFIC, through the Netherlands Initiative for Capacity Development in Higher Education (NICHE), are funding a programme that aims to build Rwanda’s organisational and institutional capacity to provide a better standard of agriculture training, education and research. Mott MacDonald was commissioned to run ‘Strengthening Education for Agricultural Development’ (SEAD), which runs from 2015–2021. Our brief is to work with Rwandan universities and TVET institutions to make educational services more labour market-oriented by focusing on entrepreneurship and inclusiveness.

With our guidance, these institutions will direct their education and research efforts to respond to food security issues, and so transfer knowledge to farmers in a way that will improve agricultural production. We are also establishing public-private partnerships between educational institutions and agribusinesses.

These partnerships will address shortcomings in the current agriculture value chains in Rwanda, such as:

  • The lack of sufficient and up-to-date equipment
  • Few opportunities for practical rather than knowledge-based training
  • Insufficient numbers of demonstration farms
  • Limited investment opportunities for private Rwandan and foreign businesses

The project places heavy emphasis on reaching out to students, especially young women, through the use of social media, organisation of career fairs, and competitions to make a career in modernised agriculture more attractive to the next generation.

Progress

This is a unique initiative, in that we are linking a wide range of education institutions, from technical colleges to universities – which would not usually rub shoulders. They are already showing a desire to cooperate and learn from each other. Education is just one part of the value chain, as we are also reaching out to farmers, members of the public and consumers, extension services of the Ministry of Agriculture; financial companies that provide credit – all the different actors can benefit from our trainings.

When there is a barrier to success, such as high post-harvest losses or low yields, we commission research to help bring better results. Younger people are learning that there are other jobs related to agriculture, such as becoming an agricultural advisor in a bank or working in quality and standards.

A major breakthrough will be the establishment of service training and innovation centres, where all the parties are working together: education institutions, and private and public sector, from all across the value chain. This will be a ‘one-stop-shop’, where Dutch investors can visit and be linked to private sector operators with a view to starting up joint businesses.

Universities will be able to do research and send students to be trained and complete internships. Farmers will receive support, whether in training or the provision of a facility for testing produce such as milk. By making these centres run as a business, they may even provide a revenue stream for universities and students.

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