One million more out of poverty in Rwanda


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Over the last couple of years, as I travelled through the Rwandan countryside and talked with farmers, it was clear that something really interesting was happening.  This was confirmed on Tuesday, February 7th when the results of the 3rd Rwandan Household Living Conditions Survey, EICV 3 were released.  The results were, in the words of Paul Collier “deeply impressive” with Rwanda pulling off the very rarely seen “hat trick” of rapid growth, sharp poverty reduction and reduced inequality. Beneficiaries, two of whom, joined us at the launch event, agreed:

“We have built a good house, our children are nourished. When you feed well you think better….we have brought water and electricity home….” Daphrose Nyirabapagas, Musanze.
“Before Mutuelle de Sante, I used herbs for treatment when I got sick. But today, I receive proper medical treatment.” Charlotte Uwineza, Musanze.

"I collect garbage and recycle it into energy saving charcoal briquettes and sell them. Before this, I was just a simple twa, roaming around the village despised by all. But today I am a Rwanda woman like many others, well respected and earning a decent living and providing for my family. All this is thanks to the good governance, to a pro-people government…….."  Daphrose Nyirabapagasi, Musanze.

So what were these results?  Here are some highlights:

The first very striking point was the negligible change in poverty rates between EICV1 in 2000/2001 and EICV2 in 2005/6 (58.9% to 56.7%) contrasted with the very significant change between EICV2 in 2005/6 and EICV3 in 2010/11 (56.7% to 44.9%). What happened starting 2005/6 to bring about this step change? And what had made it possible for a land-locked country, lacking in natural endowments and situated in a challenging neighborhood to make this kind of progress?

On the first question, based on what I had seen in the countryside, I concluded that it was “something to do with agriculture”. On the second, the answer seems to be a combination of: the commitment, discipline and goal congruence of Rwanda’s leadership; the commitment of that leadership to a broad-based consultative and inclusive approach to Rwanda’s economic development; rules of the game that enshrine accountability to Rwandan citizens for delivery against that vision; the determination of the Rwandan authorities to drag its development partners kicking and screaming towards complying with that loftiest of the Paris Declaration goals – alignment with a country’s own development goals; and finally the incorporation of traditional institutions and programs into modern development theory and practice.

As the presentation unfolded, we learned that the key reasons for the reduction in the poverty rate in Rwanda were: improved agriculture production; increased agro business activity; increased farm wage employment; increases in the preponderance of non-farm wages; increases in income transfers; slowing population growth; and improvements in physical infrastructure. So my “something to do with agriculture” instinct was supported by findings for EICV3.  It was also interesting to learn that a twitter campaign, conducted by the Government in the run up to publication of the results, named two agriculture-related programs – the crop intensification program and the terracing program - as among the top four programs that respondents believed to have led to poverty reduction in Rwanda over the last five years.

The fact that agriculture has been a key contributor to poverty reduction in Rwanda is of course not an accident. Rwanda’s Vision 2020, articulated in 2000 set out to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country. In 2000 Rwanda was a subsistence level, agrarian based economy (accounting for the livelihoods of more than 90% of the labor force) with around 60% of the population living below the poverty line. The distribution of arable land stood at one hectare for every 9 Rwandans and was diminishing due to high birth rates; available pastureland was estimated to be 350,000 hectares, most of which was of poor quality; there was intense exploitation of the land but no concurrent rehabilitation measures, including the use of fertilizers, being practiced. There was therefore a serious decline in land productivity, accompanied by increased environmental degradation. One of the six pillars of Vision 2020 was thus to transform “….agriculture into a productive, high value, market oriented sector, with forward linkages to other sectors...” The story of how Rwanda set about making this vision a reality is one part Development 101 and another part the uniquely Rwandan approach of blending traditional institutions and programs into modern development theory and practice.

The Development 101 part is straightforward. The articulation of a medium term economic development and poverty reduction strategy that included a focus on improving agricultural productivity; then the articulation of a strategic plan for the transformation of agriculture; and finally the alignment of expenditure envelopes with this strategic plan so that today Rwanda is one of the few African countries that meets the CAADP recommended target of 10 percent of agriculture expenditure in the national budget. Some of the specific programs and projects that have been implemented include: crop intensification techniques; widespread introduction of irrigation infrastructure in the marshlands; terracing and erosion control on the hillsides; a campaign accompanied by subsidies to increase the use of fertilizers; the introduction in 2005 of a land law that secures tenure rights for all existing private landholders;  conversion of some 2,500 grass root farmer organizations into more formal cooperatives; enhanced extension services etc. etc. 
But, it is the Rwandan approach of blending traditional institutions and programs into modern development theory and practice that is making the real difference.

There is for example the Girinka program. The word Girinka derives from a traditional Kinyarwanda greeting that translates to “may you own a cow”, a cow being a symbol of wealth and prosperity both in times past and present. The Girinka program is a Rwanda style social safety net program that was introduced in 2006. Instead of the more conventional conditional cash transfer system found across the world and based on a recurring transfer, Girinka makes a onetime transfer but, of a productive asset. Essentially every poor household will in due course receive a dairy cow which in turn is expected to result in better livelihood and nutrition outcomes - milk for consumption and sales, improved agricultural productivity from improved soil fertility as a result of the application of cow manure to cultivated land. To date just under 120,000 cows have been distributed and one of the mechanisms for making this program self-sustaining is the tradition that when the cow calves, the calf is given to a neighbor who in turn gives the next calf to the next neighbor and so on.

Another example is Imihigo, essentially a performance contract under which local governments articulate their objectives strategies to achieve these objectives, as well as targets and results against which performance will be judged. In Rwanda the Imihigo is entered into at a personal level between (typically) the Mayors and President Kagame, the contracts are signed publicly and performance is judged annually, again in public typically by the Prime Minister. Accountability for delivery is strictly upheld with non-performers being promptly replaced. Imihigo was also introduced in 2006. No full scale evaluation of its impact has yet been made and, as with the Girinka program, Imihigo has its fans and its detractors, but there is widespread anecdotal evidence of the spirit of competition it has engendered amongst Mayors, while a number of small scale studies would appear to point to Imihigo having a discernible impact particularly in the health sector.

Then there is Umuganda, a tradition that is also found in other countries. At a basic level it represents community service, by all able-bodied residents, in the morning of the last Saturday of every month. Activities can range from cleaning neighborhood streets, to repairing public facilities or cutting grass and pruning shrubs in public parks. From time to time Umuganda is also used as a tool to bring attention to critical and emerging priority issues. Such special Umugandas have involved the building of primary schools, the widespread planting of trees and just this past month to kick off Rwanda’s war against malnutrition - our own Rachel Kyte was involved in the construction of a kitchen garden, expected to improve the consumption of vegetables by Rwandans. After the physical part of Umuganda comes the talking part. I have it on good authority that anything from the delinquent father, to the negligent mother, to the wild teenager, to community development gets discussed and a plan for remedial action agreed.

Finally we have, what I consider to be, the mother of all of Rwanda’s traditional institutions, the annual Umushyikirano or national dialogue. A recent and eloquent expression of what this is comes from an article written after the December 2011 Umushyikirano by Rwanda’s Minister of Health entitled “Direct Democracy and the Health Sector: Umushyikirano 2011”. In the article Minister Binagwaho describes Umushyikirano as one of Rwanda’s “most empowering innovations”. She goes on to explain that it is “enshrined in the Constitution, guaranteeing that the people of Rwanda retain their right to participate in all decisions that guide their life….for expressing their proposals for improved policies as well as their judgments on the work of their elected leaders.” The atmosphere at the two day Umushyikirano is impossible to convey on paper. The whole of the executive leadership - Ministers, Ambassadors who get recalled for the event, Provincial Governors, Heads of Agencies etc. - are required to be present. Invited representatives from Rwanda’s awesome diaspora also participate. President Kagame plays the role of The Grand Inquisitor. The atmosphere is part inquisition, part carnival, but all business. The citizenry call, SMS, email and tweet their inputs live and uncensored, the proceedings are carried live for the two days on radio and TV and, since last year are also web streamed. Decisions are taken, programs get re-oriented, restitution where appropriate is directed.

These four traditional mechanisms, plus others that exist but which I have not described, have played a major role in the results that have been achieved - two were introduced in 2006 near to the time of the indifferent EICV2 results. So, over the next few weeks and months, as economists and statisticians pore over the data, undertake their complex regressions and correlations and ask themselves questions about the direction of causality, it would be great if someone could come up with a model that incorporates the role of traditional institutions!

A sober reminder of the unfinished agenda however comes from a recent article in The New Times, which quotes Ms Clementine Muhawenimana the owner of a market stall in Kigali’s largest market: “……things are more expensive than three of four years ago…its [i.e. poverty’s] decline is noticeable but life is still expensive and difficult….though people can still afford a meal, it’s digging into their pockets.” Rwanda’s leadership acknowledges that despite these impressive gains, huge challenges remain – the poverty rate may have declined but 44.9% of Rwanda’s population still lives on less than 900 Rwandan Francs per day - sufficient only to buy 3 liters of unpasteurized milk. What it will take to energize the SME sector, so important for the creation of jobs, remains a puzzle. Winning the war on child stunting and malnutrition is critical. And finding a fiscally responsible solution to how Rwanda will finance its massive infrastructure needs, essential to mitigating impacts of its land-locked position, is of paramount importance.  

But yes, Africa can reduce poverty as the Rwanda experience very clearly illustrates.

Watch the Video Documentary: Rwanda Vision 2020 Transforming Lives


Omowunmi Ladipo

Advisor, Governance Global Practice

Sam Garnder
February 11, 2012

Why didn't you start your timeline around 1990? Rwanda has a very rocky history, but I remember that around 1988, Rwanda was also hailed as one of the examples for Africa. Better education, better health services, more development. An enlightened government

We all know how the genocide ruined everything that was build over the years. After the genocide it is to be expected that, once thrust in the future is restaured, growth should be vibrant.

If we really want to know whether Rwanda is still recovering, or really taking off, a minimum should be to look at longer time-lines.

I could do it easily myself, this is just the kind of work the World Bank should be able to do in an objective manner.

In my limited experience in Africa, if governments don't actively oppose growth by e.g. destroying markets, starting civil wars, predatory kleptocracy, farm income might rises annually as thrust grows and people jump from survival to market.

BTW, did you notice, as the Dictator's handbook predicts, that there was never a change of power in the countries where the president received a lot of WB budget aid? Does the World Bank do a power impact analysis when the start funding?

Clarisse Iribagiza
February 11, 2012

Awesome News!!!! Way to go Urwanda Rwacu!!
Reading this article at a time that am away in Asia (Japan), I can hardly wait to get back home and continue to play my role in building our nation!!

plant feed
February 15, 2012

This is great news for Rwanda.

Nilgun Gokgur
February 14, 2012

Ms. Ladipo summarizes the recent impressive poverty outcomes clearly while acknowledging, at the same time, the significant contributions from the traditional institutions and programs. Yet she does not shy away from reminding us that huge challenges do remain. She rightly says that it is a puzzle how the Government of Rwanda (GoR) will be able "to energize its SME sector."

The medium-sized enterprises are most likely candidates to contribute to much needed industrial upgrading while creating skilled and semi-skilled jobs for all Rwandans. The GoR needs to devise proper strategies to expand its formal private sector fast enough to absorb the new entrants to the labor force every year, let alone productively employ those already unemployed. Fewer than 10,000 formal jobs created annually constitute only a small fraction, less than 10%, of new jobs needed, anywhere between 120,000 and 125,000, annually. In the absence of improvements to competitive dynamics in the formal business environment, most jobs will continue to be held in the informal and the household enterprises, making it difficult and impossible for most Rwandans to enter the middle class. Now is the perfect time to translate the present gains, everyone is happily boasting about, into more concrete next steps for broad-based private sector development for all.

February 15, 2012

At least some good news about. Am sick and tired about all the negative infromation given about africa. I myself belive that Africa has all it needs to get to the stars. Way to go Rwanda. I hope my leaders in Kenya would have the same mindset that your learders have.
God bless you and may you continue prospering even the more

February 16, 2012

I guest other African countries still have a lot of chance to do the same. Rwanda is becoming one of the destination to many Africans through these development strategies. I also realised that many top universities are opening faculties in Rwanda too and it is really a big initiative. I applaud the Government and NGO involve in this change.

February 16, 2012

I have read this article and found the story too good to be true. I gather this is a submission by someone; and we know this is a blog. Even then, just for the sake of reporting a balanced story, the writer should have reported some challenges, areas where Rwanda can do better. Just a few points, you know! I am intrigued about such utter lack of balance.

In order to satisfy my own curiosity, I went to FAO statistical database and generated a table I reported below, I do worry that this numbers can easily jumbled up as soon as I click submission, I have done my best to make them hung together. Anyway, all I have tried to do was to show a picture of where Rwanda is compared to African and East African averages in terms of gross per capita agricultural production index. The numbers are averaged into groups of three years starting from 1990 to 2009.

I just do not see any miracle in this numbers. Rwanda is pretty much close to where the rest of Africa is. And actually, the country has not even recovered back to the 1990-03 level.

Why do we observe such stark differences between the figures reported below and the ones discussed in the article. You are absolutely right, it all depends on who generated the figures. The article is based of facts created by the government and the figures below are from a different source - FAO data.

The FAO data must have been obtained from the country's statistical office in the first instance but somehow it must have been massaged to reconcile it with international standards and thereby improving the value and credibility of the data.

Gross Per Capita agri Prod. Index Number (2004-2006 = 100)

________ 1990-93____1994-96_1997-1999__2000-02__2003-05___2006-09
Eastern Afr.__100_______94_______95________97______98________101
Source: FAO statistical database

Piet Werbrouck
February 14, 2012

This is very encouraging and a good WB promotion document. Did the analysis also take into account the raising world market commodity (coffee) prices? Latin America also shows great growth figures and reduced poverty rates because of raising commodity prices. Nicaragua also has this cow distribution program, and growth is healthy, most probably because of overall raising food and agricultural export prices.

February 13, 2012

Actually, in the NISR report the poverty line is reported at RWF 118,000 per adult equivalent per year, which I would translate into about RWF 325 per day. Using the figures in this blog, that would mean about 1 litre of unpasteurized milk per day. So are you out of poverty when you are above that threshold? Perhaps you have only become a little bit less poor. But indeed, at least there is evidence for significant movement in the right direction!

February 13, 2012

Cela donne du courage ...

Prof. J. George
February 21, 2012

At the individual Lives level indeed the story is commendable to suggest that concrete action plans can lead to livelihood security. However, for the society level tangible and sustainable development primary economic activities like agricultural fundamentalism is the best option that can be initiated in the most cost effective manner. However the safeguard mechanisms need to put added emphasis on nurturing as opposed to exploitation by the agribusiness conglomerates.
Alongside, FAO need to give more attention to agricultural statistics. For example, Senegal despite proximity to the topmost decision maker for over a decade could not update their numbers after 1999. Thus it would appear that under different agriculture and allied sector development templates one is merely travelling on an unknown territory without any idea about the coordinates. The recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur to the right to food, therefore, become imminently desirable and feasible proposition.

Zeynab Mbengue
February 20, 2012

The simple lesson I retain about this Rwanda nice story is to build developement, you may build agriculture first. Like said by one of our political leaders in Senegal "Nourish, educate, take care and liberate energizes". This seems be the best way for african countries to build their developement. So, we will able to reduce foreign dependance about food products, to generate enough values for agructural'producers, develop savings and investments and finally develop high value services.
Thus, even Rwanda stay in the average of the eastern africa countries, it remains a nice example of developement and confort in my conviction that agriculture is really the gate of developement.

February 21, 2012

Like others who know and cherish Africa, I find this an inspirational piece of reporting from the current Country Manager, Rwanda. But rather than a sea-change starting in 2005-2006, there has been solid progress in a number of indicators from the abyss of the post-genocide situation. This would be important to acknowledge, even with faster change in some areas in the last five or six years.

As another comment notes, indeed Rwanda was also the darling of the international donor community for decades prior to the genocide because of its reported progress on human development indicators. How robust was this appreciation, in retrospect, given the political powder keg stored up over decades?

Equally, how sustainable is Rwanda's current progress given issues of continuity with the past and questions for the future which have been raised by thoughtful observers? See, for instance, "Remaking Rwanda: Statebuilding and Human Rights after Mass Violence (Critical Human Rights)" by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf( University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).

It would be impressive for the World Bank not only to rejoice with its member countries and governments at solid progress in reducing poverty, but to bring a deeper and long-term perspective informed by nuance and understanding of country history and complexity.

March 06, 2012

I think the article is a great piece showing other African countries to also take baby steps to a betterment of the people. It can seem like a baby step but also Rome was not built in one day. We should at least commend Rwanda for the progress.