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While less than two years ago, the functioning of the Girinka program was harshly criticized during the National Dialogue, today it is clear that it is having a real impact.


The Girinka program has given poor people a source of income. (file photo)

The Girinka Program (One Cow per Family) was launched in 2006 by the government with the objective of poverty alleviation and im­proving nutrition among poor families, and so far 110.788 cows have been distributed. Dr Clarisse Ingabire, the director of the program, says she is confident Girinka has really transformed rural livelihoods and addressed poverty alleviation.

She points out that in many cases this program has provided a stable income to the beneficiaries. “The family that receives a cow is immediately empowered to move out of poverty and fight malnutri­tion by getting milk for home consumption and selling the surplus to get some income,” Ingabire explains. “On the ground the results speak for themselves.”

When you visit the beneficiaries of the Girinka program, it’s evi­dent that many of the poor families that got a cow can today provide themselves with the basic necessities, send their children to school and pay medical insurance (Mutuelle de Sante). The program has also helped local farmers improve soil fertility with the manure they get from the cow.

While some critics of the gov­ernment allege that the program is reminiscent of a custom used by the former Rwandan kings to placate and subjugate people, it is immediately clear to anyone who makes the effort to verify its implementation on the ground that this is nonsense. Beneficia­ries themselves told The Rwanda Focus that poor families are se­lected by Girinka committees at the village level who make a list of potential beneficiaries; this list is sent to the sector level for verification and later to the district, which transfers it to the ministry of agriculture for the delivery of the cows. Thus, the selection is done on the basis of objective criteria (poverty) and by people who know the benefi­ciaries very well.

A more tricky question is whether these poor families man­age to cater for a cross breed cow that needs expensive care. Here, the government provides prima­ry support such as veterinary offi­cers to make follow-ups on a dai­ly basis and treat the cows when necessary, or providing services such as vaccination and artificial insemination. The beneficiaries are also trained on basic care and receive seeds for animal feeds.

Many beneficiaries who spoke to The Rwanda Focus said that this initial support helps them indeed to care for their cow. Training programs are also be­ing offered in animal care and milk production; they include teachings on how to properly feed a milk cow, improving the quality of milk, information on disease control etc.

Yet Girinka has a bigger im­pact than poverty alleviation and improved nutrition; it also promotes unity. This is because the program is built as self-per­petuating: when a cow gives birth, the calf is given to the next family on the list in the village.

It is therefore not surpris­ing that wherever you go in the country, you hear positive com­ments about Girinka. That is also because the program does not only support those very poor families, but also other vulner­able groups such as people liv­ing with HIV/AIDS, widows, or­phans and  other disadvantaged individuals and groups.

The Girinka program is sup­posed to wind up in 2015, when purchasing and distribution of cows will stop, and after two more years of follow up, the pro­gram will really come to a close.

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