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.