NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, United Kingdom — Since 2000, the rate of poverty in Rwanda has decreased from 75.2% to 52% in 2016. Such ubiquity of poverty is deeply damaging for those who suffer from its effects. Whilst there is still much work necessary, the country has taken promising strides in tackling the problem of poverty in Rwanda. Here is how different policies have cut the rate of poverty.
Investment in Agriculture
Ever since 2001, the International Development Association (IDA) has invested heavily in Rwandan agriculture. This investment has been crucial in reducing poverty in Rwanda. This is because 79.5% of the labor force works within the agricultural sector. Furthermore, agriculture accounts for 33% of Rwanda’s total GDP and 45% of export revenue.
The IDA’s investments led to the development of 30,000 hectares of land, which created 50,000 jobs. Additionally, agricultural production has more than doubled due to IDA investment. Specifically, maize yields increased from 1.6 tonnes per hectare to 5 tonnes per hectare and potato yields rose from 7 tonnes per hectare to 20 tonnes per hectare. Said increases ensured that Rwanda achieved food security in 2010.
Overall, the investment in Rwandan agriculture has been effective in terms of poverty reduction. Between 2006 and 2011, the poverty rate decreased by 12%. According to the World Bank, this was largely due to the increased productivity of the agricultural sector.
The Goboka Rwanda Trust
To better understand the impact that charities have on poverty in Rwanda, The Borgen Project spoke with Heather Thomas, the Chief Executive of the Goboka Rwanda Trust (GRT), established in 2009.
The GRT believes that working with young people is essential for protecting communities and reducing poverty, with Heather Thomas arguing that “it is important … to put money into supporting the youth of the country.” The Chief Executive believes this to be so important, as “without a livelihood, the young people would desert their villages in search of work elsewhere – and the villages would die.” This philosophy, combined with their “aim to give a hand up – not a hand-out” acts as a solid foundation for the majority of the work that the organization completes in Rwanda.
According to Thomas, the charity “ask the Rwandans to identify projects [that would help them]– rather than telling them what we intend to do with the money raised.” This is crucial, ensuring that the charity does not waste any of its precious resources on unnecessary forms of aid.
Using Local Labor
Furthermore, the GRT uses local labor, which helps guarantee a sustainable approach to development. This is the case as local people get training on how to build and maintain the projects that the organization funds. Importantly, this means that communities are not dependent on the Trust after their funding comes to an end, as the communities have the ability to maintain their new resources.
Perhaps the best example of the GRT’s philosophy is its apprenticeship program. This is because the apprenticeship schemes provide training for essential skills, such as sewing and carpentry. When asked about the origins of the apprenticeship scheme, the Chief Executive responded by saying that the first sewing schemes were funded with the aim to “help young people – usually girls who had left education after the free nine school years, and who were often vulnerable.”
The GRT proceeded to build upon these apprenticeships, establishing carpentry schemes across the country. Thomas illustrated the effects that the carpentry apprenticeships have had, saying that beneficiaries of the scheme began “making and selling simple tables and chairs and some crafting more westernized beehives, which are more efficient than the logs they originally used to harvest honey.”
Not only does the apprenticeship scheme teach essential skills to current generations, but the scheme also acts as a way to ensure that future generations are able to continue earning a livelihood through the skills taught in these schemes. To elaborate, once the carpenters are trained “they [are given]a bag of tools … so they can train others.” This practice of enabling the original beneficiaries of the scheme to train people in the future creates a snowball effect, where more and more young people attain the skills necessary to earn a living.
Improving the Health Care
The improvements in the Rwandan health care system over the last 20 years have contributed to the reduction in poverty observed since 2000.
According to the Health Foundation, access to a higher quality of health care reduces the abundance of poverty. This is the case as health care acts as a way to eliminate potential contributors to poverty. For example, illness can prevent people from working. Naturally, this decreases income, potentially pushing people into poverty.
Access to health care prevents this, ensuring that people can receive treatment. Once people’s health issues have been treated effectively, they can return to work. Therefore, access to health care reduces poverty by ensuring that health problems are a less problematic roadblock to earning a living.
Health care professionals were required across the entire country to provide advice and support to those who needed it. It is for this reason that the Rwandan government began to train health care professionals in each of Rwanda’s 15,000 villages. These professionals served as providers of information and preventative care. This resulted in 80% of those requiring malaria treatment receiving it, and vaccination rates increased from 30% to 90% from 1994 to 2015.
Another crucial intervention by the Rwandan government was to improve people’s access to primary health care. Before 2020, it took 95 minutes to walk to the nearest health post. By the end of 2020, this walk time was cut in half, to 47 minutes. Furthermore, the government aims to bring down walk times to 25 minutes by 2024.
To summarise, the Rwandan Government’s efforts to improve access to health care, whether that be through building health posts or training health care professionals in every village, have likely played a role in the reduction in poverty observed over the last two decades.
The GRT is not the only charity working to reduce poverty in Rwanda, there are hundreds more who work tirelessly to eliminate poverty, such as GiveDirectly which has reached over 195,000 families with cash transfers and Rwanda Action, which by 2019, had trained 250 school-based mentors in an effort to improve standards in education. Investment from the IDA in agriculture, aid from charities and government provision of health care have all played a role in decreasing the rate of poverty in Rwanda.
– Tom Eccles