NAIROBI, September 13 — The Rwandan government and the Millennium Villages Project will work together in a new partnership to spread efforts to eradicate extreme poverty throughout the nation. The partnership will build on the project’s successes in improving health, education and business opportunities in Mayange, a Millennium Village community of about 23,000 people.
Rwanda is one of the first nations to develop a strategy to scale-up key aspects of the Millennium Village approach to the national level, following an agreement signed by the Ministry of Local Government, the Earth Institute, and the MDG Centre for East and Southern Africa last year. Since then, the government has made rapid progress in increasing the focus of the national poverty eradication strategy on attaining the Millennium Development Goals.
“The government of Rwanda has greatly benefited from [the Millennium Villages Project], which was one of the motivating factors for its Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme as the national scale-up model,” Justine Gatsinzi, deputy director general in charge of the Social Protection Programme, said at a meeting in Kigali on July 16. He said the new partnership should help the Umurenge Programme expand the focus on the Millennium Development Goals country-wide.
Started in 2006, the Millennium Villages Project has focused on helping countries meet the Millennium Development Goals. The project has been using a multi-sector approach — building infrastructure, upgrading community health programs, improving agriculture, supporting education and gender equality, and helping to develop local businesses — in 14 clusters of villages in some of the poorest areas of Africa.
“Close partnerships with African governments are essential to achieving and sustaining the MDGs, and we are exceptionally pleased that the government of Rwanda has come on board as a key stakeholder,” Dr. Belay Begashaw, director of the MDG Centre for East and Southern Africa, said. “Working together, we hope to facilitate the spread of benefits from Mayange to the citizens of Rwanda. Our objective is to transfer ownership of the Millennium Villages to both communities and national authorities, ensuring the Africa-wide attainment of the MDGs, way beyond 2015.”
The Social Protection Programme is part of Rwanda’s Local Development Support Fund aimed at helping the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and housed within the Ministry of Local Government. As the deadline for attaining the Millennium Development Goals approaches in 2015, the key to sustaining the gains made so far in the Millennium Villages lies in strengthening government and community capacity to take over and expand the project.
The government has set up a task force to identify gaps in national policy that can benefit from the Millennium Villages Project model. In the long term, the MDG Centre and the Ministry of Local Government will work to scale up the strategy across the country. The focus will be on utilizing new technologies to increase food security; bolster agribusiness; support water security; expand access to energy for poor households; and design data management and reporting systems.
In Mayange, the project helped create business opportunities through a new cassava flour plant, honey production, pig and poultry farming, and basket weaving and knitting cooperatives for women. The health center has been connected to the national grid, and its facilities were improved and expanded, with X-ray equipment, stocks of medicines and an ambulance service. Access to improved drinking water has tripled; immunization coverage is now at more than 90 percent; and three computer laboratories and two libraries were set up.
Mayange was honored by a surprise visit on July 3 from President Paul Kagame, who visited the cassava processing plant and spoke to farmers and facility staff. Prior to the start of the project, farmers relied on subsistence farming, and suffered periodically from drought and famine. Hunger and malnutrition was a daily reality for most villagers. The Millennium Villages Project helped Mayange’s farmers greatly improve cassava yields and develop a marketing strategy for the excess produce. The plant has helped farmers increase their incomes from cassava, and is generating sufficient profits to enable the community to invest back into the scheme.
The president, visiting with the minster for local government, James Musoni, and local and district government officials, was shown new facilities upgraded and expanded independently by the community. These include a drying facility and fermentation basins, which are serving to improve both cassava quality and production levels, as well as a truck purchased to improve market access. Just recently, the facility received its first major loan, for 63 million Rwandan Francs ($US 104,000), from the Popular Bank of Rwanda.
“The President’s informal visit was an excellent opportunity for the Mayange community to demonstrate the incredible progress they have made in lifting themselves out of poverty since the start of their collaboration with the [Millennium Villages Project] six years ago,” said Donald Ndahiro, the team leader of MVP Mayange. “We look forward to working with both local and national government authorities to share these lessons nationwide.”