UTIA Kicks Off Rwanda Agriculture Project

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Rwandan farmers will soon be familiar with the volunteer spirit that makes up the University of Tennessee and our unmistakable bright orange color.

At the end of January a group from UT Institute of Agriculture arrived in Rwanda to kick-start a small farmer initiative in partnership with USAID/Rwanda, Zamura Feeds Ltd., and the Africa Sustainable Agriculture Project Foundation (ASAP), launched by UT alum and former Tyson CEO Donnie Smith, ‘80.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) administers the US foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. USAID’s office in Rwanda has pledged a grant, which is being matched by ASAP, totaling over $1.7m to develop the Feed the Future project Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke (“Let’s raise chickens for profit” in the local language, Kinyarwanda). 

Smith has drawn heavily from his corporate experience in the agricultural industry to assist in developing a sustainable economic model for the project. The project seeks to provide 750 Rwandan smallholder farmers with the skills and tools to successfully produce broiler chickens. This trip was the first on the project for the UT team, led by UTIA’s Office of International Programs, for initial project planning with in-country partners.

“This is really just the beginning.” said Tom Gill, the Donald and Terry Smith Endowed Chair for International Sustainable Agriculture and Director of International Programs. “We have the unique opportunity to impact the livelihoods and nutritional needs of low-income Rwandan families. This project will allow us to develop a sustainable model of smallholder poultry production in northern Rwandan that will translate well to the Great Lakes region [of East Africa].”

The goal of the project is to increase the income and improve the nutrition of rural Rwandan households through increased production of poultry and increased access to chicken meat as a vital dietary source of cheap protein. The project is a three-year pilot located in the rural Musanze District of Rwanda, where the country’s first commercial feedmill, Zamura Feeds Ltd., is located. 

The project runs parallel to the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020, which aims to transform the country into a middle-income economy by 2020. Rwanda has experienced rapid economic growth and development over the past two decades but still faces the dual challenges of poverty and malnutrition. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda estimates that over 40 percent of the population live in poverty and face the chronic challenge of malnutrition. 

The UTIA team was in country for one week of strategic planning and team building with in-country partners. Poultry husbandry training for farmers is expected to begin this summer.

The following UT Faculty and staff traveled to Rwanda to work on the initiative: 

Tom Gill, Smith Chair and Project Director, 
Emily Urban, Rwanda Program Coordinator, 
Susan Schexnayder,  Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Program Administrator,
David Ader, Post-doctoral scholar, UTIA International Programs, 
Amanda Kaeser, Post-doctoral scholar, UTIA International Programs,
Eric Bisangwa, PhD candidate, Natural Resources,
Brynn Voy, Associate Professor of Animal Science,
Patsy Watkins, UT Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences, and
Lauren Vath, Director of Advancement Communications. 

In addition, the following UT faculty are part of the project team: 

Caela O’Connell, anthropologist; 
Dayton Lambert, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics 
Mike Smith, Professor of Animal Science 

**This news release is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of The University of Tennessee and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.