Hunger in the Name of Development: Rwandan Farmers Under Stress

By An Ansoms

At the opening of the 15th National Leadership Retreat, president Kagame asked national leaders why Rwanda is among the worst performers in terms of child malnutrition. A recent report – still publicly unavailable – of the National Institute of Statistics found a child malnutrition rate of 38 percent. This figure seems a weird anomaly in a country that is lauded for its ‘developmental success.’ Average yearly growth rates around 7.2 percent are among the top 10 globally. The country ranks 41st on the World Bank Doing Business Report, and is applauded as one of the world’s most performing business reformers. At the continental level, the country is praised for the implementation of a Green Revolution and named top performer in the transformation of the agricultural sector.

However, in the past couple of years, critical voices have questioned the Rwandan development model, and particularly the Green Revolution’s beneficial effects. Some highlight the contradictions between different agricultural productivity data. They question the legitimacy of using productivity figures as a proof of agrarian reform successes.[1] Others call into question the long-term sustainability of the agricultural and land sector reform in terms of poverty reduction,[2] and point to the increasing poverty rates over the past couple of years (2010/11-2013/14). [For the on-going debate on Rwandan poverty figures on see our blogposts here and here.] Also, from within the system, there is recognition about the decrease in citizen’s satisfaction with agrarian and land policies.[3] The government presents itself as an organisation that can learn, and there is indeed increased openness to discuss on problematic policy aspects.

However, deeply embedded systemic problems within the ongoing rural transformation process remain unaddressed. These systemic problems can be linked to two features of the current model. The first is that it is implemented through a rigid top-down authoritarian system, and secondly, it is blindly obsessed with reaching performance targets. The way in which Rwandan leaders’ frame the problem of malnutrition, illustrate the lack of a broader critical reflection. FULL STORY