Improved Management and Feeding Increase Access to Dairy Products in Rwanda

Milk remains one of the most important sources of nutrient-dense animal source food in Rwanda, and many other Feed the Future countries. Indeed, the government of Rwanda’s Girinka program recognizes the critical importance of milk in the diet of vulnerable populations by encouraging the distribution of cattle to low-income families. However, limitations of feed availability and management training hamper productivity. Mastitis, or udder infection, is a challenge in many settings, as it reduces yield and adversely affects milk quality.

Between 2015 and 2020 (Phase I), Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems affiliated researchers at the University of Florida (UF) partnered with the Swedish Agricultural University and the University of Rwanda (UR) to support the training of Jean Baptiste Ndahetuye as he completed his PhD studying solutions to subclinical mastitis in the Rwanda dairy context. Driven by the efforts of the Innovation Lab’s Management Entity this information was used to develop a Rwanda Dairy Farm Assessment and Advisory Tool (RDFAAT) to evaluate and train farmers on methods to improve cow health and productivity, while simultaneously giving tips for better outcomes.

In 2018, in collaboration with the University of Rwanda, the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), and dairy cooperatives, UR and UF researchers trained extension officers and cooperative personnel on the tool and disseminated the tool for field application. In parallel, on the demand side, a project led by Dr. Emily Ouma of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) focused on educating consumers on the nutritional advantages of milk consumption, especially for children under two years of age. It also encouraged producers to hold some milk back from the market for home consumption to improve the nutrition of farm families. That project team also worked with dairy cooperatives to strengthen their capacity and be more commercially oriented while safeguarding milk quality and improving incomes.

In Phase II (2020-2025), these efforts on dairy industry capacity building were leveraged and expanded. A ration balancing tool was linked to the RDFAAT to strengthen knowledge of cow nutrition to support greater productivity. We also evaluated the RDFAAT user satisfaction through direct surveys of those previously trained on the tool, which revealed a positive attitude toward DFAAT and the ration balancing tool but limited penetration into extension programming because access to computer hardware was limited, and the tool was spreadsheet-based. Working with another USAID initiative, the LASER PULSE project under Dr. Kizito Nishimwe at UR, we improved the tools and developed an app for smartphone usage called Zirakamwa, which is available for download from Google Play Store in English or Kinyarwanda thereby significantly increasing access to the tools.

Despite these efforts, milk shortages in the dry season still need to be solved. In FY 2023, a joint RAB and UF research team concluded that feed preservation and stockpiling knowledge, as well as water conservation methods, were limited and hampered milk output in the dry season. The main recommendation was to aggressively increase training using a training of trainers’ approach to sharing the knowledge on best practices with a large number of dairy-producing households. Additional training curricula were developed, and training was expanded to additional UR, the Rwanda Dairy Development project staff, and dairy cooperative extension personnel. The Zirakamwa app is an important tool in this effort as it produces real-time advice tailored to a particular farm and can also be used to track progress in milk output in general, but especially in the dry season.

To address a complicated and multifactorial challenge such as low milk production, a longstanding collaborative effort on dairy development through various initiatives in Rwanda is needed. Only in this way can we increase the productivity of the dairy sector and improve access to milk among vulnerable populations.


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Posted: March 6, 2024

Category: Livestock,
Tags: Dairy, International Development, Livestock, Milk, Rwanda

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