Op-Ed: Rwanda’s action to counter agricultural under production & malnutrition – a model for Africa


By Arnold Segawa

I recall reading an article in 2013 with an astounding headline – “UNICEF: Africa’s Child Malnutrition Costs $25 Billion Annually”. If at all the Tropics comprise 40% of the Earth’s surface area and over 60% of the continent lies in between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, then what could possibly be the reason for agricultural under production and ultimately malnutrition?

The $25 Billion on malnutrition and the $35 billion price tag on food imported annually can leave anyone bewildered. Focusing on the malnutrition front though, the various embodiments of malnutrition from under-nutrition, over nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies have ravaged the continent for decades and the stagnant agricultural growth as a percentage of GDP hasn’t been any help either.

But maybe we’ve been looking at this the wrong way all along; away from producing more and seeing the agricultural sector grow exponentially as was the case for the “Asian Green Revolution” in the 1960’s, I say we focus on value addition as is the Rwandan experiment which has bred Africa Improved Foods.

Rwanda has a land challenged with on average 440.8 inhabitants /km². Any demographer might argue this would stretch the landlocked country’s agricultural output but the East African nation seems to have cracked this one.


Upon realizing the $25 Billion price tag of malnutrition across the continent, Rwanda launched the ‘1000 days’ national campaign to combat malnutrition in 2013 with an aim of improving maternal and child health in the country.

Two years later, the Government of Rwanda entered a joint venture with a consortium of RoyaDSM, Dutch development bank, DFID Impact Acceleration Facility and IFC to form AIF Rwanda, a manufacturer of high-quality and nutritious complementary foods.

The investment was definitely a much-needed one as records show that 38% of children under the age of five years were being affected by chronic malnutrition by 2010, resulting in stunting. The figures were worrying by any standard as chronic malnutrition statistics in African were estimated at 34% in 2008.


Africa has about 51 million farms of which 80% are smaller than 2 hectares in size. The number of small farms is increasing in most countries. AIF Rwanda’s model is one that should be replicated across the continent as the factory provides a ready market for more than 7,500 small-scale grain and cereal farmers across the country.

For a small country occupying a mere 26,338 km², the colloquially revered “Promised Land” of self-sustenance is on the horizon. An eye-opening finding from Mario Herrero’s study on “The significance of smallholder farms” showed that Africa wide, farms smaller than 2 hectares produce about 30% of total agricultural output, while farms 4–20 hectares produce another 50%. *

I have come to see this as wearing a belt in an unconventional manner of passing it through two loops on the left and the right simultaneously. For a landlocked country, the import bill would be kept in check; smallholder farmers would have an unquenchable market for their produce; and most importantly, the economic cost of malnutrition which is over $25 Billion annually on the continent would also be kept at bay.

I’m no sharp shooter, but I’m sure that’s three birds with one stone!


*Mario Herrero is Mario Herrero is Chief Research Scientist and Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader in CSIRO’s Agriculture Flagship    

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