Prime Minister Narendra Modi today gifted 200 cows to villagers who do not yet own a cow, under the Rwandan Government’s Girinka Programme. The function to mark the handing over of cows was held at Rweru Model Village, in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister appreciated the Girinka Programme, and President Paul Kagame’s initiative in this regard. He said people in India too would be pleasantly surprised to see the cow being given such importance as a means of economic empowerment in villages, in faraway Rwanda. He spoke of the similarity in rural life in the two countries. He said that the Girinka Programme will help transform villages in Rwanda.
The word Girinka can be translated as ‘may you have a cow’ and describes a centuries-old cultural practice in Rwanda whereby a cow was given by one person to another, as a sign of respect and gratitude. Girinka was initiated by President Paul Kagame in response to the alarmingly high rate of childhood malnutrition and as a way to accelerate poverty reduction and integrate livestock and crop farming. The program is based on the premise that providing a dairy cow to poor Girinka Programme transforms livelihoods, reconciles communities improving agricultural productivity through the use of manure as fertilizers which would lead to improving soil quality and reducing erosion through the planting of grasses and trees. Since its introduction in 2006 hundreds of thousands have received cows through the Girinka program. By June 2016, a total of 248,566 cows had been distributed to poor households.
The program has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda – especially milk production and products, reduced malnutrition and increased incomes. The program also aimed at promoting unity and reconciliation among Rwandans based on the cultural principle that if a cow is given from one person to another, it establishes trust and respect between the giver and beneficiary. While this was not an original goal of Girinka, it has evolved to become a significant aspect of the program. The program also follows a certain criteria in choosing who the beneficiaries should be. As per a Govt. of Rwanda official, they mainly look at those very poor vulnerable families that don’t own a cow but do have land that can be used to grow grass for feeding the cows. The beneficiary should be in position to construct an animal shed or willing to join others in community to construct a communal cow shed to be jointly used with the rest.