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Local solutions in Rwanda reduce malnutrition

Are locally based schemes combatting malnutrition in Rwanda?
Are locally based schemes combatting malnutrition in Rwanda?

Twenty years ago, nearly a quarter of Rwanda’s young children were underweight; with the help of locally-backed solutions, this number has been reduced significantly.

According to data from the World Health Organisation, 11.7% of children in Rwanda were underweight during the period 2005–2012. This represents a significant decrease from 1990–1995, when 24.3% of children were underweight. Stunting in young children has also decreased, affecting 44% of under-fives in 2005–2012 compared with 52% previously.

Nutrition experts believe that this remarkable success in reducing child hunger in the country can in large part be attributed to the proactive and home-grown approach of the Rwandan government. This approach has included the scaling up of community nutrition programmes in all 30 of the country’s districts, where local people have been involved in the process.

Rather than imposing a donor- or government-led solution to nutrition problems, Rwanda’s programme has drawn in locals to assist in providing solutions. Each village has been encouraged to come up with its own approaches to tackling malnutrition, while central government merely plays a monitoring and coordinating role.

Local solutions

So for example, in some Rwandan districts, communal grain reserves have been set up. Each household in the area gives at least 20% of their harvest to these stores in a good season, so that grain can be given out through lean times. In other areas, villagers have expanded vegetable gardens and shared information about which crops and methods have worked best.

The emphasis for improving the food supply in Rwanda has been on finding solutions with local participants. This means that communities have been involved in the process, as well as aid agencies, academics and government officials.

Experts would like to see this successful Rwandan approach used in other African countries. They would also like to see more emphasis on establishing research priorities from within developing countries in Africa, rather than from donor countries. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, an EU coordinator for the ‘Sustainable nutrition research’ compares Rwanda’s progress to other African countries, such as Benin, where “despite enormous amounts of money spent on nutrition research and interventions, malnutrition rates have not fallen”. Looking at Rwanda, the answer, many now believe, is to partner with and consult local communities in Africa, rather than simply foisting solutions from outside, however well-intentioned these may be.

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