Report from Rwanda

Tyson Team Member, Jenise Huffman is currently "on loan," working with Millennium Promise, addressing hunger and poverty in Africa.  She sends this report from Rwanda.




So I’m back in Africa doing what I love, and I thought I’d tell you a bit about it since some of you asked me to send updates while I’m here…
I’m in Rwanda doing a feasibility study, evaluating the potential for a poultry enterprise for the women of the Millennium Villages and the schools so that the women could have an income and the children could have protein in their diets in a school-meals program.  I’m sure you all know this because I talk about it a lot, but my CEO at Tyson, Dick Bond, generously agreed to donate the technical expertise in poultry rearing to the Millennium Villages project (Millennium Promise’s project that I work on in NY) in order to increase the incomes of the farmers and women, as well as adding protein to their diets.   These people currently have NO protein in their diets.  None whatsoever.  So the children are stunted (growth) because protein is required for skeletal growth before the age of 5.  Additionally, protein deficiencies cause all sorts of other problems for both the children and the adults.  Also, many of these people make $0.50 a day.  That will increase dramatically when they have poultry to sell because Rwanda has a huge demand for poultry and very, very little supply.  That causes the market prices to be very high.  An egg costs $0.21 in a grocery store in Kigali (capital city), and so 2 eggs would take the entire day’s wages for many people.  As you can see, they would benefit from increased supply of eggs and poultry meat, which sells for $10 a pound.
Today I visited a memorial for the genocide of 1994.  Somewhere between 800,000 – 1 million people were killed in just 100 days.  This memorial was a church where Tutsi’s were hiding for safety because they thought the Hutu’s wouldn’t kill them in a church.  The Hutu’s killed 10,000 people in that church in 1 day (in a couple hours, actually).  There were only 2 survivors – children who were underneath dead bodies.  After that, the Hutus continued killing the Tutsi’s in this district and took 40,000 bodies to that church to be disposed of.  They also threw most bodies in the river here in this district.  Inside the church, which is still riddled with bullet holes, the clothes that all 10,000 people were wearing when they were killed there are laying on the pews (wooden benches).  There’s still blood on the table cloth that covers the top of the alter – they killed some people by smashing them repeatedly into the alter.  That was just 14 years ago.  Not a single conversation that I have had with anyone in Rwanda ended without them mentioning the genocide.   Everything is marked as before or after the genocide.  In the district where our Millennium Villages are, there were 80,000 Tutsi’s, but in a matter of a few days, all of them were murdered except for about 1,800.  The survivors lost their families and a bit of their soul.  The eyes of the survivors are still so sad and so hollow.  I just don’t want to believe that I live in a world where people do this to each other – and worse yet, America knew and did nothing to help them.  That was the biggest failure of the Clinton Administration, in my opinion. 
I was told by one of the Millennium Village project employees here today that he knew Hutu husbands who killed their own wives because they were Tutsi, and then they killed their own children because they had some Tutsi blood in them.  He said they did this because the government told them to.  How do governments gain such evil control over people’s minds?  Hitler did.  Mao did.  The President of Sudan is doing that right now.
The project that I’m working on is going well.  There is much opportunity here in Rwanda.  President Kagame is determined to make a new Rwanda, a reconciled Rwanda.  Rwanda is more developed than any of the other countries I have visited in Sub-Saharan Africa.  That’s not to say they are wealthy – most of the people here are still making $1 – $2 a day.  The farmers in our villages, though, are improving their lives and building concrete homes (still only 1 room, but at least they are concrete instead of mud). 
The rains are coming.  Rainy season starts in September.  I hope I make it across the border to Uganda before they hit.  The skies have looked ominous the past couple days.
Well, it’s late here, and I have a lot to do tomorrow, so I need to get some sleep.  I’m not sleeping well because it’s so hot in my room without any air conditioning (and not even a fan), and also the staff cleans all night long, sweeping the walkways because dust is always everywhere.  They are quite noisy talking to each other as they work at 3 am.  My walls are about 2 millimeters thick. 
I’ll be going to Uganda on September 4th to do the same work that I am doing in Rwanda. 
Bye for now.  Time to try to sleep.  Wish me luck! 

6 Replies to “Report from Rwanda”

  1. Ed


    I have to take issue with your "widely documented" assertion, but since I’ve promised that the conversation on this forum will be limited to the issue of hunger, we can do that offline if you want.

    With regard to plans for Rwanda and Uganda, I’m told the model is for small, family-owned operations, producing hundreds (not thousands) of chickens at a time.  The thinking is that perhaps one family can own an incubator, another a chicken coop, The birds likely would be consumed in the villages in which they’re raised, with any trading being done in a live market (no processing operations planned).  Tyson would not have a stake in the process.

    The counsel of the poultry scientists would include setting up such operations while minimizing poultry disease (avian influenza is a prime example) and maximizing the utilzation of feed ingredients, ensuring effective incubation/hatching, etc.

    Since you’re in-country, and seem to have an interest, if you’d like to be more directly involved, I’ll be glad to pass along information as I get it.   Email me directly at ed(dot)nicholson(at)tyson(dot)com.

  2. Mary


    Thanks for your response Ed. 

    I’d like to start by saying that I totally believe in the mission of Millenium Promise and the MDGs and I am not trying to be antagonistic, but I am initially skeptical. What I have heard is that it will be a 10,000 chicken operation.  That does not officially constitute a factory farm by definition, but it will have an impact. I wonder if any of the people in the area or in government making that decision have been to a chicken operation and know what it can be like. I live in Rwanda and doubt that they have had that exposure. I think the process should be totally transparent.

    I am curious if it will be factory-farm style and if the expertise that is being lended is the same kind of expertise that has led Tyson to choose the corporate style that it has in the US. Let’s face it, if an executive at Exxon were brought on to consult on an energy project, people might be concerned about how that project would be carried out.

    Tyson has faced some of the worst clean water act, clean air act and labor lawsuits and violations in the US and this is widely documented. I wonder if the people in the village where the operation is getting started want that kind of expertise? And I would hate to stick them with the choice of "no jobs OR jobs but with a polluting industry". That is not human rights either.

    Again, I am totally happy and open to hearing more about what is going on and do not want to make judgments before I know too much, so I am really just looking for more information. I think it is necessary to bring businesses to these areas (again, I live here and know as much as anyone how much economic development is needed), but I think there are opportunities to do it better and smarter than we did in the US. And as someone who has spent years working to get people in all communities the food that they need and have a right to access (including totally transparent choices about how they get their food), a relationship with Tyson Food is initially alarming. Also, the phrase "poultry science" is scary to me. Thanks for sharing what you know and I appreciate Jenise’s interest in trying to help.


  3. Ed


    Jenise’s mission in Rwanda is with the UN’s Millennium Promise; it’s not a Tyson mission. They’re offering the expertise of some of the best poultry scientists in the world to help sub-Saharan Africans start their _own_ poultry-growing enterprises

  4. mary


    I am really upset to hear that Tyson is coming to Rwanda. While I know these are desperate times, I just wonder if all the smart people working on these issues can’t come up with something more creative. If you look at the havoc Tyson has created in the US – factory farming of chickens – the smells, the pollutions, the lawsuits – why do people want to bring that to this country.

    How big is the chicken "operation" and how is Tyson going to make sure it doesn’t subject the people of Rwanda to the same things it has subjected the people of the US to? It seems to me that a major corporation is taking advantage of the desperate situation of a poor country.

    I would love to know otherwise…..



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