Interview: Rwandan farmer Samuel Gatembeyi goes to Washington

Samuel Gatembeyi, a small farmer from east Rwanda, is in Washington to urge US lawmakers to support a soil improvement program that has increased his food production by sixfold. He was kind enough to talk to ONE about life on the farm, his work ethic and agriculture in Rwanda.

20110523-wingard-0008-108.jpg
So, Mr. Gatembeyi, what brings you all the way to Washington?

I’m hoping I can familiarize Americans and decision makers about our soil irrigation system in Rwanda. The project built a dam that you can use in combination with irrigation techniques to help water the fields and plants during the dry season when it’s impossible to keep cultivation going without it. I’m a representative of this project and I am seeking further assistance for this program to succeed. This project has had so much success that if funding gets cut off, it would be difficult to get the project back to pre-project levels of production. We’ve seen production levels increase by sixfold.

Weren’t you upset that you only found out about this irrigation program until recently? It looks like you’ve been farming for a long time!

I didn’t feel angry that it hadn’t been done before. I felt happy and thankful because Rwanda is a huge country and is nothing but mountains. People felt like it would be impossible to improve our agriculture outputs, and we finally felt like our time had come. It made us proud to see that our government prioritized us and let us do something that was so impossible. There’s a big sense of optimism and trust in the government that didn’t exist before.

How are you liking the States?

I just got here, but it’s been really good. This country is at a further advanced stage than Rwanda, but it’s inspiring to see that if you work hard and have the right access, you can have a very successful life. In Rwanda, that isn’t so — you can work very hard, but you will still be the same.

What is the most helpful thing that governments can do to help Rwandan farmers?

I really believe that the Rwandan government has wonderful initiatives to change agriculture in the country and improve inputs and techniques. Governments can help directly support Rwanda’s plans by renewing their commitments to global agriculture.

If you didn’t have to be a farmer, what would you be?

To tell you the honest truth, I love farming. That’s how my family did it and that’s how I do it. I love working with the earth, and I couldn’t imagine doing another profession. I’m a small holder farmer — it’s in my blood.

Mr. Gatembeyi also spoke at a ONE event on Capitol Hill this week. Read more about that here.