EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University and the University of Rwanda are teaming up to start a degree program aimed at helping women in the East African nation get a stronger foothold in agribusiness.
The first students begin classes in February in the capital of Kigali under the master of science program, jointly developed with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Agriculture is vital to the people and economy of Rwanda, and many of those involved in agriculture are women,” said James McWha, vice chancellor at the University of Rwanda. “Their input to the business of agriculture is essential.”
McWha said agriculture must adopt a modern business strategy and that everyone involved must learn relevant skills. He said the university program “brings together all the components necessary for a major development of the future of the agriculture and food industries in Rwanda.”
Rwanda is the most densely populated country in mainland Africa, about the size of Maryland but with a population of 12 million. Last year, it marked the 20th anniversary of a 100-day genocide in which about 1 million people, mainly members of the Tutsi minority, were killed by majority Hutus.
Officials say they hope the degree program will make a significant contribution to the development of Rwanda’s rich agricultural potential. Rwanda’s gross domestic product totaled about $16.4 trillion, or about $1,600 per capita, in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund.
According to U.S. government estimates, about 42 percent of Rwanda’s economic output comes from agriculture, which employs about 90 percent of its working population. Coffee and tea are the main export crops.
“We really believe this program will give women rich opportunities to share their expertise and play major roles in the country’s economic development,” Joseph Lessard, economic development director for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Rwanda, said in a statement.
Michigan State University spokeswoman Abby Rubley said the graduate program “prioritizes accessibility to women and midcareer professionals.” She said it will incorporate extensive experiential learning opportunities, including required internships, to better prepare students for “leadership and entrepreneurial roles in agriculture in Rwanda.”