Founders and Partners
Howard G. Buffett
RICA’s story begins with a farmer-philanthropist’s vision. Howard G. Buffett’s commitment to support Rwanda’s development spans two decades and investments of more than $250M since 2000, part of more than $650M in development investments he has made across the African continent, mostly in smallholder agriculture.
Howard has for many years articulated a vision for how best to address the profound challenges most smallholder farmers face in sub-Saharan Africa that include poor and degraded soils; lack of technical knowledge and expertise; little access to inputs and equipment; limited research relevant to their specific soil, disease and pest issues. The “crazy idea that no one would be willing to fund,” as he called it, was based on an approach that revolutionized agriculture in the United States beginning in the 1850s. Howard wanted to build a context-appropriate, “land-grant” institution in partnership with a government in Africa that would combine a practical, training-based education with localized, applied research that was informed through extension. He believed the Government of Rwanda, under President Kagame’s strong leadership, with its robust institutions and commitment to development, combined with the country’s unique agricultural challenges of limited land and “a thousand hills,” would be the best partner in this endeavor.
Government of Rwanda
From there, in close collaboration with the Government of Rwanda, Howard’s vision for RICA took shape to form a mission built around conservation agriculture; smallholder-led ag development; and youth leadership.
As a farmer, Howard believes that modern farming in a world constrained by resources and extreme weather variability means going back to basics. At the heart of RICA is a belief that the future of farming around the world must be conservation-based and soil health-focused. Technology cannot revive dead soil; there are many problems created by man that only nature can solve.
Howard also believes that agricultural development in countries like Rwanda must be led by smallholders. Rwanda cannot support large-scale urbanization, so farmers must become more self-reliant and profitable to continue to play an important role in Rwanda’s future. Solving the challenges smallholders face is central to RICA’s mission.
Farming around the world also has an aging problem. Engaging young people in agriculture is critical to transforming the sector. RICA’s focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and communications is by design. RICA seeks to attract Rwanda’s best and brightest so that they can be part of the future of agriculture at all scales: from smallholder farming to value-added processing.
With these core tenets in place, in 2017 the Howard G. Buffett Foundation committed $135M to build RICA’s campus and to provide financial support for its initial operations. The Government of Rwanda in turn provided RICA with the land and ministerial support to develop this unique, world-class institution.
RICA began because of the ambitious vision of one farmer-philanthropist. It exists today because of Howard’s unwavering financial support and the strong partnership of a visionary Government of Rwanda. RICA’s ultimate challenge remains: to seed innovations in agriculture that empower smallholder development and agribusiness to maximize the potential for food produced by Rwandans for Rwandans.
UNL and CUSP Scholars:
Our Education Partners
Before the plan for RICA was even finalized, Howard G. Buffett made an early big bet on Rwanda’s future leaders in agriculture. In 2015, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation made a $47.5M investment to launch the CUSP program, which funds full undergraduate scholarships for 200 Rwandan students to study conservation-based agriculture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). CUSP Scholars graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Integrated Science and are expected to return to Rwanda for at least five years after they graduate to pursue jobs in the agriculture sector, with many slated to join RICA’s faculty and staff.
Beyond administering the CUSP Scholars program, UNL also serves as a thought and implementation partner at RICA on operations and curriculum design.
Click HERE to learn more about RICA’s curriculum.
The NASHO Irrigation Cooperative (NAICO) is a revolutionary effort to put smallholder farmers at the center of solutions to improve food security in Rwanda. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation is partnering with the Government of Rwanda and 2,000 smallholder farming families to support the increased production of 1,173 hectares (2,899 acres) in the drought-prone region of Rwanda’s Eastern Province. Since 2016, the Foundation has invested over $50M for the commissioning of 63 center pivot irrigation systems, each providing irrigation for as many as 96 smallholder farms, with most averaging 40 smallholder farms.
NAICO will serve as the primary extension services program for area smallholder farmers to see first-hand the improved practices and context-relevant approaches to improving smallholder productivity. NAICO also showcases the potential for irrigation, the introduction of mechanization, and seed multiplication. RICA students in turn will benefit from a real-world scale demonstration of the problems smallholder farmers face and the challenges of extending solutions and new ideas to the field.