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Ikivuguto: Nourishing Rwandan communities for centuries

Ikivuguto: Nourishing Rwandan communities for centuries

Ikivuguto is a popular fermented milk product in Rwanda. Over the years, the process of producing ikivuguto has evolved but the cultural significance of this iconic beverage hasn’t changed.

Traditionally, cows are prized possessions symbolizing wealth. In today’s cash-driven economy, cattle ownership continues to upgrade standards of living. Beef and dairy products are sought after consumables. The demand for horns, hoofs and hides declined following the outbreak of COVID- 19 but rebounding sales are expected when the pandemic is over.

Local communities have been using cow dung as manure for a long time. Lately, what could easily be discarded as waste has become a source of biogas and electricity. Imigongo entrepreneurs on the other hand, use it to mould decorative pieces of art and preserve their cultural heritage. Imigongo art is a creative cultural practice originated from the cattle-rearing communities of the Eastern Province. Apart from occupying a prestigious position in the Rwandan culture, cows open up multiple streams of income for farmers.

Everything a cow produces turns into gold. However, milk’s symbolic and nutritional value transcends all of the above. Different trends and consumer preferences come and go but consumption of fresh milk and ikivuguto has stood the test of time. The milk drinking culture is here to stay.

In his research paper titled, Kivuguto Traditional Fermented Milk and the Dairy Industry in Rwanda," Eugene Karenzi stated that consumption of milk was once a privilege enjoyed by a few rich families and cows played some sort of a divisive role in the society. However, Karenzi acknowledged efforts made by the government and its partners to accelerate universal ownership of cows through the Girinka program.

The Girinka program was rolled out to ensure every poor family in the country owns a cow. The word Girinka (may you have a cow) is a popular greeting among Rwandans. It is an expression of best wishes. In addition, a cow is considered the most precious gift.

Girinka program was run by the government in partnership with Line Ministries, Heifer International, Send a Cow, World Vision and a number of local NGOs. Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture has come up with strategies to improve capacity and organizational skills in the livestock sub sector, with emphasis on dairy farming.

Today, there are different pasteurized ikivuguto brands produced by modern factories but the vast majority of Rwandans are still consuming home-made ikivuguto. The production process begins with milking a cow, which is a daily chore among many rural Rwandans. After milking, fresh milk is boiled and left to cool. Then, it is poured into a clean jar and covered by an equally clean woven or calabash lid. The jar and its content are kept under room temperature for two or three days. The fermentation process is aided by the microorganisms responsible for the final product’s texture and flavor.

For many families across the country, the ongoing restriction of movements is a lot easier to endure, thanks to the cows in their backyards and the ease of processing ikivuguto from home.

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