For MSU researcher, professor and Global Programs in Sustainable Agri-Food Systems Director Dan Clay, Rwanda is more than just a country. It’s a home away from home.
Clay has been involved in agricultural and horticultural projects in Rwanda since 1979.
It all began when he was working in Washington, D.C., at the International Statistical Program Center. Due to his background and fluency in French, he was assigned to a new project in Rwanda, so he moved down there for a short period of time.
“I embraced it and got to love working there and have never stopped working there ever since,” Clay said.
Clay said he and his family moved to Rwanda in the early 1990s, where he ran the Food Security Research Project.
He lived in Rwanda during the height of the genocide, leading to a hostile environment. Before the genocide, Clay said it was commonplace to hear automatic weapons and explosions at night. Assassinations were also the norm at the time.
But despite the disturbing sounds, Clay said he and his family went about their business and just learned to live with it.
“During the genocide was a traumatic period,” he said. “(My family and I) had to hole up in our house for a period until we were evacuated. We were glad to make it out and happy about that, but we lost a lot of friends, colleagues and teachers. Our experience was just nothing really compared to actual Rwandans. They all lost somebody, so it was a very difficult period.”
Despite the horror Rwanda endured, Clay was still determined to help the country out as much as possible. He said he returned as soon as he was able to, in 1996, and began working on new projects.
Nowadays, Clay said he works with partners’ institutions, doing a variety of things involving agriculture and horticulture. He works with the Ministry of Agriculture to collect agricultural statistics for system and policy making.
He also works in food security research. Particularly, he’s working on policies that will mandate a higher quality of production for coffee.
This way the coffee ends up at higher-end cafes and is sold for more money, thus bringing in more revenue to Rwanda.
MSU students might have even had a taste of this brew — Clay said the medium roast coffee at Sparty’s is actually Rwandan coffee.
Clay said he has worked on 10-15 projects in Rwanda since 1979, but has no plans on slowing down.
Currently, he’s working on submitting a new, revised proposal. This specific proposal also deals with coffee productivity.
Clay said there’s an interesting problem occurring in the African Great Lakes region known as “Potato Taste Defect,” or PTD, where coffee bugs called antesia will prick coffee beans while they’re growing, causing bacteria to grow inside. This bacteria then causes the coffee to have a raw potato flavor.
“This past year it has started to become a real problem, so part of our proposal is improving practices to (lower) PTD,” he said.
Clay said his proposal involves three years of research and a capacity-building program.