Extract of a study by the The Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project led by Digital Green, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Care International and GFRAS.
Rwanda became independent in 1962 and was led by Gregoire Kayibanda and Juvenal Habyarimana prior to the genocide in 1994. The genocide was a watershed event in the history and culture of the country. It began with the shooting of an airplane carrying Presidents Habyarimana of Rwanda and Ntaryamira of Burundi near Kigali in April 1994. This event precipitated the Rwandan genocide, and an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the following three months (Prunier, 1995). The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame, defeated the government forces of ex-President Habyarimana later in 1994. The RPF party has ruled the country since 1994, with Paul Kagame as the current president. Agriculture before and after 1994 has traditionally been the key to the Rwandan economy, and has remained a priority of the RPA government since taking power in 1994. To facilitate agricultural trade with its regional and continental neighbors, Rwanda is a member of both the larger Common Market of East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the regional East African Community (EAC) blocs.
Rwanda’s current population is an estimated 12.43 million people, with 71 percent rural and 29 percent urban; additionally, population growth averaged 3.18 percent between 2005-2015 (FAO, 2015). Population density for the country is very high for Africa, estimated at 434 persons/km2 (EU, 2014). Rwanda’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita2 was $800 in 2000 and has grown to $1584 in 2014, a significant annual growth rate of 7 percent per year since 2000. This substantial economic growth may also be slowing over the past two years,3 and also masks the fact that Rwanda still has a food deficit of 232 kcals/capita/day, which was measured as a three-year average from 2013-15 (FAO, 2015). Additionally, Rwanda’s stunting rate has recently improved, but is still at 37 percent (Hjelm, 2015).
Rwanda is divided into five provinces, as seen in Figure 2: Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western and Kigali. The provinces, in turn are divided into 30 districts, 416 sectors, 1,500 cells and 14,837 villages. USAID’s Zone of Influence (ZOI) for Feed the Future programming includes all four provinces surrounding Kigali (Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western), and 27 of the 30 districts nationally, excluding the three districts covering urban and peri-urban Kigali.
Regarding agriculture, Rwanda’s main staples are beans, maize, sweet potatoes, cassava, sorghum, Irish potatoes and bananas, and are all grown throughout the five provinces. Tubers and roots represent the largest category of staple in terms of production tonnage. The commonest crops grown, as measured through planting by individual households, are beans, maize and sweet potatoes, respectively (Hjelm, 2015). Further, beans and sweet potatoes are grown throughout Rwanda’s five provinces, while Irish potatoes usually have a surplus in the Northern and Western Provinces, maize usually predominates in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and cassava is concentrated in the southeast of the country.
In addition to Rwanda’s staple crops, coffee is the most important cash crop in-country. An estimated 400,000 smallholder farmers grow coffee, annual production is 18,000-21,000 MT, and coffee contributes to 36 percent of export revenue.4 Livestock is also found throughout the country, with agro-pastoralism found more commonly in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Additionally, the average consumption of meat and milk is lower than average for the households that possess livestock, showing that these households tend to sell these high-protein foodstuffs to wealthier and urban households (Hjelm, 2015). Finally, Rwanda’s capital Kigali averages 1028 mm of annual rainfall, with slight variations throughout other parts of the country: Huye (Butare) averages 1241 mm, Ngoma (Kibungo) 1015 mm, and Bumazi 1595 mm of annual rainfall.5 Rwanda also has only 10,000 hectares equipped for irrigation (0.4 percent of total land area). Irrigation capacity could be significantly increased with further investment (FAOSTAT, 2012).
Food crop production more than doubled the population growth rate between 2007 and 2014 (USAID, 2016). Poverty has also been reduced from 45 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2014. The agricultural sector and other factors roughly contributed to a poverty decrease of 45 percent since 2005 (World Bank, 2013): “Rwanda’s agro-renaissance was made possible by proactive and pro-poor policies (Ojijo et al, 2016, p. 209).” The agricultural sector meets 90 percent of the country’s domestic food needs and accounts for 80 percent of employment, 63 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 39 percent of GDP (MINAGRI, 2013). However, 60 percent of Rwandan farms are less than 0.5 hectares, and low agricultural productivity occurs due to degraded soils that are prone to erosion, lack of market incentives, low agricultural input access/usage and low mechanization rates (USAID, 2016). Twenty percent of households were reported to be food insecure in the Rwanda 2015 Crop and Food Security Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA), with the highest levels of food insecurity recorded in the districts of Rutsiro, Nyamagabe, Nyabihu and Nyaruguru (Hjelm, 2015). Therefore, many agricultural challenges persist within the country for the government, private sector, farmers and donors to address.