In 1994, the RPF-led government inherited a broken country with a collapsed state. Millions of people had fled across Rwanda’s borders into neighbouring countries, leaving its productive sectors, agriculture included, non-functional.
Although more than 80 per cent of the population derived their livelihood directly from agriculture, for some years the new government and the donor community were faced by competing demands for reconstruction, paying scant attention to the agricultural sector. In fact, in early years of the decade that followed the Genocide against the Tutsi (1994-2005), Rwanda witnessed mixed results in terms of agricultural growth and food security due to poor sector leadership, erratic rainfall patterns, poor inputs distribution system and little investments.
These mixed results awakened the government to the imperative to do something about agriculture. And thus began the story of the big turn-around witnessed in recent years, including the government’s enthusiastic embrace of Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) with the signing of the CAADP compact in 2007. Since then, the Government of Rwanda focused its attention on the agricultural sector following the realisation that the strategy of leapfrogging Rwandan economy into becoming a service-based economy was not going to be realised or yield tangible results without fixing agriculture problems.
Thanks to political and institutional reforms initiated since 2004, Rwanda reviewed agricultural sector strategies with clear agricultural targets to reach over time, including the National Agricultural Policy 2004, and National Agricultural Transformation Plans, also known as by their French acronyms PSTA (Plan Strategique de Transformation de l’Agriculture). Key highlights of the said policy and plans were to review sector policy objectives, putting special emphasis on food crops instead of traditional export crops, allocating more resources to agriculture, improving service delivery through restructuring of public implementing institutions while improving sector leadership from the central government to districts. In addition, resources allocated to the sector were revised upward, demonstrating the GoR
commitment to agricultural growth. Since then, public investments to the agriculture sector experienced a continued upward trend over the decade reaching 13.6 per cent and 10.2 per cent of the national budget in 2009/10 and 2010/11, respectively.
Owing to the above-mentioned policy reforms and sustained increased investments, the sector experienced an average annual growth rate of 5.4% between 2007 and 2012 enabling Rwanda to increase its domestic food production while reducing its food imports, driven primarily by both yield increases and area expansion although the latter played a minor role compared to yield increases. Moreover, rural poverty fell from 61.9 per cent in 2005/2006 to 48.7 per cent in 2011/12 while extreme rural poverty fell from 39.5 per cent to 26.4 per cent over the same period, driven primarily by agricultural interventions to increase productivity and initial steps to move the sector from subsistence to a market driven one. Overall, poverty was reduced from 56.7 per cent in 2005/2006 to 44.9 per cent in 2011/2012 resulting in the lifting of one million Rwandans out of poverty.
Rwanda’s agriculture success story is captured in agricultural and animal productivity gains and the expansion of production both for staple crops and animal products. Gains in productivity through yield increases and expansion of production were made possible through significant government-led interventions such as the Crop Intensification Programme (CIP), land use consolidation, increase in acreage under irrigation and protected against soil erosion, and expansion of cultivated terraces. Access to basic services such as extension services was improved while the use of agrochemicals and improved seeds were increased and made accessible to smalholders countrywide.
Livestock development through One Cow per Poor Household programme (Girinka) has been among the important activities carried out by MINAGRI since 2006. This programme was launched in 2006 to address high levels of malnutrition among rural households, especially in children. By the end February 2013, a total of 144,385 cows had been distributed under Girinka programme to rural households of which 34,447 were “pass on” cows. Girinka increased milk production and provided other benefits, including providing manure to improve soil fertility. Between 2006 and 2011, national milk production increased by 221% rising to 503 million liters in 2012 allowing the government to start the One Cup per Child Programme in schools. Income level of most of beneficiaries has been increased through the selling of milk.
Moreover, dedicated efforts were put in building resilience through value addition and risk management through post-harvest handling and storage improvements (PHHS), integrated livestock management, export, and value addition. With recent production increases, post-harvest infrastructures have been constructed countrywide including drying grounds, grain aggregation centers, warehouses and metal silos, rice milling plants and cassava processing plants. Moreover, risk mitigation interventions were initiated allowing farmers to become more resilient to external shocks. Safety nets programmes have been put in place by the government to help very poor households get out of poverty through interventions in agriculture and livestock development, rural electrification and water supply for the most vulnerable population. Universal medical coverage have been expanded countrywide covering 86% by 2010 while a weather-based insurance scheme was set up in 2012 providing coverage to farmers affected by weather-related crop losses.
Given limited resources available for the implementation of sector programme, government opted mainly for homegrown solutions to address farmers’ needs in a more sustainable and cost effective way. For example, malnutrition problems were tackled through (i) One Cow per Poor Households programme (Girinka) and One Cup per Child Programme in schools while limited land availability and its fragmentation were addressed through (ii) Land use consolidation, Community Land Terracing and Community Marshland Development, resulting in quick impact and value for money.
All the above mentioned achievements were possible thanks to institutional, economic and political changes initiated by the Government since 2000. Until today, the State remains the major player in fostering and implementing agricultural policies while bringing investments and technologies into the sector. Moreover, there are strong evidence highlighting the existence of a pro-poor resources allocation targeting the rural poor – for example One Cow per Poor Households- as well as a balanced geographical coverage of agricultural investments countrywide including in low potential zones – irrigation infrastructure in drought-prone zones and soil erosions infrastructures in high altitude.
Overall, Rwanda agricultural transformation is driven by a mix of political and economic reforms coupled with strategic investments in priority food crops and natural resources management supported by improved institutional environment. It is also important to highlight the importance of accountability mechanisms put in place to hold MINAGRI and partners accountable and committed to service delivery to citizens. This include performance contracts (Imihigo), the creation of Transparency Rwanda and the National Corruption Prosecution Bureau in the Judiciary, etc.
However, despite tangible achievements, Rwanda’s agricultural transformation journey goes along with some challenges and shortcomings. The transformation processes and achievements remain very fragile in the context of a largely rain-fed agriculture associated with climate change threats and almost exclusively government-dominated investments. In addition, suitable land is in short supply, and is typically held in tiny holdings (national average: 0.59ha), water supply for irrigation is uneven and its management poor, support services notably extension and finance, are inadequate while input and output markets are embryonic at best.
Perhaps the most important lesson is that politics and responsible leadership with clear vision and dedication matter. In order to keep the momentum and achieve more results, Rwanda needs to maintain its rhythm in policy reforms and implementation, dedicating efforts in closing current agricultural investment gaps, catering for cost-effectiveness and value for money of current agricultural investments in addition to attracting more private investors. Equally important will be paying more attention to the seed industry development, strengthening rural financial services, fostering value addition through heavy investment in processing, strengthening food supply chains, and continuing efforts in building resilience to reduce vulnerability of current production models.
The writer is an Agricultural Policy Analyst. He currently works as a Policy Officer for the FAO in