Since 2021, Rwanda Cleaner Production and Climate Innovation Centre (CPCIC) and its partners are implementing a circular food system project that will provide technical support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in food systems in Rwanda to improve their ability to utilise ‘circular business models.’ The project will facilitate effective policy and stakeholder engagement to create a stronger enabling environment for food system transformation in Rwanda. This project is expected to support SMEs in adopting circular economy practices, which ensure that food is produced in ways that restore nature, that food is not lost or wasted, and that resources typically wasted are used productively. The food system involves the primary production of food, food services, consumption, and disposal. The project is funded by IKEA Foundation and implemented by a consortium led by the World Resource Institute (WRI), Platform for Accelerating Circular Economy (PACE), African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), African Circular Economy Network (ACEN), Cleaner Production and Climate Innovation Centre (CPCIC) and Resonance. The CPCIC was established, under the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), by the government of Rwanda with the aim to help industries, SMEs, and public and private institutions to adopt best practices in terms of resource efficiency, cleaner production, circular economy, and innovation. Why the project is timely Rwanda has great potential to transform its food systems through a circular economy. More than 70 per cent of the population works in the agricultural industry, which employs more than six million small-scale farmers and contributes 33 per cent of Rwanda’s GDP. At the same time, UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index 2021 report estimates that 164 kg of food is wasted per capita in Rwanda every year. Transitioning towards a circular economy has the potential to improve the economic, social and environmental impacts of the food system. The project will help to make sure agri-food systems and environmental protection are interconnected to enable a transition to a circular food system and environmental protection to boost productivity. During October 2022, two workshops gathered partners in the food systems and environment sector to collect their perceptions on the project outcome and expected contribution in the transition to a circular food system. Participants validated findings related to agri-food system policies analysis and the SMEs development reports. Stakeholders reiterated the importance of the recommendations outlined by the report. These include the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform to provide space for extensive consultations of solutions to barriers and gaps towards circular economy transition, and alignment of policies relevant to the agri-food sector with a circular economy approach. The recommendations say that SMEs agribusinesses need a more supportive policy environment and greater innovation to help them adopt circular approaches. By linking technological innovations such as circular business models, with policy and regulatory changes, the project will strengthen and accelerate the development of Rwanda’s circular economy for food, CPCIC explained. According to the recommendations, there is a need for increased availability of affordable, high-quality, demand-driven technical assistance for SMEs building circular agri-food businesses. “This will mature and prepare SMEs for investment.” To explain the project relevance, the centre says that agri-food SMEs in Rwanda have the potential to generate significant revenue from circular food products and services but are currently prevented from doing so by a lack of technical knowledge and value chain connections in the circular economy. Focal areas Some of the potential business development and technical assistance focal areas to be supported include SMEs in regenerative transition, on-farm storage and handling business, agri-food logistics services, by-product valorisation, new product development, and market and value chain linkages. The project also seeks to create synergies with stakeholders implementing similar initiatives in Rwanda and in the region to ensure the project remains relevant and has a significant impact while avoiding duplication of efforts.