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Country profile - Rwanda


Known as the 'land of a thousand hills', the landlocked country of Rwanda, lying south of the equator in Central Africa, is the most densely populated country on the continent. The majority of people live in rural areas and farm small hillside plots, although urbanisation is increasing at over four per cent a year. Rwanda's volcanic soils are fertile although periodic drought, soil erosion and soil exhaustion through over-cultivation on small family plots has led to food insecurity in some parts. However, despite the devastating genocide and civil war in 1994, Rwanda has made substantial progress in rebuilding its agricultural production, rehabilitating its infrastructure and stabilising its economy.


Agriculture contributes 35 per cent of GDP and employs 80 per cent of the workforce. Bananas, plantains, cassava, beans, maize, sweet potatoes, wheat and rice are the staple foods grown. Tea (25%) and coffee (19%) make up the majority of export earnings, with quality improving in both sectors. Horticulture crops (avocado, tomato, cabbage, leek), pyrethrum, and skins are also exported.

The majority of people live in rural areas and farm small hillside plots (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
The majority of people live in rural areas and farm small hillside plots
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Increasing agricultural production for a growing population has not been easy. Since 1994, nearly 4 million people, either internally displaced or returning refugees, have been competing for scarce land resources; the population density in Rwanda now stands at about 430 people per square kilometre. Nevertheless, since 2007, agricultural production has doubled, improving food security, and the poverty rate has decreased from 57 to 45 per cent.

As the population grows and the climate changes, pressure on land, water, food and energy resources also increases. Variable rainfall patterns, and limited irrigation infrastructure, transport and post-harvest storage are blamed for preventing Rwanda from achieving food security. With no rail link to the ocean and few all-weather roads, transport costs are also very high.

Reliant on rain-fed agriculture, Rwanda is highly vulnerable to climate change. Increases in temperature and changes to rainfall patterns, resulting in floods, landslides and droughts, significantly reduce crop yields, negatively impacting livelihoods, food security and export earnings. Rising temperatures are also predicted to increase the spread of pests and diseases, while the yield of some crops (including maize and rice) is forecast to drop by 10-15 per cent for every one degree Centigrade rise in minimum temperature. And as temperatures rise, the altitudes at which tea and coffee can be grown will also rise, which may affect the land available to grow these crops, due to differing soils and steeper slopes, and lead to conflict over land.

Milk production has more than doubled in the past six years (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Milk production has more than doubled in the past six years
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Poor animal genetic resources, inadequate feed, pests and diseases, and poor management have been blamed for keeping livestock productivity low. Much of Rwanda's livestock were also destroyed during the genocide. However, following the implementation of the government's 'one cow per family programme' in 2006, the cattle population has grown and milk production has more than doubled in the past six years, triggering investments in milk collection and processing facilities.

Green growth

To ensure its stability and prosperity in a future of changing climate by 2050, Rwanda's National Strategy for Climate Change and Low Carbon Development recommends actions that Rwanda can take. The Strategy calls for agricultural production to be increased through sustainable means, including the use of organic waste to improve soil fertility and reduce dependency on external inputs. To adapt to climate change and preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, the Strategy suggests allocating land to agricultural activities that will be resilient to future climate changes, and to improve irrigation infrastructure to optimise water usage. And until electricity is available and affordable, the use of agroforestry to provide wood for fuel and avoid deforestation is being encouraged.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries that has really focused on agricultural development (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Rwanda is one of the few African countries that has really focused on agricultural development
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

To build resilience into agricultural ecosystems, terracing and irrigation are being implemented. At the same time, kitchen gardens, nutrient recycling, water storage and harvesting, organic waste composting, wastewater irrigation and sustainable pest management are all being promoted. The Scheme also aims to expand crop varieties for climate resilience and import substitution, improve value chains and develop village-based processing centres to add value to agricultural products, and develop niche export crops under organic and fair-trade branding to diversify the agriculture sector.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries that has really focused on agricultural development as a way to boost growth and reduce poverty. In 2007, for example, Rwanda was the first country in Africa to adopt the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) process, resulting in increased investment in the agriculture sector and subsequent increases in productivity and production. But small farm sizes, scarcity of land, high population density, low levels of productivity, land degradation and climate change remain serious challenges.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Rwanda
  • Capital: Kigali
  • Area: 26,338 sq km
  • Population: 11,689,696 (2012 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 2.75% (2012 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 58 (2012 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Hutu (Bantu) 84%, Tutsi (Hamitic) 15%, Twa (Pygmy) 1%
  • Languages: Kinyarwanda (official, universal Bantu vernacular), French (official), English (official), Kiswahili (Swahili, used in commercial centres)
  • Inflation: 5.5% (2011 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$13.64 billion (2011 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$1,300 (2011 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 33.6%; industry: 14.1%; services: 52.3% (2011 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 45.56%; permanent crops: 10.25%; other: 44.19% (2005)
  • Major industries: cement, agricultural products, small-scale beverages, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes
  • Agricultural products: coffee, tea, pyrethrum (insecticide made from chrysanthemums), bananas, beans, sorghum, potatoes; livestock
  • Natural resources: gold, cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), methane, hydropower, arable land
  • Export commodities: coffee, tea, hides, tin ore
  • Export partners: Kenya 36.6%, Democratic Republic of the Congo 14.7%, China 9.1%, Swaziland 5.9%, US 5.3%, Pakistan 4.6% (2010)

Date published: July 2012


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