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Rwanda is a small, rural, densely populated country. With a majority of its population being poor and food insecure, Rwanda needs sustainable solutions to improve the productivity of its climate-sensitive smallholder agriculture. Integrated approaches for soil and water conservation, staple crop improvement as well as raising the standards of agricultural value chains are among the fields of research collaboration between Rwanda and ICRISAT.

477 persons/km2 - Average human density in Rwanda (2012)

>80% - Share of Rwanda's working population depending on agriculture

32 - Rwanda's World Bank Doing Business rank; second easiest business environment in SSA

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General context

Rwanda, a small rural country situated in the Great Lakes region, is very densely populated. It experienced the worst African genocide in 1994, fuelled by an unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and Hutu majority.

About two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line. The agriculture sector represents a third of the GDP, employing over 80% of the working population. Agricultural commodities like coffee and tea represent a large share of export revenues. The return of displaced persons and rapid demographic growth has led to the overexploitation of land, serious soil erosion and a rapid decline in soil fertility.

Rwanda seeks to transform its economy from a low-income agriculture-based to a knowledge-based, service-oriented model by 2020. Reducing its dependence on foreign aid (40% of the national budget), Rwanda has become a good place to do business.

Rwanda's climate is conditioned by its topography: at lower altitude, in Kagera piedmont (East), rainfall is the lowest (850 to 1,000 mm/year). Further to the West, altitude and rainfall rise, then land slopes down to the Kivu lakeshore which has less rain. Called the land of a thousand hills, a lot of farmers cultivate on sloping lands (Bart 1993). There are two growing seasons, with usually diversified crop systems with legumes (bean) and cereals like sorghum and maize, as well as cassava and banana being among the major staple foods. Climate change may threaten cash crops like tea and coffee.

ICRISAT research in Rwanda

With support from the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), ICRISAT is collaborating with Rwandan scientists in the field of crop breeding and natural resource management.

Striga is the second main cause of yield loss after drought in Sub-Saharan Africa. Striga resistance has been introduced in farmer-preferred sorghum varieties using marker- assisted backcrossing. Improved varieties are currently being tested by farmers. Research for development on pigeonpea and chickpea, nutritious grain legumes that could also provide critical ecological benefits, are under discussion.

To combat the significant land degradation, Rwanda has set up pilot watershed learning sites under the regional Soil and Water Management Research Network. Using ICRISAT's community-based watershed management experience in India as a model, farmers are testing a combination of soil and water conservation practices, micronutrient fertilization and diversification into income generating activities, as well as an integrated set of policies and institutional and financing solutions.

Working on post-harvest issues as well as improving food quality standards in agricultural value chains are key to developing the agribusiness sector, as well as tackling public health issues such as aflatoxin and other food contamination. Under the India-Africa Forum Summit, ICRISAT's Nutriplus Knowledge Program together with the Rwanda Bureau of Standards is supervising the establishment of a Food Testing Laboratory.

Photo: ICRISAT
Striga-resistant sorghum varieties are developed and tested by Rwandan farmers.​
Photo: ICRISAT
Pigeonpea research started in Rwanda in 1983 focusing on early maturity, large seeds and adaptability to poor soils (Silim 2001).
Photo: ICRISAT
Rwanda is part of a regional initiative to promote better community watershed management, using the ICRISAT experience in India.
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