Food for the cities programme

In-depth assessment in difficult terrain: experiences from Kigali


From disappearing cooperatives to a minibus stuck in the mud and flooded roads – the Kigali City Region Food System (CRFS) research team overcame practical challenges to conduct the in-depth assessment. This article shares the highs and lows of the experience, and offers tips for others doing field  work in difficult terrain. It shows the benefits of visiting respondents in situ, where some of the main issues in the food system can be observed first hand. 

The Kigali CRFS In-depth Assessment involved one month of field work in May 2021, during which five enumerators administered questionnaires to characterise the CRFS and assess risk of impacts from climate shocks and stresses and other events, such as pandemics.  

The respondents included 190 farmers and 35 farmer cooperatives in nine districts that either border Kigali or are major production areas of key staples consumed in the city: Nyarugenge, Gasabo, Kicukiro, Kamonyi, Rulindo, Musanze, Gicumbi, Rwamagana, and Bugesera. For each district, the researchers selected the two most productive sectors, and the best performing producers or cooperatives in each.   

In addition, the researchers interviewed 111 key informants from the local, district, and national levels, including from ministries, state agencies, NGOs, agriculture projects, and microfinance and insurance companies were selected at the national level. 

The questionnaires were conducted using Kobo Toolbox, a tool designed specifically for data collection in challenging settings. This tool was particularly helpful as it can capture open-ended responses as quotes, for later export into analysis software (the team used SPSS). It can also capture the GPS coordinates of every location visited, and it is possible to switch between languages – in this case, English and Kinyarwanda. 

The enumerators underwent training before heading into the field, and the questionnaires were pre-tested with a small number of respondents.

‘I translated the questions from English to Kinyarwanda, said Leonidas Dusengemungu, Senior Value-Chain Consultant for the Kigali City Region Food System project. ‘Where the enumerators couldn't understand we made corrections during the training. We went into the field and tested whether a few interviewees could understand the questions, and made more corrections before continuing.’ 

Adjustments to unforeseen circumstances 

Despite this careful planning, some adjustments had to be made due to unforeseen issues. 

The researchers originally planned to interview 63 farmer cooperatives, but when they got into the field they found almost half no longer existed.  

‘Many had disappeared due to the drought, which reduced harvests so that farmers could not contribute to the cooperative. The farmers are still farming, but individually,’ explained Dusengemungu. 

The team therefore added more individual farmers to make up the numbers planned in the sample size. 

In addition, some high-level key informants cancelled their interviews on the day due to busy schedules. The interviews were re-scheduled wherever possible, but some did not happen. 

Travelling around challenging terrain 

The research team received a warm reception in the field.  ‘The people were very happy to talk to us because they like FAO’s work, and the topic of climate was a priority for them.’

Reaching all the producers, however, proved to be challenging. 

The minibus that was hired for the research team was unsuitable due to the unpaved roads outside of Kigali city that are prone to soil erosion during heavy rains and used by lorries transporting stones, sand, and bricks. After two days of pushing the vehicle out of mud, and calling on the farmers to help, the minibus was replaced by a Jeep, which was better able to cope with the hilly terrain. 

Even with the Jeep, however, the team was prevented from reaching some areas by severe weather. 

‘When we reached the district of Rulindo, the roads were flooded. We could not go where we wanted to go. Some of the farmers wanted to come out to meet the researchers but the roads proved impassable,’ said Dusengemungu.

‘That day we replaced some farmers by others who were not in the flooded area.’ 

This experience enabled the researchers to see first-hand some of the difficulties faced by farmers. ‘They can't go to the market if the floods are still there, or if the road is destroyed by landslides, so they miss the market. When there are landslides, they are stuck in their place. In both cases, they miss out on income and have losses for perishable crops such as tomatoes.’


Advice for research teams elsewhere 

Dusengemungu offered some useful advice for teams embarking on similar research in difficult circumstances. 

First, based on the discovery that some of the cooperatives did not exist, he said, ‘It is a good idea to do a quick research    before going out to collect data, to check what is really there or not,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, the plans are not good.’

Second, he advises planning extra days in case things do not go according to plan. ‘If you encounter destroyed roads and heavy rains, it can take longer to reach respondents.  So as not to rush with data collection, and in case you need to replace some of the respondents, it is better to have security of 5 extra days for 30 days planned.’ 

Lastly, each research team should have their own vehicle. ‘I obtained one vehicle, which meant the two teams had to travel together. When some enumerators finished, they had to wait for the others to move on together. If we had had two vehicles, the data collection would not have taken the whole month. It would have been quicker and cost less.’  


First-hand observations 

While the research was based on the questionnaire responses, the team made a number of observations in the field that prefigured the analysis. 

They saw maize farms that had been impacted by windstorms and flooding, followed by drought. While the impacts of drought can be mitigated by irrigation technologies, less than 30% of farmers had any irrigation technology or water reserves. 

‘They say the equipment is very expensive,’ said Dusengemungu. ‘Even if the Ministry of Agriculture is giving a subsidy of 50%, it does not help them because they don't have the other 50% to purchase the irrigation equipment.’ 

Another surprise was to learn that production and productivity are decreasing year-on-year, even though population growth means demand for food is increasing. This is not only because of climate impacts, but also because family-owned land has been divided into smaller and smaller plots through inheritance. 

‘Now the government of Rwanda has decided to stop the inheritance of land because if they continue to distribute small land among household members finally it will be 1m2’, said Dusengemungu. Even so, some parcels are already too small to feed all household members. 

‘If it is not sufficient, some [household members] will leave and start off-farm jobs or become jobless and therefore increase the unemployment rate’. 

There was also very low involvement of youth in agriculture – under 30% -- despite high levels of unemployment. Generally, young people are more interested in processing of agricultural products (as well as other off-farm jobs such as trading clothes and running small shops). Those who do consider production opt for pig or poultry farming, which require less time than cropping before benefits are seen. 

‘There should be measures to attract youth into agriculture, because once these producers become old, there won’t be production anymore. This connects with growing population, falling production, and youth not producing. There will be so many problems.’

When it comes to storage, there are no facilities – and therefore no reserves – at the community or district level. Rather, the whole harvest is sold immediately. 

‘When there is a shock, there is no way for people to find something to eat. The district or the communities should construct stores and put aside some of the harvest,’ said Dusengemungu. 

As for processing, farmers and cooperatives do not tend to sell to the closest processing units within their districts because they do not pay enough. Rather, they take their produce directly to Kigali, where it is sold unprocessed on urban markets for a good price. This is more work as they must seek and negotiate the best prices in the city, while the processing units work at a loss because they lack raw material. 

‘The producers told me that if the government could fix prices, and if the nearby processing units would respect those fixed prices, they would willingly sell to them. The government is already fixing prices for maize and milk, but not for other crops,’ said Dusengemungu.   

More information about Kigali City Region Food System is available here

---Written by Jess Halliday (PhD), Chief Executive, RUAF CIC