Sustaining the future of agriculture in the land of a thousand hills

Rulindo, Rwanda: A model of success

Key Facts

The Rulindo district of Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, is a model for a more integrated way of supporting local development and sustainable intensification of agriculture. It takes a holistic approach of using natural resources sustainably while also increasing incomes for farmers, creating more resilient livelihoods and improving the quality of people’s diets. With the help of FAO and its partners, Fonerwa (an investment fund for green initiatives in Rwanda) and Vegetable and Flowers Farmers Cooperatives, the Rulindo district has created 4 815 new jobs, set aside 1 830 hectares of land for fruit production and agroforestry, utilized nine water ponds for both a fish farming programme and sources of irrigation, and developed 1 950 hectares of progressive terraces. FAO hopes to replicate this successful model for its programmes in other areas of Africa and the world. 

The Rulindo district in Rwanda has a lot to teach us about the future of agriculture. The local government and FAO have teamed up to demonstrate what a holistic, sustainable approach to agriculture looks like in practice. Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, has huge agricultural potential. In its mountainous regions, the cool climate and ample rainfall lend themselves well to growing a wide range of crops from coffee and tea, to potatoes and bananas.

At the same time, it faces many challenges. Run-off from its steep hills has contributed to soil loss and erosion. Intense agricultural activity has caused soil degradation; a booming population means more mouths to feed, and a decline in the quantity and quality of water is putting agriculture and livelihoods at risk.

Holistic approach
The benefits of a holistic, sustainable approach are truly evident in Rulindo. By merging the priorities and work plans of different governmental departments, the approach brought together programmes that were never connected before. This has triggered better dialogue between ministries and contributed to formulating programmes that better take into account the relationship between natural resources and agriculture.

Incorporating best practices from past FAO-supported country initiatives such as the Kagera TAMP (the Kagera Transboundary Agro-Ecosystem Management Project), the Rulindo district is carrying out sustainable land management practices, such as terracing, and expanding on them. Other initiatives being implemented in Rulindo include agroforestry practices, soil and water conservation, integrated soil fertility management, crop-livestock integration, river bank protection and hands-on learning through Farmer Field Schools. 

Building on past initiatives
Better managing and conserving the water that flows in the Yanze River is one of these initiatives. The Yanze is the main source of water for Rwanda’s capital Kigali and for much of the district. It is a vital source of life and livelihoods.

However, its constant flooding, exacerbated by climate change and the resulting volatile weather conditions, risks washing away valuable soil and threatens agriculture. Additionally, siltation due to poor land management and uncontrolled water extraction leads to water shortages in the dry seasons.

To address these issues, FAO has helped farmers to plant 27 kilometres of bamboo on the banks of the Yanze. Bamboo trees increase the stability of river banks, stop soil loss and, as an added benefit, they provide new products for farmers to sell at local markets. Bamboo can be used for firewood and building materials or can be used for making crafts.

Addressing soil loss first helps to safeguard the advances made in agriculture. With this in place, Rulindo has also implemented various solutions to soil degradation such as  intercropping and agroforestry, the practice of incorporating forests and shrubs on farm land.

Changing habits
With new partners, such as Fonerwa, and Vegetable and Flowers Farmers Cooperatives, the district has helped to motivate farmers to try more innovative practices and grow different varieties of crops. These partnerships created 4 815 new jobs, set aside 1 830 hectares of land for fruit production and agroforestry, utilized 9 water ponds to serve as both a fish farming programme and as a source of irrigation and developed 1 952 hectares of progressive terraces (terraces that are built over several years through enhanced farming practices).

Providing new food products, such as mushrooms and pulses, also helps to address the nutritional needs of the population. Pulses are rich in protein and can be a good alternative to animal products. 

Putting it all together
With FAO’s support, Rulindo has also recently built a marketplace, an essential component of the value chain, to sell locally produced vegetables and flowers. People and businesses from all over the region come to buy products, which now no longer need to be shipped to other markets. This means that less food is lost while being transported, especially in an area where there is often inadequate infrastructure. In addition, women, who are the primary sellers of the goods, no longer need to travel to Kigali, which saves them time for other tasks.

A role model for the region, Rulindo’s success holds many lessons for other countries in Africa and across the world. FAO continues to support integrated, farm-to-fork, sustainability projects around the globe. 

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