FAO in Rwanda

The potential of agroforestry to improve food security and land restoration

Agroforestry system in Nyabihu district. Rwanda projects to have 100 percent of the farms implementing agroforestry by 2030.©FAO/Teopista Mutesi

Agroforestry has long been part of Rwandan farmers. They planted trees for food (fruit), timber, renewable wood energy, poles, fodder, stakes for climbing beans and shade for livestock, but also for soil conservation because they believe agroforestry increases soil fertility, retains water, maintains and improves the surrounding environment, and also for medicinal purposes.

Agroforestry is not forestry and is more than “agriculture with trees’. Agroforestry may occur at a range of scales from the field and farm to the landscape and the planet. It may involve trees within or outside forests. The most important form of agroforestry is where trees are integrated in agricultural fields, farms and landscapes, where they provide some, but generally not all, of the ecosystem functions provided by forests.

Agroforestry systems are classified as agri-silviculture which is a combination of crops and tree species; silvopastoral (a combination of trees, pastures and animals), and agrosilvopastoral (a combination of crops, trees, pasture and animals). However, there are many other types of specialized agroforestry systems such as apiculture with trees, woodlots, fodder banks, fruit orchards which are frequent in most farming systems depending on soils and climatic condition.

Why Agroforestry is still relevant in Rwanda

Rwanda has a limited land available to expand its forest plantations while the population trend keeps increasing and the majority depends on wood for cooking despite efforts to promote other affordable alternative sources of clean energy.

Meanwhile, Rwandan agriculture sector employs 80 percent of working people and occupies about 77 percent of the country area. The sector is dominated by rainfed subsistence farming, characterized by low productivity and low use of inputs and technologies (e.g. fertilizer, improved seeds, mechanization, etc.). Agriculture however provides 90 percent of national food needs and will have to feed an increasing population in a near future while its density is already very high (estimated to 450 inhabitants/km² in 2017).

Conversely, about 96 percent of the rural households rely directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods, while 79.9 percent of households use biomass as a source of cooking energy (EICV5). The higher dependence on natural resources for the livelihoods of an increasing population is one of the major causes of the rapid depletion of natural resources, leading to high pressure on land, forest and water resources.

Currently, the national annual wood deficit is estimated at 9.5 million m3 (RNRA, 2016) while soil loss is estimated at 1.4 millions of tons per year, accounting for a loss of USD 320 000 (FAO, 2018).

The Government of Rwanda, in 2010, committed in Bonn Challenge and in the Africa Forest Restoration Initiative (AFR100) to restore 2 million hectares of the degraded lands by 2030.

In 2014, the government published the National Restoration Opportunities Assessment (MINIRENA, 2014). This assessment, a global first, identified that agroforestry represented the single most significant restoration opportunity with a total potential area of 1.1 million hectares.

Agroforestry, therefore, provides a potential restoration solution to land degradation in Rwanda and Eastern Province in particular providing multiple benefits including the reduction of soil loss, increase of soil biomass, carbon and nutrients, provision of essential farm resources such as a livestock fodder, fruits, fuel wood (for cooking), construction and other woody biomass needs.

Agroforestry is recommended as the long-term solution as it has a high potential to provide wood for fuel and social protection while reversing deforestation.

Agroforestry practices are on the forefront to increase agricultural production, reduce soil erosion and nutrient depletion, and provide suitable wood fuel while preserving natural forests and enhanced protection of watersheds on several hectares of slopping lands.

 “At present, land degradation and natural disasters are prevailing as environmental issues that affect people’s livelihoods and the economic development of the country. It arises as a very urgent and important subject to actively adopt agroforestry practices in accordance with the country’s agro-ecologies and socio-economic contexts,”said the Minister of Environment, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya signing the agroforestry strategy.    

The need for an Agroforestry Strategy

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) supported the Government of Rwanda to develop the National Agroforestry Strategy (2018-2027) to support the development of agroforestry in Rwanda. The strategy creates a roadmap for promoting leadership and synergies in agroforestry and engaging coordinated actions to increase the adoption of agroforestry technologies at Rwanda’s agricultural landscapes and watersheds.

The agroforestry strategy budget required for the 10 years period is estimated at RWF 11 217 420 000 (about USD 11 882 900).

Although there is strong interest and potential for agroforestry to contribute to the economy and help to achieve sustainable development goals, agroforestry development and implementation is impeded because of lack of investment (research, training, infrastructure etc.), inadequate knowledge, poor dissemination and coordination.

Getting agroforestry adopted and applied at scale requires leadership, coordinated action for technology development and integration, application and decision support tools, technology transfer to agriculture and natural resource managers and technical assistance to farmers. However, the immediate need is to get agroforestry on the ground through concerted efforts to get into practice what is already known and to coordinate and strengthen the development of new knowledge.

The Strategy identifies needs and priority actions to develop and implement agroforestry in all the agro-ecological zones and land use systems of the country. Priority actions are formulated in six interconnected thematic areas that include, creating Policy and Institutional Framework for Agroforestry; innovative Research and Knowledge for Agroforestry Development; strengthening Communication and Extension for Agroforestry Adoption and Scaling-Up; promotion of  priority Agroforestry Practices; marketing of Agroforestry Products and Development of their Value Chains; and empowering Women and Youth through Agroforestry Development.

Global policy context of agroforestry

Coordinated efforts on Agroforestry could be a critical way forward to achieving ambitious production and Rwanda’s restoration targets embedded in, National Strategic Transformation (NST1), INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) submitted to UNFCC in 2015 proposed to have 100% of the farms implementing agroforestry by 2030, and the GGCR (Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy, 2011) whose vision for Rwanda is to reach a developed climate-resilient, low-carbon economy by 2050.

Agroforestry is an important element in the Bonn Challenge (2011), the global aspiration to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030; the UNCCD which calls for land degradation neutrality; and several targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) of the CBD which have direct relevance to tree diversity in agricultural landscapes.

Agroforestry being at the confluence of forestry and agriculture, with trees connecting all landscapes, it appears at the heart of many conventions and global initiatives that are intrinsically linked. It has been proven as an excellent choice for reversing land degradation, In particular, the contribution of agroforestry to sustainable development has been recognized in international policy meetings, including the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


Useful links

Advancing Agroforestry on the Policy Agenda

Agroforestry provides practical solutions to global problems

Agroforestry and landscape restoration


Teopista Mutesi | Communications Specialist | Email: [email protected] OR [email protected]