FAO in Rwanda

Rwanda at a glance

Introduction to Rwanda

Rwanda is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Its 26,338 square kilometers are dominated by highlands, giving it the name “Land of A Thousand Hills”. The lowest altitude in the country is 950 m above the sea level and it is estimated that 90% of domestic cropland is on slopes ranging from 5% to 55%. Rwanda’s climate is conditioned by its landscape: the lower the altitude, the warmer the temperature. The country experiences a long dry season from June to August with heavy rainfall between March and May.

With 441 inhabitants per square kilometer, Rwanda had the second highest population density in Africa as of 2015. In the last 10 years the population grew at a rate of 2.6%, and reached an estimated 11.61 million inhabitants in 2015.

Agricultural sector general information

Agriculture is the main economic activity in Rwanda with 70% of the population engaged in the sector, and around 72% of the working population employed in agriculture. The period for cultivation can be divided into the first cultivable season (from September to January) and the second cultivable season (from February to June). In the marshlands, where water is abundant, there is also a third agricultural season for the cultivation of rice and vegetables.

The agricultural sector accounts for 33% of the national GDP . In general, Rwanda’s GDP has been growing at the rate of 7% since 2014. Tea and coffee are the major exports while plantains, cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and beans are the most productive crops. Rwanda exports dry beans, potatoes, maize, rice, cassava flour, maize flour, poultry and live animals within Eastern Africa.


Due to the strong link between agriculture and poverty, the challenges in the agriculture sector are also drivers of rural poverty. Despite remarkable improvements over recent years, the agricultural sector in Rwanda still faces many challenges:

  • Land degradation and soil erosion are among the main challenges faced by agriculturalists. Around 90% of Rwandan territory lies on slopes with the consequent effect of soil loss, erosion and decreasing fertility. It is estimated that 1.4 millions of tonnes of soil per year is lost, accounting for a loss of 320.000 US dollars . The pressure of a growing population also has a negative effect on land availability. As a result, land holdings are becoming more and more fragmented.
  • Land use and distribution. In Rwanda, land categorized as rural is nearly 98% of the total land area, with around 49% classified as arable. A Land Law passed in 2005 established a private market for land titles and eliminated customary land tenure systems. Under the law, land owners are obliged to register their land holdings and land titles are equally available for women and men. However, in some cases informally married women have insecure land rights and women in general face difficulties in claiming inheritance.
  • Rwandan agriculture presents a strong dependence on rainfalls and vulnerability to climate shocks. The low level use of water resources for irrigation makes agricultural production unpredictable from one season to another.
  • Low levels of productivity for both crops and livestock due to low input use, poor production techniques and inefficient farming practices. The use of chemical fertilizers in Rwanda saw a steady rise in 2007 when the Government of Rwanda (GoR) started the Crop Intensification Program (CIP). Under the program, subsidized fertilizers are provided to farmers for the cultivation of six priority crops. Despite this, famers’ adoption of fertilizers remains quite low when compared to other countries in the region.
  • Weak processing capacity and higher value-added products placed on the market. Between 1999 and 2008 the share of food crops processed never exceeded 6.5%. Furthermore, of the total food produced in the country only 34% reaches the market. The reasons for unexploited processing capacity lies in lack of appropriate technologies, expertise, financing incentives and rural infrastructure. Lack of access to an adequate water supply and at times energy supply makes it difficult for processing businesses to function.

Due to shortage in land availability, the Government of Rwanda is promoting intensification as a strategy to increase production and farmers’ incomes. According to the PSTAIII, “In the long term, the goal is to move Rwandan agriculture from a largely subsistence sector to a more knowledge-intensive, market-oriented sector, sustaining growth and adding value to products.” To do so, in line with the document for EDPRS II, the GoR considers agriculture a catalyst sector and will promote the development of value chains with a stronger links with the private sector. The crops of interest include coffee, dairy, horticulture and cereals among others.