Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The 1994 genocide destroyed Rwanda’s economy and saw its population sink into unprecedented levels of poverty. The country’s private and foreign investment cash flow was literally cut off due to political instability and civil unrest. Although the country has made great strides in rebuilding its economy over the last nineteen years, most of this growth has been seeded by foreign aid and has yet to benefit many Rwandans. Over 40% of Rwandans still live in poverty and about 80% of the population is engaged in rural agriculture. This sector is predominantly composed of subsistence, rain-fed farming that is carried out on small, fragmented parcels of land (averaging about 0.5 hectares per family). Moreover, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with a population growth rate of 3% per annum and a density of 450 people per square kilometer of arable land. Increasing population size and density threaten to further reduce plot sizes; and thus also threaten to reduce the (already low) productivity of farming activities. The predominance of subsistence farming among Rwanda’s rural population, and the lack of knowledge about alternative farming methods and other economic opportunities, result in stagnant income levels.
Rwanda has few other natural resources to capitalize on besides farming, and only a very small and uncompetitive industrial sector. Agribusiness, the mainstay of the economy, accounts for 33.6% of Rwanda’s GDP and 45% of all exports. Despite its importance, the agricultural sector faces many structural challenges that reduce its profitability and ability to compete in regional and international markets. The government has encouraged the commercial farming of colonial cash crops (most commonly, tea and coffee), which are well suited to the steep slopes and cool climate of Rwanda but whose viability is also threatened by the decreasing size of farmland per family due to rapid population growth. Although the government has established an extension service to support commercial farming, these efforts are limited to the distribution of free seeds for cash crops and but information or training on modern farming methods that could increase productivity and profits is not readily available to the large majority of farmers. For example, organic farming is largely recognized as a farming method that increases the premium of agricultural produce but there is no framework to either educate farmers about this method or regulate organic products that are introduced to the market. Farmers have also been encouraged to form cooperatives so as to take advantage of economies of scale as they access regional and international markets. However, participation in a cooperative comes at the expense of individual performance and, thus, the value returned to an individual farmer is low. Without support that focuses on increasing the productive capacity of an individual farmer, few farmers can survive outside the cooperative structure or escape poverty.
Additionally, Rwanda’s landlocked status and underdeveloped transportation infrastructure has left it unable to favorably compete in its nearest market, The Common Market for East and Southern Africa. It is difficult to move bulky goods, such as tea and coffee, across the region without a railway system providing port access to Tanzania or Kenya. Rwanda’s landlocked status and the heavy transportation costs associated with bulky goods, pose a serious challenge to profits from trade. While agriculture accounts for much of the country’s exports, it is still outweighed by the volume of imports entering the country, most of which originates from East Africa. The weakness of exports and low domestic savings rates in Rwanda continues to suppress the country’s growth potential. In short, Rwanda lacks a competitive advantage in both the types of crops it grows and the methods of farming employed. Farmers, especially subsistence farmers, lack the information and structural support needed to improve their own productivity and income levels and contribute toward a vibrant and regionally competitive agricultural sector. Nicholas sees that some of the strategies being promoted by the government are not suited to the unique challenges that this sector and the country face.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Nicholas is working to build a vibrant and competitive agricultural sector in Rwanda by providing subsistence farmers with the skills and support needed to become viable commercial farmers with a unique competitive advantage in both crop type and production method. Nicholas- through his organization, Ikirezi Natural Products- has introduced essential oil crops to his country, which generate a higher return than the more commonly grown colonial cash crops of tea and coffee. Nicholas is also providing farmers with hands-on training in organic farming practices, a farming method that drives up the premium of this new cash crop in the marketplace. Ikirezi’s model farms serve as both an example of successful commercial organic farming and a learning hub for farmers looking to improve their productivity and livelihoods. Nicholas has created support systems that focus on improving individual productive capacity without removing the farmers’ ability to pursue matters of collective interest. Nicholas has, as a part of this system, created an extension service that employs agricultural experts to help these farmers eventually make the transition from subsistence to commercial farming at the household level.