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FEATURE STORY November 20, 2019

From Subsistence to Commercial Farming in Rwanda


Marie Nyiraneza returns home from her soya garden, which are fed by water from the Nyanza dam.

Photo: World Bank


  • Two World Bank-funded agriculture projects have increased farmers productivity and introduced commercialization of marshland and hillside agriculture
  • Nearly 500,000 women have benefited from the projects, increasing their yields and investing in commercial agriculture for the first time
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources will build on the projects’ success, with a new project aimed at increasing climate-resilient agriculture, and furthering strong links to the markets

KIGALI, November 20, 2019 – For Marie Nyiraneza, 61, agriculture had always been a subsistence occupation. She never imagined that she could comfortably live off farming and even manage to save and invest in other economic activities.

“I practiced traditional farming, crowding my garden with all kinds of crops—sorghum, sweet potatoes, maize, and soya, and yields were always low,” said Nyiraneza, who lives in Runga, Nyanza District. “Oftentimes there wasn’t enough to feed my family through to the next season.”

Then, through two agriculture projects, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) expanded the radical terraces in Runga villages to stabilize the hillside, trained farmers in modern farming technics and built irrigation infrastructures.

The impact to the lives of the farmers was almost instantaneous. For Nyiraneza, her yields tripled, and the quality of her produce improved considerably. Where she used to harvest only 100kg of beans, she started getting one ton of good quality beans.

The World Bank funded projects—the Rural Sector Support Project (RSSP) and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) Project—helped the government of Rwanda increase productivity and commercialization of marshland and hillside agriculture in targeted areas. They also allowed for investment in rural infrastructure, which have been put in place to link productive areas to markets.

When the project encouraged and helped farmers in Runga to shift from subsistence farming to a more modern commercialized agriculture, Nyiraneza took advantage of the opportunity. With proceeds from her beans harvest, she leased another piece of land and started growing chili peppers, a high demand product that quickly enabled her to invest and save; in 2014, she saved RWF1.5 million ($1635) and applied for a RWF 500,000 ($545) loan from her Community Savings and Credit Cooperative. She used the money to buy another house, which she rents out.

Today, Nyiraneza is a proud owner of eight jersey cows that earn her RWF 400,000 (about $436) per year from the sale milk and compost. This is in addition to the income she gets from her irrigated gardens, which draw water from the Nyanza dam built by the project. Her four children have completed secondary school and her oldest son is in his final year of the university.

Surrounded by banana plants, maize and soya bean gardens, with a kraal at the side of her courtyard, her environment speaks to her unwavering commitment to pull herself out of poverty.

“I am food secure and financially stable,” she said. “Thanks to the training I received, and the practical experience I gained, I can comfortably say I have acquired lifelong skills and confidence.”

So far, of 101,774 beneficiaries of the RSSP project, more than 42% are women, as are 49% of the 310,058 beneficiaries of LWH.

Between 2010 and 2018, the RSSP and LWH projects contributed to Imagethe rehabilitation or development of more than 7,400 hectares of marshland and the irrigation of more than 2500 ha of hillsides, while more than 39,000 hectares of hillsides were sustainably developed and protected against soil erosion. As a result, maize and rice yields have more than doubled, and potato yields have more than tripled. Currently, more than 2.5 tons of high-end horticulture products are exported every week to Europe.

The new Bank-supported Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Food Security Project will focus on consolidating and expanding the results obtained under the projects and other selected MINAGRI initiatives, scale up efforts on nutrition-sensitive and climate-resilient agriculture, and further strengthen links to the markets.