Innovations et Réseaux pour le Développement
Development Innovations and Networks
Innovación y redes para el desarrollo

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Rwanda’s agricultural revolution is not the success it claims to be

The Rwandan government –- supported by major international donors –- has high ambitions to modernise and professionalise its agrarian and land sector to reduce poverty and create economic growth.

But, the sector faces some big challenges. There is a high incidence of landlessness, especially among the poorest who, when confronted with unforeseen costs, are often forced to sell land. This is a problem because more than 70% of the population are subsistence farmers, meaning they grow the food they eat. Rwanda is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. On average households typically have just 0.75 hectares.

The government’s reforms fit into a broader call, spearheaded by the UN in the early 2000s, to implement a “Green Revolution” in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea behind this is that land tenure would be formalised. This would increase security and encourage farmers to invest in their land.

Investments would be made in modern inputs – like seeds and subsidised fertilisers – and commercialisation would increase the production of selected crops. As a result, smallholder farmers should profit as they are integrated into commercial commodity chains. At a national scale this would lead to an increase in food security, exports and growth.

However, several studies in sub-Saharan Africa have uncovered considerable negative effects of Green Revolution policies. These have affected large sections of rural populations, especially poorer groups.

This article combines the findings of nine academic researchers who conducted in-depth research on the impact of Rwanda’s policies. The research found that Rwanda’s land and agricultural policies diminished land-tenure security, excluded vulnerable groups from taking part in the agricultural programs and caused food insecurity for many small-scale farmers.

This challenges the Rwandan government’s position, which portrays the agricultural sector reforms as hugely successful, and claims that these have resulted in poverty reduction and increased agricultural productivity.

The government relies heavily on quantitative indicators to make these claims. But we do not feel they tell the full story.

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