The economy of Rwanda is greatly dependent upon its land, water, and biodiversity resources, with the agriculture sector contributing about 29% of the GDP. About 96% of the rural households rely directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods, and 85 to 95% of households use fuel wood as a source of cooking energy. Nonetheless, Rwanda is very vulnerable to climate change, ranking twelfth most vulnerable country in the world (ND-GAIN Index). In recent years, extreme weather events in Rwanda increased in frequency and magnitude with floods and landslides reported in the Western province and Kigali City while drought devastated the Eastern Province. Furthermore, Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa (World Bank, 2015), and the rapid population growth in Kigali City and the Eastern Province has increased pressure on land, forest, and water resources. The large gap between supply and demand in fuel wood is leading to over- exploitation and degradation of trees/shrub resources (both in forest and crop/agroforestry lands) with consecutive exposure of soils to erosion.
Photo taken by Modest BIZIMANA: Farmer Field School (FFS) Facilitators learning about Agroforestry systems in Gicumbi District, Rwanda
In 2010, the Government of Rwanda, aiming to resolve these challenges, committed to restoring the ecological health of two million hectares of land, which essentially represents the whole country. This commitment was the first in Africa, and a foundational commitment to the Bonn Challenge, a global target to restore 150 million ha of degraded land by 2020. Agroforestry 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 wood biomass, plant and soil carbon and soil nutrients, provision of essential farm resources such as a livestock fodder, fruits, and fuel wood for cooking energy and construction materials. Evidence has shown a positive relationship between tree cover and indicators of children’s dietary quality and increased consumption of fruits and tree leafy vegetables. Agroforestry products ranging from timber and firewood to fruits and nuts (e.g., macadamia) are all trade goods sold locally as well as in the sub-national, national, and regional commodity markets.
The Eastern Province of Rwanda targeted by this project presents 500,000 ha of agroforestry restoration potential (MINIRENA, 20141), while the peri-urban areas of Kigali City present particular challenges including high population density and high climate disaster (landslide) risks. Agroforestry potential in these peri-urban areas is estimated at 40,000 ha with opportunities to develop horticultural value chains (MINIRENA, 2014).