A country in desperate need of outside support
Rwanda is a landlocked, resource-poor country. The population is about 9.7 million, and 87 percent of Rwandans live in rural areas. Population density in the country is the highest in Africa, with about 370 persons/km². The annual demographic growth rate is 2.8 per cent, and the population is expected to increase to about 12 million by 2015.
The country is one of the poorest in Africa. Gross domestic product per capita was US $464 in 2008, and Rwanda ranked 167th out of 182 countries in the 2009 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index.
Who are Rwanda’s poor people?
Poverty is widespread throughout the country. In 2006, 56.9 percent of the total population were living below the poverty line and 37.9 percent were extremely poor. In rural areas about 64.7 percent of the population were living in poverty.
The genocide of 1994, which led to the loss of about 1 million lives and the creation of some 800,000 refugees and displaced persons, had a devastating social and economic effect on the country. It led to a change in the country’s demographic structure: women today account for about 54 percent of the Rwandan population, and many households are headed by women and orphans. Households headed by women (29 percent of the total rural population), households headed by children, and households affected by HIV/AIDS are also affected by poverty or are at risk of falling into poverty. Close to 14 percent of rural dwellers have become landless peasants who live in conditions of extreme poverty, and a large number of demobilized young soldiers have swollen the ranks of the unemployed.
The Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis conducted in 2006 by the World Food Programme, in close collaboration with the Rwanda National Institute of Statistics, indicated that 28 percent of the rural population was food-insecure and 24 percent was highly vulnerable to food insecurity. Although access to primary education has improved in rural areas (where the school enrollment rate is 77 percent, against a rate of 87 per cent in urban areas), the enrollment rate in rural secondary schools is as low as 6 percent, and dropout rates are higher than those in urban areas, particularly for girls.
Why are they poor?
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy. It has contributed an average of about 36 percent of total GDP between 2001 and 2008, and it employs more than 80 percent of the population. But the sector is very fragile. Rough terrain, erosion and climatic hazards combined with geography and the lack of modern technology to create serious constraints to agricultural development.
Rural livelihoods are based on an agricultural production system that is characterized by small family farms of less than 1 hectare (ha), practising mixed farming that combines rainfed grain crops, traditional livestock-rearing and some vegetable production. Food crops account for 92 percent of the cultivated area, and two-thirds of food crops are earmarked for family consumption. A small number of farmers grow higher-value cash crops such as coffee and tea, which occupy 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively, of total cultivable land. The most vulnerable rural people are landless people and small-scale farmers who cultivate less than 0.2 ha.
The rural enterprise sector offers alternative employment for a growing rural population living on increasingly scarce land. Microenterprises and small businesses have a role in construction, transport, trade, and service production of manufactured goods and processing of agricultural products, but this source of income remains largely untapped.