Exploring Farms in Rwanda: Cycling in the Country of Thousand Hills

It’s been a few weeks since we left Rwanda, but the memories of our cycling adventure through the “Land of a Thousand Hills” still linger in our minds. The experience was unlike any other, with its hilly landscapes, smooth roads, and the sight of countless people cycling effortlessly up and down the hills on vintage bikes with no gears or brake systems. Rwanda’s cycling culture left us in awe, and for this reason alone, we would eagerly return with a different setup to explore the off-road paths that wind through the picturesque mountains.

A Night in Rukomo: Unexpected Hospitality

As we pedaled our way towards Kigali, we made a stop in Rukomo, a small village about 50 kilometers from the capital. Dusk was approaching, and we were in search of internet access, a task that proved to be a bit challenging. Locals informed us that obtaining a SIM card required a Rwandan passport. Hungry and tired, we decided to have dinner in town before finding a place to spend the night.

Finding a guesthouse seemed to be difficult, so we took a different approach and asked the locals if we could pitch our tent in their gardens. After several conversations, we were fortunate to meet a kind lady working in her garden. With a mixture of French, Swahili, and English, we managed to communicate our situation. She introduced us to her cousin, Jean Claude, who spoke English. He not only understood our predicament but offered his vacant rental home for us to stay the night. We quickly set up our tent within the house for shelter.

The next morning, Jean Claude invited us to his home, where his wife treated us to a delightful breakfast. Over the meal, we discovered Jean Claude’s coffee plantation. He invited us for a walk to his farm, which was situated 14 kilometers away. Exploring the village and its steep mountain ridge farms was an incredible experience, providing insight into the local farming practices.

Farming on the Mountains: Rwanda’s Unique Agriculture

As we continued our journey through Rwanda, we noticed how the people skillfully utilized the mountainous terrain for farming. The hilly landscape prompted farmers to focus on techniques like terracing, erosion control, and agroforestry. Just a week before our arrival, the country had faced severe erosion issues due to heavy rains, which had unfortunate consequences.

To adapt to the landscape and address these challenges, we altered our cycling route, heading directly from Kabale to Kigali instead of taking a detour along Lake Kivu, a beautiful region bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, we were fortunate enough to revisit this stunning area after spending a week in Rwanda.

Our Kigali Experience: A Vibrant City Surrounded by Nature

Kigali welcomed us with open arms, thanks to connections with Sanne who we knew from Wageningen University, and her friend Titus whom we both met in Kampala. Titus kindley invited us to his place in Kigali. He hosted us for the duration of our stay in Kigali, and we were introduced to his housemates, Thijs and Jacco. Living with them for a while made us feel like we were part of the city’s bustling life.

Despite not being big city people, Kigali’s unique blend of urban and natural settings won us over. The city offered a vibrant atmosphere with numerous outdoor activities, all set against a backdrop of breathtaking hilly landscapes.

Exploring Rwanda’s Coffee Culture: A Visit to Abakundakawa Rushashi Coffee Cooperative

Inspired by Jacco, who was interning at Agirterra, we decided to visit the Abakundakawa Rushashi Coffee Cooperative. This cooperative, comprised of 2,000 farmers, provided us with an in-depth understanding of the coffee production process, from washing and drying to empowering youth and women by collectively entering the market. It was a fascinating experience, and we were amazed by the cooperative’s ability to supply coffee to both small and large companies, including giants like Starbucks.

Discovering North Western Rwanda: Musanze and Gisenyi

Eager to explore the North Western part of Rwanda, we headed towards Musanze and Gisenyi. We had heard countless comments about the beauty of these regions. As we enjoyed the beautiful volcanic landscapes along the way, we visited AGRIRESEARCH UNGUKA Ltd, a research center focused on regenerative practices, RAB (Rwanda Agricultural Board), and Winnaz (a potato chips company “Hollanda Fair Foods”) in Musanze.

At RAB, we met Theophile, who provided insights into his work as a plant scientist focussed on potato varieties. In Musanze, we visited the factory of Thijs, whom we stayed with in Kigali. It was eye-opening to see the potato sourcing process in Rwanda. On our journey to Gisenyi, we stopped by AGRIRESEARCH UNGUKA Ltd, where we met with Abdu, the initiator of the project. He showed us the research and demo plot shared with the University of Rwanda in which students focusing on regenerative agriculture practices. This private, youth-driven company is dedicated to apply agricultural research in practice.

Regenerative Farming in Rwanda: Challenges and Hope

Our travels across Rwanda revealed a complex agricultural landscape. While some regenerative practices existed, modernization and development had led to increased use of agrochemical inputs. However, many small-scale farmers in Rwanda were diversifying their crops and employing intercropping to enhance their income. In comparison to Kenya and Uganda, Rwanda’s unique terrain had placed more emphasis on terracing, erosion control, and agroforestry.

One common challenge faced by regenerative farmers across all countries visted was the lack of compensation for their contributions to environmental preservation, soil conservation, clean water basins, and community development. This issue was prevalent in Rwanda, but we hope that as the country continues to develop, there will be room for regenerative farming practices to take center stage, with farmers leading the way toward a sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

Our cycling adventure through Rwanda had not only offered us breathtaking and unique experiences but also provided a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the country’s agricultural development. Rwanda’s journey toward sustainable agriculture and development is one that holds promise, and we look forward to returning one day to witness its progress.

We hope you enjoyed reading it!

Aisha & Lukas

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