The Rural Sector Support Project (RSSP) which was in its third phase of implementation before closing its activities on 30 October 2018, significantly supported improvement of agricultural productivity and poverty reduction since 2001. This project which was implemented in most of the districts across the country registered tremendous achievements which led to increased food produce, household income, poverty reduction and overall improve social and economic transformation in the country.
RSSP was funded by the World Bank through a three-phase adaptable program loan (APL) supposed to be implemented in 17 years.
The first phase (RSSP1) became effective in 2001, while the second phase (RSSP2) became effective in 2008. The project completed the second phase’s activities 10 months before the completion date (October 31, 2012) which enabled the acceleration of the third phase of the program. The third phase got its effectiveness on 20 June 2012, until 30 October 2018.
The RSSP3 extended and built upon the successful growth-stimulating RSSP activities of the first two phases, while emphasizing diversification of economic activities to increase and stabilize rural incomes. The design and implementation of RSSP3 was driven and much informed by lessons documented under RSSPS1 & 2. These lessons learnt reflected the need to improve famer’s business skills, close coordination between the infrastructures development and capacity building to enhance farmer’s capacity for the operation, and maintenance of the infrastructure investments, the need to provide adequate resources for the capacity building activities commensurate with the skills required to enable women and men to benefit from project support, and the financing gap that arose during the implementation of RSSP2 due to unforeseen inflation in construction costs and services (World Bank, 2012 ).
The first phase of RSSP-1 was to build the capacity needed to support the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies in developed marshlands and surrounding hillsides while the second phase focused on broadening and deepening the support provided to accelerate intensification and commercialization. RSSP3 excelled in marshland and adjacent hillsides development including irrigation schemes construction, which has boosted crop production, hence improved rural livelihoods and incomes.
The Project Development Objectives (PDOs) of RSSP3 was to;
(a) Increase the agricultural productivity of organized farmers in the marshlands and hillsides of sub-watersheds targeted for development in an environmentally sustainable manner; and
(b) Strengthen the participation of women and men beneficiaries in market-based value chains.
RSSP3 was implanted under 3 different components as outlined below:
§ Component-1: Infrastructure for Marshland, Hillside and Commodity Chain Development
§ Component-2: Strengthening Capacity for Marshland and Hillside Commodity Chain Development
§ Component-3: Project coordination and support
The Project was implemented in the following districts, Bugesera; Nyagatare, Ngoma, Gatsibo, Rwamagana, and Kayonza in the Eastern Province; Muhanga, Kamonyi, Nyanza, Gisagara, Huye, Nyaruguru, and Ruhango in the Southern Province, Burera and Rulindo, in the Northern Province, Rusizi, Nyabihu, Ngororero, and Nyamasheke in the Western Province, and Gasabo, Kicukiro and Nyarugenge in the City of Kigali.
The Project beneficiaries were female and male farmers in the selected marshlands and adjacent hillsides, as well as community members receiving project support in small groups for value chain activities, either upstream or downstream, so that their incomes are diversified on a long-term basis. The total target number of beneficiaries for RSSP3 was 101,500 people. But, the total number of the project beneficiaries increased and reached 101,774 (of whom 42.1% are women).
Some of the recorded RSSP3 achievements
· A total 7,000Ha of marshlands were developed and rehabilitated with or without water retaining dams.
· A total of 17,200Ha of marshland adjacent Hillsides were sustainably developed during RSSP3 implementation.
· For land husbandry, the project targeted 17,200ha, but it completed 18,030 ha of which 51.6% ha were constructed with radical terraces, 25.2% with ditches, 14.8% with forest, 6.6% with improved pasture, and 1.7% with banana plantation.
· For the protection of embankments, the project introduced land husbandry technologies on hillsides surrounding developed marshlands for soil erosion control.
· A total of 2,397.6Ha were planted with 4,117,720 agro-forestry trees; while 3,283.4Ha were covered by glasses or legumes. Furthermore, in order to rehabilitate natural ecosystem, 2,588.1Ha were planted with 1,657,192 trees.
· A total of 140,000 trees and 184,440 shrubs were planted as part of Slit Trap Zone (STZ) protection for dams.
· The project supported the construction of rural infrastructure for developed marshlands and hillsides with the aim of minimizing post-harvest losses and enabling beneficiaries to cope up with expected agricultural production both on quantity and quality.
· RSSP3 constructed 21 storage facilities, 62 rice drying grounds, and 9 maize dryers and collection centres. At least each site has on average one storage facility, 4 rice dryers, and less than 1 maize dryer and collection center. Along these storage facilities, farmers’ organizations have been also supported for office spaces which they use for the management of their cooperatives and also in handling various requests of their members.
· A total of 6,501 farmers, representing 39.1 percent of women received comprehensive trainings on improved agricultural practices in areas of crop production, chemicals application, Integrated Pests Management (IPM) practices, pest and disease management, dam safety and operation and maintenance of irrigation infrastructures among others.
· Under RSSP3, a total of 3,382 Small Help Groups (SHGs) grouped into 355 zones and 51 cooperatives– 15 for the hillsides and 36 for the marshlands were formed. Each SHG was formed by 20 to 30 members.
· For ensuring proper and sustainable management of the developed and rehabilitated irrigation schemes, the project organized farmers into 42 Irrigation Water Users Associations (IWUAs) in the rehabilitated or developed schemes under RSSP3. It is also important to note the established Irrigation WUAs under RSSP3 were also meant to manage the schemes previously established under RSSP 1&2.
· Under RSSP3, the newly established and existing IWUAs received various capacity building through provision of mentoring services, trainings, and study tours for experience sharing and learning as well as coaching services.
· 1,258 lead farmers (42.2% of women and 77.8% of men) were trained on good agriculture practices through FFS plots which were installed across all sites. 850 FFS and demo plots were installed on hillsides. A total of 1,020 Lead Farmers (LF) were trained as Trainers through Training of Trainers (TOTs) on various thematic areas including pest and disease control as well as on rice harvesting.
· The project has further trained 10,464 farmers from 735 SHGs on compost making in order to improve soil fertility by providing soil with sufficient organic matter content and nutrient supply to cultivated crops. As a result of this training, farmers are producing good compost for their farms and selling surpluses. From 2012 up to 2018, 210,895 metric tons of well decomposed and of good compost were produced. Cumulatively, farmers grouped in SHGs have collected a total income of 522,211,800 Frw from the surplus of compost sold. Furthermore, due to the skills acquired, the use of compost, by farmers has increased among beneficiaries, is currently estimated at 90.1%.
· RSSP3 has enabled farmers to use improved seeds by supporting farmer cooperatives in seed multiplication. For this purpose, 1,936 Lead Farmers were trained on seed multiplication. As result, use of improved seeds by farmers has increased from 5% in 2013A to 80% in 2018B. Also, 17 cooperatives have been certified as seed producers for the crops of rice only; 7 cooperatives for maize and beans; 1 cooperative for rice, maize, and beans; and 3 cooperatives for rice, maize and soybeans.
· Throughout its implementation, RSSP3 Project supported 20 rice Cooperatives and 1 maize-beans and Soybeans Cooperative to become certified seed producers.
· 1,117 farmers (54% women, 46% men) were trained and 36 managers were given refresher training on post-harvest and handling, entrepreneurship and business plan; and 287 rice farmers went for study tour to learn from their fellow rice farmers. 40 Cooperatives are now implementing projects with funding from commercials Banks and other financial institutions. Evidences have showed that some farmers have now their own trucks for transportation which in turn generate more money for their members. Others have diversified their investment as result of the training received and the support from RSSP3.
· The project has linked farmer cooperatives and potential buyers. In this line, a number of activities were implemented and these include: support of the Federation of Rice Cooperative to organize a national consultative meeting between producers cooperatives and milling factories for the price negotiation organized every season, farmers were also linked to potential buyers of maize and beans namely Africa Improved Food (AIF), PRODEV, MINIMEX, Bugesera Agribusiness Company, East Africa Exchange, RGCC and local traders. All these initiatives have helped in establishing market linkages between farmer cooperatives and potential buyers.
In conclusion, all phases of RSSP supported smallholder farmers in selected areas in Rwanda to strengthen the food system and advance sustainable farming practices. RSSP is credited to have significantly addressed challenges previously faced by smallholders for instance lack of markets, lack of access to quality inputs and financial services, inadequate support from extension services, and lack of sufficient water for irrigation.