If we are to feed the world’s population under a changing climate, farmers must be supported to better manage the climate-related risks that threaten their livelihoods. For several years, USAID and DFID have invested in better climate services for Rwanda’s smallholder farmers and agriculture sector.

Driven in large part by its agriculture sector, Rwanda’s recent economic growth has doubled per capita GDP between 2007 and 2018, and greatly reduced poverty and child mortality. Along with its fragile natural environment and the highest population density in sub-Saharan Africa, the risk imposed by a variable and changing climate works against efforts to improve Rwanda’s agricultural economy and the livelihoods of its 2.1 million smallholder farm households.

Join the discussion on “Helping farmers make better choices, part of the A New Era for Food and Climate virtual event on 25 June.


Climate services that help farmers and other decision-makers de-risk agricultural livelihoods and value chainsone of the four priority action areas identified by the Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in a flagship report due out June 25this the focus of recent efforts in Rwanda supported by the US and UK governments, and coordinated by CCAFS through the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Rwanda office.

US and UK invest in Rwanda’s climate service capacity

The "Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture” project was launched on World Meteorological Day in March 2016, to develop climate services for farmers and institutional decision makers across the country’s agriculture sector, and to strengthen the capacity of the national meteorological service, Meteo Rwanda, to provide information that enables them to anticipate and manage climate-related risks. This initiative, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by CCAFS, is a partnership of CIAT, Meteo Rwanda, Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), University of Reading and World Agroforestry Centre.

Then in 2018, the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) programme, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Met Office (the UK’s national meteorological service), launched a project in Rwanda designed to enhance and scale up the co-production of climate services for improved climate risk management and to deliver an impact-based early warning system. This partnership between CIAT, the Met Office, IRI and Meteo Rwanda aims to enhance and scale up the co-production of climate services and impact-based early warning for improved climate-risk management in Rwanda.

The synergies between these complementary efforts are preparing a legacy of effective climate services and climate risk management. For example, the USAID initiative developed processes to bring climate services to farmers, while the WISER initiative developed mechanisms to bring farmers’ feedback back to the service providers. The USAID project has a strong focus on making climate services work for the country’s farmers, but recognized a gap in the use of climate services by local government for agricultural planninga gap that the WISER project was able to target. The complementary efforts supported Meteo Rwanda to develop a range of information productshigh-resolution historical data and analyses, improved downscaled seasonal forecasts, impact-based early warningsthat the agriculture sector needs to understand, anticipate and manage risks.

WISER was developed to target specific weather and climate challenges in East Africa, and the Rwanda project is a great example of how the programme has been able to help deliver relevant and accessible climate services. These will continue to have an impact on lives and livelihoods in Rwanda beyond the life of the project, having built capacity in the country”.

Kate Ferguson, Met Office WISER Programme Manager
June 2020

Rwanda at the cutting edge

Rwanda is gaining a reputation as an innovator. In health, Rwanda pioneered the use of drones to deliver vital medicines and supplies to remote locations, and the use of robots to reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19 as medical staff treat patients. As the two climate service projects draw to a close in 2020 and 2021, it is clear that they have helped position Rwanda at the cutting edge of agricultural climate services:

  • Face-to-face participatory climate communication and planning processes have been implemented at an unprecedented scale. Working through the Twigire Muhinzi agricultural extension service, 112,000 farmers across all 30 districts were trained and supported to access, understand and incorporate climate information into their planning, using the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) process.
  • Radio Listener Clubs piloted in Rwanda combine the benefits of participatory, broadcast media and mobile phone communication channels. These clubs meet weekly to listen to climate services broadcasts (accessed by roughly 40% of Rwanda’s farmers), share and record their plans to act on the information, and take turns participating in interactive call-in programs.
  • Rwanda was the first country in Africa to implement an objective seasonal forecast system based on statistical downscaling of output of an ensemble of multiple climate models. 
  • In addition to improved future climate analytics, Meteo Rwanda was supported to reconstruct about 15 years of lost climate data and generate historical records for every 4 km across Rwanda.
  • Meteo Rwanda now provides localized climate information at a national scale, through one of the most advanced suites of online climate information available for agricultural decision makers in Africa. Online “Maprooms” developed in Rwanda have since been adopted by the national meteorological services of Ethiopia, Senegal, Bangladesh, Colombia and Guatemala; and by the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), the regional climate center for East Africa.
  • Sixteen cooperatives in four districts now have climate risk assessments and adaptation plans for six priority agricultural commodity value chains.
  • An ICT-based “5Q” (Five Question) monitoring tool has been introduced to efficiently and continuously capture farmers’ feedback on the services they receive. Seven thousand, five hundred (7,500) farmers trained to use the 5Q tool provide regular feedback, and plans are in place to extend it to 100,000 potential participants.
  • M.Sc. scholarships for seven Meteo Rwanda staff members, and three from RAB, have raised the capacity of these national institutions.

Rwanda’s leadership is gaining international recognition, for example through the inaugural Climate Smart Agricultural Project of the Year Award.

A joint initiative … has rebuilt 15 years of lost climate data. The program has also helped our national weather agency build an advanced online climate information system for Rwandan farmers. These results could only have been achieved with sustained partnership over many years.”

His Excellency President Paul Kagame
Columbia University, New York, 26 September 2019

Climate services make a difference

Following investment in climate information products and training for local government, district agricultural officers have begun to use the information to improve the services they provide to farmers. For example, in the Western highlands, agronomists used climate information to match crop varieties to local conditions, providing more suitable hybrid maize seeds to 87,872 farmers. While in Bugesera District, authorities used crop water deficit calculations based on climate information to provide supplemental irrigation water, pumped from a lake into a lined reservoir, to enable 188 farmers to cope with prolonged dry spells.

Even without improved public sector resource mobilization, participation in PICSA and Radio Listeners Clubs is associated with a substantial increase in the proportion of farmers that report changing management decisions in response to weather and climate information. Examples include changing what crops and varieties they plant, how they prepare their land and manage crops and livestock, and changing the scale of crop and livestock enterprises. Participation in PICSA is associated with a 24% increase in the value of crop production and a 30% increase in income from crops.  When PICSA was combined with Radio Listeners Club participation, the increase in crop value (47%) and resulting income (56%) was even greater.

I received training on the use of climate information in agriculture; I since then respect my seasonal calendar which allows me to know practices that I should do during dry or wet days. I now prepare myself on time and wait for the seasonal forecast for me to adjust my plans before planting. This opened my eyes and I now do farming, livestock keeping and my family is wealthy.”

Kabarisa Wellars, a Rwandan farmer, 2017

What’s next for climate services in Rwanda?

Despite these successes, the work is far from over. Rwanda is preparing for a 1.42.3 °C average temperature by 2050, coupled with increased risk from heat waves, dry spells and extreme rainfall. But as a result of USAID and DFID intervention, local systems are in place to anticipate and respond to these climate risks. Building on their increased capacity, Meteo Rwanda’s stated priorities moving forward are to fully operationalize the National Framework for Climate Services, and to explore the formation of a Rwanda Meteorological Training and Research Centre (RMTRC).


This blog is part of a series for the Transforming Food
Systems Under a Changing Climate
. It describes one of the 11 priority actions for transforming food systems outlined in the initiative's flagship reportlaunching 25 June 2020. We invite you to join us for an around-the-world virtual event to engage on ways to take action together.

See details and register here

Read more:

James Hansen is a Senior Research Scientist at IRI. Desire Kagabo is the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture Project Coordinator at the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. Livingstone Byandaga is the Project Coordinator for WISER at CIAT. Karis McGill is an Agriculture Markets Specialist at USAID. Jean Damascene Nyamwasa is the Agriculture Productivity Team Leader at USAID. Hayley Jones is a Senior Communications Executive at the UK Met Office. Kate Ferguson is the DFID WISER Programme Manager at the UK Met Office.
Photo: A. Nyandwi (MINAGRI Rwanda)