In Rwanda’s Eastern province, the Gabiro Agribusiness Hub (GAH) is a project aiming to enhance agricultural productivity and efficiency whilst boosting food security.

The project is spearheaded by the Rwanda Development Board under implementing company Gabiro Agribusiness Hub Ltd, representing a space where innovation, sustainability, and community empowerment intersect. SMEC is overseeing the project as development supervisor.


GAH extends across challenging terrain, with low annual rainfall of average of 700mm. The sub-humid conditions make conventional rain-fed agricultural practices unsustainable. Traditional irrigated farming methods such as flood irrigation and surface irrigation are not efficient in water usage. In such conditions, water efficiency is crucial.


Advances in climate resilient technology

To resolve these limitations of constrained water resources in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner, the GAH focuses on a modern drip irrigation system over a vast area, which is a significant technological leap from traditional irrigation methods.


Traditional irrigation methods such as flood or surface irrigation, have several limitations. Water efficiency rates with these methods are around 50% and these methods can also contribute to fertilizer runoff, negatively impacting the surrounding environment and ecosystems.


In contrast, the automated drip irrigation system allows for up to 90% water efficiency – which means that the same amount of water can irrigate almost double the size of land. The automation system also sets GAH apart from competitors in the region. With a mechanically automated system, water and nutrients can be programmed to nurture plant roots and be adjusted depending on factors to ensure optimal plant growth. Unlike traditional systems, the risk of fertilizer contaminating the surrounding areas is substantially lower, avoiding negative ecological impacts.


Ancillary infrastructure

To enable this irrigation system, several components must fall into place: electric power supplies must be installed, parts must be imported, road networks must be robust, and pumping stations must be installed. Despite the gargantuan task, the project has progressed smoothly with the expertise of SMEC and the active collaboration with government bodies.
———— Alemayehu Senbeta, SMEC Team Leader

The first phase of this project which covers 5,600 hectares is set to be completed in April 2024 with potential to extend the system across 15,600 hectares. Six pumping stations have been built along with a 21-kilometer lined canal, which have been designed to support both current and future phases of the project. With environmental sustainability being a cornerstone of the whole GAH project, several measures have been taken to ensure minimal ecological impact, with borough areas being properly reinstated, and excavated areas being covered with grasses.

Investing in knowledge transfer and grass roots training

While transitioning to such advanced agricultural technologies in rural Africa may seem a daunting task, the project has faced minimal challenges due to government initiatives like water user associations. SMEC has engaged with these groups to support capacity building and training in irrigation techniques. Such initiatives help to ensure that the community can sustainably manage and operate the new systems once the project infrastructure has been built.

 At the GAH SMEC has supervised the construction of a demonstration site with a training center. Doing so ensures that the community can fully leverage the advanced agricultural technologies that are being introduced.  The training center will teach the locals to work with the equipment, how to handle materials and how to irrigate – ensuring that these technologies are accessible.

By ensuring that the knowledge and skills required to operate and maintain the new systems remain within the community, the reliance on external experts for everyday operations is reduced. Local agricultural capacities are also developed along with a sense of ownership, extending the benefits of the project well into the future.

Integrated value chain

GAH’s dedication to engaging the community in this pivotal project goes beyond a mere sense of ownership. A unique financial model is in place, where approximately 30% of the project’s land is dedicated to community use for local farmers.

On top of making agricultural activities a bright new economic opportunity for the region, the GAH has also made significant investments in local infrastructure. Three modern villages have been constructed where houses have reliable power supply, reliable water supply with roads, and cowsheds for livestock production, which directly benefits the existing community.

The development of these essential infrastructure like electricity and transport links not only support the development of the region in its agricultural activities, but also open the potential growth of allied industries like processing and distribution of agricultural products. The creation of this ecosystem around agricultural output will create a wide range of employment opportunities within the agricultural value chain, which will further expand economic activities in the region.

While the GAH project may primarily be an agricultural initiative, it is much more than that. It is a driver of transformation and serves as a truly balanced model for future sustainable and agricultural developments in the region.

A model for Africa’s Agri-future

The successful implementation of GAH’s first phase demonstrates that economic prosperity can be achieved in synergy with environmental protection. Negative ecological impacts have been minimised and meaningful engagement has taken place to prepare local farmers for the socioeconomic opportunities that will come with the completion of this project.

With the GAH, modern, efficient and environmentally friendly farming practices are on track to become a reality rather than a buzz topic. The intent is that Gabiro Agribusiness hub can become a benchmark to demonstrate that large scale irrigated agriculture can be viable, profitable and sustainable. This perspective shift from the local community will be vital for the long-term sustainability of agriculture and food security in Rwanda, ensuring that the sector continues to drive socioeconomic development for the country.

The Gabiro Agribusiness Hub is set to serve as a model for truly sustainable development, where it is possible for every stakeholder to win.