Subsistence Farming

Subsistence Farming

Subsistence farming is a type of farming that provides for the family's needs, and there is little to nothing left to be sold at market. Subsistence farming is the primary income for more than 11 million Rwandans that live in the rural regions of the country. Laborers that work in subsistence farming earn roughly the equivalent of eighty-two cents (US) per day. 

Rwanda Rural Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholicism

The Weather

  • Houses and crops dot the hillsides around Lake Burera, in the rugged northwestern region of rural Rwanda. Rwanda Countryside and Lake
  • Children at a Compassion center write letters to their sponsors. Part of the children’s fun is waiting for a sponsor’s cherished and encouraging reply. Rwanda Children Writing Sponsor Letters
  • Children buy potable water in the rural northern region of Rwanda. Water is costly, which takes a toll on low-income parents who struggle to feed and clothe their families. Rwanda Water Containers on Dirt Road
  • Children play at a Compassion center. Teachers use games, music, activities and other methods to share the gospel and teach lessons. Rwanda Girls Clapping
  • Kwizera Ernesto, a Partnership Facilitator, is enthusiastic about children. His love for them and God inspires him to help those who cannot help themselves, just as he was once helped. Rwanda Partnership Facilitator, Kwizera Ernesto
  • A farmer in the western region harvests sweet potatoes in her garden. Farmers need manure to improve the land’s fertility. Rwanda Woman Gathering Potatoes

Overview: Rural Rwanda

Most of Rwanda’s 11 million people (more than three-fourths) live in the countryside, making a meager living through subsistence farming. In this small, landlocked country, comparable in size to Haiti, rural life is consistent throughout, with people sharing the same culture and speaking the same language, Kinyarwanda.

Slightly smaller than Maryland, Rwanda is bordered by Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Although just south of the equator, Rwanda has a temperate climate because of its high altitude.

Rwanda is noted for its many lakes, particularly Lake Kivu on the western border, one of the 20 deepest lakes in the world. The country’s terrain consists primarily of rolling hills and mountains, the highest of which is Mount Karisimbi (14,787 feet). A wide variety of wildlife, including rare mountain gorillas, attracts many tourists to Rwanda.


Culture Corner

Rwanda Culture


Try this simple dish, commonly eaten by Rwanda’s rural families.


  • 2 cups dried pinto beans, pre-soaked
  • 3 large potatoes, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • Vegetable oil for frying


Place pinto beans in a pot of fresh water so the beans are completely immersed.

Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until they are just tender.

Add potatoes, celery and salt.

Add water as needed.

Cook over low heat.

Just before the potatoes are tender, gently fry the onions in a heavy skillet.

Using a slotted spoon, add the beans to the skillet.

Stir until well mixed and heated through. Serve hot over rice.


Life in Rural Rwanda

The northern and western regions are typically hilly, with extinct volcanoes, rainforests, tea plantations, and mountain gorillas, which are a major tourist attraction. These areas receive heavy rains, which sometimes trigger damaging landslides. River flooding also destroys houses and crops, often claiming lives. The eastern grassland region is flatter and occasionally experiences droughts.

People in rural areas work mainly as subsistence farmers, earning roughly the equivalent of U.S.$0.82 per day. Some eastern residents are cattle ranchers, but droughts sometimes deplete their livestock. Farmland is often not fertile enough to grow crops, and food supplies are affected by poor agricultural practices. Most homes do not have electricity. Potable water is scarce, and families often have to collect rainwater in tarpaulins. Common health problems are malnutrition, worms and eye infections.

Children at Home

Rwanda’s rural homes typically have mud walls, corrugated-iron or thatched roofs, and dirt floors. These small dwellings are divided into two rooms that accommodate up to seven people, who usually sleep on woven mats. For drinking and household use, water is obtained from nearby rivers and other unsafe sources. Often, women and children spend hours each day just hauling water from the nearest source, which can be miles away.


Community Issues and Concerns Community in Rwanda

The northern and western areas of Rwanda typically receive heavy amounts of rainfall during the rainy seasons — February to May and October to December. Often flooding and landslides result, taking lives and destroying homes and farms.

By contrast, in the plains areas of the south and east, families suffer from frequent, prolonged drought, which often causes critical food shortages.

In addition to climate issues, food supplies in Rwanda’s rural areas are affected by a decline in soil fertility, poor crop management, pests, poor storage, and the unavailability and expense of fertilizers to maintain crop yield.

Also, because Rwanda is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries, family farms are extremely small, barely able to provide adequate food for large rural families even in the best of circumstances. Sadly, chronic malnutrition in Rwanda has grown dramatically among children age 5 and under in recent years.

Other issues in the country’s rural areas are lack of health centers and sanitation. Just over half of rural families have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Only 62 percent have access to sources of clean water.

Local Needs and Challenges

Access to potable water is a serious need in rural areas. Children must travel one or two miles to get water from sources such as swamps or public wells. Poorly constructed housing is another problem, and homes are often destroyed in landslides or floods during rainy season. High rent forces families to move frequently, which affects children’s school and Compassion center performance. HIV and AIDS are an increasing problem among border communities. The region also needs income-generating opportunities.


Schools and Education Education in Rwanda

The government’s provision of primary education means that most children are able to attend some school. However, few progress beyond the primary years. The school year starts in January and comprises three terms, ending in October.

Despite the government’s commitment to provide education to all children, classrooms in rural areas are typically poorly equipped and overcrowded, with one teacher to every 50 students. Among Rwandans, only 70 percent of those over age 15 can read or write. And fewer women than men are literate.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

At Compassion-assisted child development centers in Rwanda’s rural region, children are receiving the help and learning opportunities they need to reach their potential in Christ. Along with nutritious meals for proper physical development, they also receive medical assistance and hygiene training to stay healthy. Tutoring helps to make up for any school deficiencies, and most important, they learn about the love of their heavenly Father.


Working Through the Local Church

The local church is in an ideal position to minister to those in need. Its partnership with Compassion International is vital in implementing Compassion’s holistic, age-appropriate curriculum, which focuses on developing children spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically. The church is also instrumental in helping the community by coordinating conferences and seminars on topics such as agricultural improvements, sanitation, HIV and AIDS, and other crucial matters that affect rural residents.

Non-Christian parents feel comfortable sending their children to Compassion-assisted centers because they see the positive results in children’s behavior, attitudes and health. As a result of Compassion’s outreach with the local church, many parents have also accepted Christ as their Savior through the programs and activities.

How Compassion Works in Rwanda Compassion in Rwanda

Compassion’s work in Rwanda began in 1979. Currently, more than 63,500 children participate in 235 child development centers. Compassion and its church partners work to help provide Rwandan children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all that God has created them to be.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

The Partnership Facilitator is the key link between Compassion and the local church. The facilitator shares Compassion’s child development vision with church partners and oversees the work to implement it at centers. They strive to ensure a respectful and trusting relationship with the church, registered children and their families so that all involved learn from one another.

Each Partnership Facilitator supervises 12 to 13 centers. Many travel long distances to visit Compassion children and their families via public transportation, cars, taxis, motorcycles, or even boats, depending on the country and region. An excellent facilitator is passionate about children. Some were sponsored children themselves, in fact, so they understand firsthand just how deeply Compassion positively affects a child’s whole life.


Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the health of children suffering from malnutrition and other preventable illnesses in the rural areas.
  • Pray for an increase in health facilities and access for poor rural families to the medical assistance they need.
  • Pray for the protection of children and families from landslides and flooding during the rainy seasons.
  • Pray that assisted children will advance academically.
  • Pray for Compassion center staff members, who diligently strive to meet the needs of the children in their care.