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Netafim's Gabiro Project: Transforming Agriculture in Africa

From its inception almost 60 years ago, Netafim was committed to supporting smallholders by providing them with the tools to become sustainable.  This led us to collaborate with governments, global organizations, and local partners to implement farming projects that strengthen local communities and alleviate poverty worldwide.   Our recent project in Rwanda, the Gabiro Project, is a shining example of what can be achieved when diverse stakeholders come together with a shared vision – to transform lives and landscapes through sustainable agriculture. Michael Bruderli, Head of Business Development at Netafim and the Gabiro Project manager, delves into the journey of Gabiro, from inception to its remarkable impact on the local community and beyond.

What is the Gabiro Project?

The Gabiro Agribusiness Hub is a unique and holistic farming project that aims to provide farmers with ready-to-farm land with full access to bulk water infrastructure, and electricity. The project is a joint venture between Netafim, Orbia’s Precision Agriculture Business, and the Rwandan Government with private funding from local & global investors.

The project successfully enhances private sector investments in Rwanda’s agricultural sector, mitigates the risks of climate change and food security, contributes to job creation, increases export of value-added products, and powers rural community development and livelihood.

Sounds amazing? It is, but the journey to success was anything but easy…

A Visionary Beginning

The Gabiro Project didn't emerge overnight, and neither did my involvement with it. My work in the banking and investment sector in Switzerland brought me to South Africa 16 years ago. When Elad Levy, Netafim’s former Head of Africa and the Middle East, was about to sign on to this project in Rwanda and looked for the right person to implement the project, it felt like a once-in-a life time opportunity to get involved with an initiative that will have a real impact on people lives in Africa.  


Today, four years later, I look back with immense pride at everything we have accomplished with this project. The robust water infrastructure comprises 20 km of open concrete canals, 48 km of pipes, and 7 pumping stations, facilitating direct water delivery from the Akagera River to the Gabiro Hub. This infrastructure enables 100% land utilization of the 5600 hectares in Phase 1, leading to higher yields while conserving 30-60% of water.  


Interested in Agri-business?

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A Thriving Community

One of Gabiro's most remarkable aspects is its focus on community empowerment. Bringing smart, efficient ways to grow food to a region that depended on barely 800mm of annual rainfall is a game changer for the local community.  When I arrived at the project site in 2019, there was a small village there with maybe five or six houses. Today, its a thriving village with 35 houses and 5000 new jobs. This is transforming the region. And beyond just creating jobs, the project allocates a significant portion of land (30%) to local communities, providing them with access to state-of-the-art irrigation infrastructure. This not only enhances agricultural productivity but also serves as a catalyst for economic development.  If the community organizes themselves as a commercial entity or in a cooperative, they can become a commercial farmer and one of the biggest players in the commodity they choose, not only in Rwanda but in the region. This is mind blowing in terms of averting water scarcity, increasing productivity, and improving incomes and household food security.

An Investor’s Bonanza

The investors who joined Gabiro all have backgrounds in agriculture and possess a deep understanding of the industry. They are acutely aware of the opportunities presented in Rwanda. Coming to a place in Africa where infrastructure such as pressurized water, roads, and electricity already exist is a unique value proposition and a huge advantage. They don't need to invest in building this infrastructure themselves and the assurance that the infrastructure will be maintained by the government further mitigates their risk.  

A Visionary Government

The Gabiro project aligns seamlessly with Rwanda's development agenda as outlined in the Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation 2018-2024. This plan calls for doubling the irrigated land area from ~50k ha to >100k ha,  reducing harvesting losses from 16% down to 5% or less, reducing agriculture imports, promoting export of high value crops, and facilitating competitive terms for Foreign Direct Investment.  Gabiro addresses all of the above.

My Dream Come True

During my early years in Africa, I devoted considerable thought to identifying areas where we could make a significant impact, not only regionally but also globally. Agriculture emerged as a prime candidate. With 60% of Africa's arable land remaining uncultivated, coupled with abundant water resources suitable for large-scale irrigation projects, the potential for transformation is evident. Additionally, agricultural practices like mechanization and fertilizer use, prevalent in developed nations, are still underutilized here. These conditions present agriculture as a remarkable opportunity to drive change and create a meaningful impact. I am excited to be a part of this process and contribute my small share to making an impact in Africa.

A Model for the Future

The Gabiro Project stands as a testament to the power of vision, perseverance, and collaboration. But Gabiro isn't just about the present; it's about laying the groundwork for a sustainable future. By embracing precision irrigation techniques and fostering partnerships with local governments and investors, Netafim aims to replicate the Gabiro model across Africa. The project's success serves as a testament to the transformative power of innovative agricultural practices, offering a blueprint for addressing food security challenges across the continent. With plans to expand into West Africa and pursue larger-scale industrial projects, Netafim remains committed to its mission of driving agricultural innovation and empowering communities. The journey may have begun in Rwanda, but its impact resonates far beyond its borders, heralding a new era of agricultural prosperity in Africa.