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Beyond Tourism: Supporting Rwandan communities and experiencing its authentic countryside

15-04-2024

Nestled at the edge of lake Kivu and surrounded by the breathtaking view of the iconic Rwandan countryside, Mzinga Retreat offers a picturesque escape for any traveler. The Mzinga Retreat is part of the Agri-Tourism Service, Training and Innovation Centre (STIC) that was developed as part of the Nuffic Orange Knowledge project ”Strengthening Education for Agricultural Development in the Western Province of Rwanda” (SEAD West). The project was finalized in June of 2023, and is now reaping its fruits.

Maastricht School of Management (MSM) in close collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) carried out many project activities over a period of four years to strengthen the agri-tourism value chain in the Western Rwandan province, Karongi. Now almost a year after closing the project, one of the project’s key outputs, the Agri-Tourism STIC, is welcoming guests in its tourism zone (the Mzinga Retreat) and the agricultural zone is producing high quality crops and providing training and learning opportunities to students and the surrounding community.

Why did we build an Agri-Tourism STIC in Karongi?
The reason to focus on agri-tourism was to channel tourism to the beautiful Kivu shores and strengthen local agricultural production for the hospitality industry. Before the SEAD West intervention, very little amounts (less than 5%) of fruits and vegetables for the hospitality industry were locally grown. Farmers in the neighboring countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, etc.) have been more successful in linking to tourism, supplying 20% of fruits, 23% of vegetables. This can be attributed to a regional agro-industry established by a strong entrepreneurial elite. With the STIC facilities available, the entrepreneurial mindset of local farmers can be strengthened.

Building an agri-tourism zone was important to:

  • Boost tourism and local agriculture: fruits and vegetables for tourism mainly come from neighbouring countries, not Rwanda. Agri-tourism can connect local farmers with tourism businesses, creating a strong local food supply chain for hotels and restaurants.
  • Develop rural areas: Agriculture is a major source of income in Rwanda, and most people live in rural areas. Linking farmers with tourism can create jobs and income in these areas.
  • Benefit farmers: Agri-tourism provides farmers with extra income, new skills, and knowledge to adapt to a changing economy.
  • Agritourism stimulates the local tourism sector: attracting visitors eager to connect with nature, learn about agriculture, and support rural communities.

The Karongi district, with its unexploited tourism potential, is a prime location for an agri-tourism zone. This zone will serve as a model for sustainable practices, research, and education for farmers and students.

The result of international collaboration is a breathtaking agri-tourism experience in Karongi

Upon arrival at the Mzinga Retreat, guests are greeted to a cozy hilltop coffeehouse and surrounding lawn. An outside roofed patio offers a fantastic view over the lake as one can enjoy a freshly brewed coffee or refreshment. From hearsay, they serve the best coffee in Karongi!

As the sun sets over lake Kivu, Mzinga Retreat not only offers gorgeous sunset views and a tasty dinner menu, but a truly unique accommodation opportunity. Amid lush greenery just several steps from the coffeehouse, four hillside wooden platforms offer the foundation for an unforgettable night of glamping.

Calling them tents may be an understatement. In both size and comfort, these tents offer a luxury that allows one to indulge in the serenity of the outdoors without compromising on comfort. The room consists of a spacious living room area with a three-piece plush sofa, a coffee table, two well-appointed bedrooms, and a fully equipped bathroom. The surrounding space seems to resemble an apartment rather than a single room, let alone a tent.

The most iconic highlight of the Mzinga Retreat glamping experience must be the morning view guests share with the surrounding scenery. As the sun glimmers over the surrounding hills and illuminates the lake landscape, a wooden deck offers a comfy front-row seat and spacious outside terrace lounge, almost like a balcony into nature.

After indulging in a hearty breakfast, guests can embark on a journey of exploration, with a plethora of activities and experiences awaiting them. From leisurely boat tours to adventurous hikes through the rolling hills, the surrounding area offers endless opportunities for adventure.

Uniquely, Mzinga Retreat offers an insightful connection with the surrounding agriculture community. Through a unique private-public partnership between the IPRC Karongi and Holland Greentech Rwanda, visitors can immerse themselves in the innovative world of agriculture at the nearby Karongi agritourism Service Training and Innovation Center (STIC). Here, the synergies of education, research and business are realized in an effort to connect local farmers to modern farming practices and strengthening tourism-linked value chains.

At the site, visitors are introduced to 3 fully operational greenhouses along with a mesh net and cold room for food storage. Visitors are guided through the selection of fruits and vegetables being grown, the reasons for their choice, and the specific conditions provided within the greenhouse to enhance their growth.

Beyond its agricultural endeavors, the STIC embodies a vision of holistic development in becoming a hub for educating students, developing cutting edge research and strengthening local value chains. Visitors are informed how the STIC's purpose extends beyond the realm of traditional agriculture and aims to connect farmers with technology, innovation, and the local thriving tourism industry.

In summary, Mzinga Retreat offers a blend of nature and learning, making it an ideal escape for travelers. Found near Lake Kivu, guests are greeted with cozy accommodations and stunning views. The retreat stands out with its luxurious glamping experience and its connection to local agriculture through the nearby Karongi agritourism center. Here, visitors get a taste of farming in Rwanda's countryside whilst supporting local communities to innovate and grow.

Orange Knowledge Programme
The SEAD West project was part of the Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) which is funded by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and managed by Nuffic. For more information click here.

MSM's Expert Centre on Emerging Economies

This institutional collaboration project is part of MSM's Expert Centre on Emerging Economies. The department is an expert centre on local economic development in emerging and developing markets.‚Äč We capacitate managers and professionals from government, private sector, NGOs, and post-secondary education in Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Latin America. We offer consultancy and customized training programs, and we manage complex projects in key sectors, e.g. water, agriculture and health. For more information click here.

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