The war and genocide of the 1990s devastated the Rwandan economy and impoverished most of the population. It is expected to take many years for the economy to return to normal.

 Agriculture has always been the largest economic activity in Rwanda. More than 90% of the population is engaged in subsistence farming. Most farms are small, single-family operations. Rwandans settle in fertile areas, and each rugo is surrounded by its own fields. 

Because of the high population density, even the mountainous areas are settled. The mountain slopes are terraced and used to cultivate banana trees, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, corn, sorghum and peanuts. Coffee, tea and pyrethrum are grown for export. The cinchona tree, the bark of which yields quinine, used in the treatment of malaria, has also been cultivated. Livestock herding was once common, but overgrazing has caused soil erosion in parts of Rwanda. Fish farming has developed over the last ten years.

In rural areas, men try to find paid employment and women take responsibility for farming activities. Women feed their families and run the household. Men's jobs include brick making, carpentry and producing handicrafts, such as wood carving. Some families are able to sell handicrafts to earn money.

 Small quantities of tin ore, tungsten and beryl are found in Rwanda. They are mined, but most mines are owned by foreign companies. The industrial sector is very small and is also largely foreign-owned, although a few factories are run as cooperatives. Beer, soft drinks, soap, paints, farm tools, clothing, shoes, cigarettes and chemicals are manufactured, and coffee and tea are processed for export. In the cities, both men and women perform salaried work. Most jobs are in government services.

  Did you know?
Pyrethrum, which grows in Rwanda, is a daisy-like flower used to make a natural insecticide. Its properties were discovered during the First World War, when a group of soldiers camped overnight in a field of pyrethrum. By morning, the lice that had infested the soldiers had all been killed.

  Did you know?
In the past, rich Tutsi women often wore heavy copper bracelets and anklets. Because of the weight of these ornaments, the women were unable to do much work. The ornaments distinguished affluent women from women who worked in the fields.