Hausmann, Ricardo, and Jasmina Chauvin. "Moving to the Adjacent Possible: Discovering Paths for Export Diversification in Rwanda." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP15-022, May 2015.
How can Rwanda, which currently has one of the lowest levels of income and exports per capita in the world, grow and diversify its economy in presence of significant constraints? We analyze Rwanda’s historical growth and trade performance and find that Rwanda’s high transportation costs and limited productive knowledge have held back greater export development and have resulted in excessive rural density. Three basic commodities – coffee, tea, and tin – made up more than 80 percent of the country’s exports through its history and still drive the bulk of export growth today. Given Rwanda’s high population density and associated land scarcity, these traditional exports cannot create enough jobs for its growing population, or sustainably drive future growth. Rwanda needs new, scalable activities in urban areas. In this report, we identify a strategy for greater diversification of exports in Rwanda that circumvents the key constraints and is separately tailored for regional and global export destinations. Our results identify more than 100 tradable products that lie at Rwanda’s knowledge frontier, are not intensive in Rwanda’s scarce resources, and economize on transportation costs. Our analysis produces a vision of a more diversified Rwanda, which can be used as a guide for investment promotion decisions. We illustrate an approach that can be applied to other settings in order to identify opportunities for export diversification that take seriously local constraints and external market opportunities.