Agriculture is a key sector of the Rwandan economy and has been growing in the post-genocide reconstruction era. Over 50 percent of the total surface of the country, approximately 1.4 million hectares, is arable land.
Traditionally though, Rwanda has focused on subsistence agriculture. It is one of the Vision 2020 goals for the sector to adapt and grow, moving from a focus on subsistence to a focus on commercial production. This industry growth will also increase household incomes and reduce poverty by up to 50 percent in the next two decades.
Barriers to Growth
For the agricultural sector to grow to its full potential, it must be sustainable. However, there are currently many barriers to sustainable agriculture in Rwanda. These include soil erosion, population pressure and water pollution.
Crops such as cassava are grown all across Rwanda but are more likely to lead to soil erosion. This is exacerbated by frequent field turnover, meaning fields are not left fallow to replenish their nutrients in favor of using them immediately. This yields immediate crops but is not sustainable.
The land has also been degraded by population pressures in both rural and urban areas. More farmers are vying for arable land than the small country of Rwanda can handle. In addition, the fertilizers that some farmers use to protect and extend their crop yields are polluting the country’s water.
There are many solutions and initiatives that are promoting sustainable agriculture in Rwanda. Sustainable land use management is a key pillar of the Vision 2020 goals. In the Umutara region, a One Cow per Family program has been successful in improving income and nutrition for families by producing and selling milk, but also in providing manure that enhances crop production. In addition, limiting the number of cows per family has reduced overgrazing in the region.
The issue of soil nutrient replacement is being tackled by the government, which has paired with the private sector to subsidize and distribute fertilizer to farmers. It remains to be seen, however, how this increase in the use of fertilizer will impact pollution. The government also promotes techniques such as terracing, which makes more efficient use of the hilly landscape, agroforestry, zero-grazing zones and better irrigation systems to expand the arable land and improve sustainability.
Financing Sustainable Agriculture in Rwanda
Sustainable initiatives cost money, which is a barrier in itself in Rwanda. As a result, outside organizations have stepped in to help finance sustainable agriculture in Rwanda.
The Environmental Resources Management Foundation provided a grant through the Africa Development Promise to support a women’s cooperative in the Bugesera district. The women were subsistence farmers and were suffering from very low crop yields. The grant paid for the installation of a greenhouse with a year-round irrigation system.
Furthermore, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations provides assistance in Rwanda centered on four areas: improving food security and nutrition, sustainably managing resources to increase productivity, private sector investment and collaboration/knowledge sharing.
Finally, the Urwego Opportunity Bank is a Rwandan bank that issues both individual and cooperative loans to farmers. It evaluates the needs of the farmers so it does not issue loans above the amount needed, and it requires proof of the contract with buyers to purchase the harvest. Then it issues loans tailored to farmers’ needs. These loans have financed maize, rice and potato cultivation, cow and milk machine acquisition and transportation to local markets.
As Rwanda’s economy continues to grow, the key may be agriculture, and the key to leveraging agriculture is sustainability. Continued efforts toward improving sustainable agriculture in Rwanda are sure to lead to further economic development in the African nation.
– Olivia Bradley