Rwanda is one of the most highly populated countries in Africa. It counts over 12,6 million inhabitants living in an area of 26.338km2 with a population density of 499 per Km2. The Rwandan population is inexorably rising at a 2.7% rate annually and is expected to reach a peak of 16 million inhabitants by 2032. The sharp demographic growth is likely to pose serious threats to the environmental sustainability of the country contributing to increasing land pressure.
This growing population combined with rapid urbanization put agricultural land, which is Rwanda’s most valuable resource and economic engine, under enormous pressure. Rwanda is among 22 countries that are most affected by soil degradation. Many parts of the country are mountainous with steep slopes with brittle soil which allow soil run-off thus being highly susceptible to soil erosion and degradation. Cropland expansion- especially on steeper slopes- is considered one of the main soil erosion causal agents in Rwanda, whereby on a total of 2,380,460 ha a total of 595 million tons of soil is annually lost. Agricultural activities, cause 95% of the total land erosion equivalent to an economic loss of USD 34,320,000, almost 2% of the national GDP each year. Varying efforts such as increasing hectarage with terraces and biological soil control measures have been put in place. However, pertinent challenges remain namely loss of biodiversity and excessive deforestation. Recent studies estimate that millions of hectares of soil are lost annually due to deforestation – a frightening outlook for agricultural productivity. Land converted to croplands sharply rose in the past 20 years at the expense of massive deforestation.
Interventions aimed at lessening the land pressure, improving crop and land productivity, and promoting sustainable land use and intensification, are therefore highly needed. This will require a joint effort from several actors. There are many elements to work with that offer hope. Rwanda’s new agricultural transformation plan -for instance- aims to implement several practices, among which create, and implement erosion control measures (tree belts, contour belts, grass strips, contour bunds, planting of fodder grasses on bunds/ridges, use of permanent, perennial vegetation on contours, etc.) soils or water detention trenches. The newly introduced Agricultural development fund calls for private sector investment in climate resilience especially in land productivity-extending technologies (e.g. varieties, greenhouses, hydroponics). The Rwandan government is also putting in place several initiatives to strengthen agroforestry practices. One example is the Agroforestry Strategy and Action Plan which envisions a plan to increase the number of trees planted from 22 trees per hectare (in 2017) to 78 trees per hectare.
In addition to these existing interventions, actors working in the area of adoption of improved soil, water, and fertility conservation techniques can also play a paramount role in driving and harnessing the transformation of the Rwandan food system. The urgency of addressing both land and ecosystem-related problems and a range of socio-economic concerns opens up opportunities for a wide range of actors covering different roles in the Rwandan food system. For instance, professionals working in the integrated management of critical ecosystem components can potentially strengthen the capacity of local communities to effectively manage critical ecosystems. Similarly, opportunities are there for private operators to intervene in land and water infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as for technology innovators working with GIS, satellite monitoring, and the like. The role of scientists and researchers in addressing land and ecosystem issues is also pivotal to finding modern and inclusive solutions to combat land degradation challenges currently eroding the Rwandan ecosystem.
Call to food systems leaders
Systems leadership is required in determining pathways to tackle the complex challenges that constraints in land pose to food systems transformation in Rwanda. Fellows will be challenged to combine coalition-building with systems insight to mobilize action across the country. Systems leaders will point at, direct, and drive the organization needed. If you belong to any of the communities below you would greatly benefit from our Food Systems Leadership Programme:
Rural land use planners/agriculture planners.
Climate resilient agriculture stakeholders.
Land use/tech specialists e.g. GIS.
Ag extension system.
Investors in land/land owners.
Journalists / Online thought leaders/ activists.