Rapid urbanisation driven by people seeking affordable land for construction of residential premises is eating into arable land around Rwanda’s administrative centres, raising questions about food production in the future.
Most affected are districts bordering Kigali City and those hosting secondary cities. Under pressure from growing demand, districts have had to revisit their master plans or accept land use adjustments after areas that were zoned for agricultural production became fragmented. Others have tried to tighten zoning rules in a bid to protect farmland from encroachment by property developers.
“We have had to intervene to ensure that at least some areas remain for agriculture. This helps those selling plots to purchase larger parcels of agrarian land elsewhere and still engage in food production,” said Thadee Tuyizere, Vice Mayor in charge of Economic Affairs for Kamonyi, one of the districts that have attracted an influx of people over the past few years.
The growing need for residential space saw hundreds of hectares of Kamonyi’s arable space converted into the now popular and fast-growing suburbs of Gihara and Ruyenzi.
Similarly, the conversion of arable land to residential purposes is the result of the creation of the upcoming suburbs of Muyumbu in Rwamagana, Nyamata in Bugesera and Shyorongi in Rulindo district.
Authorities said the conversion was done after it came to their attention that the urban settlements had already taken root, hence the need for adjustment to respond to the development.
Rwanda has one of Africa’s fastest urbanisation rates due to a growing population on a small land area. The country has a surface area of 26,338 square kilometres.
Eight percent of that area is occupied by water. Projections indicate that 35 per cent of the country’s population will be living in urban centres by 2020 up from 17 per cent today.
District master plans provided for areas for agglomeration, locally known as Imidugudu, in most rural parts, but the influx of people in most cases exceeded the designated space, hence encroaching on the available cultivable land. Under the Imidugudu, settlements were placed on marginal land where agriculture was not very viable.
Rwamagana District, for instance, had to do alter its master plan to declare its Muyumbu and Gashore cells residential after incoming residents put up structures everywhere.
“We’ve had to adjust the district master plan to ensure we provide for the city that was coming up in these areas because failure to do so would cost us later,” said Henry Kakooza, Executive Secretary.
Minagri officials however described the country’s urbanisation trend as inevitable but insisted local authorities adhere to the provisions of the master plans categorising land use if the national food needs are to be met.
“There could be compelling reasons for some authorities to divert cultivable land to non-agrarian purposes, but it is regrettable given the size of our country and the demography,” said Fulgence Nsengiyumva, Minister of State for Agriculture.
According to Mr Nsengiyumva, concerns over food security would not arise if the available cultivable land size was maintained and fully utilised to maximise production potential.
Official figures indicate that the country’s arable land stands at 1.5 million hectares, approximately 0.5ha per farmer. It was not established how much of this has so far been converted into residential use as respective districts officials said calculations were not readily available.
Some however admitted ample size of land in strategic areas was lost to housing coupled with urban-rural migration. The same situation also haunts Rwanda’s other fast-rising secondary cities namely Musanze, Huye and Rubavu.
The expansion of urban settlements is attractive to some local authorities who view it as a source of enhanced revenue from property rates and the resulting rise in economic activity.
The 2015 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis indicated that over 70 per cent of Rwandan households source food from the markets. This is despite official figures categorizing over 70 per cent of Rwandan population as farmers.
This means that the more arable land gets converted to other purposes the less the number of people engaged in food production, and the more market-dependent people for food the country will get, making it harder to avert food insecurity.