Reports of famine ravaging parts of Rwanda have led to blame games, with some faulting government policies in drought-prone areas while the State says climate change is responsible for poor harvests.
Close to 100,000 families mainly in the Eastern Province districts of Rwamagana, Nyagatare, Bugesera, Kayonza and Kirehe as well as Nyanza and Gisagara districts in Southern Province, are facing a threat of hunger if nothing is done to avert it.
It is reported that hundreds are fleeing starvation to neighbouring Uganda in search of food after two seasons of poor harvests which left families with nothing to eat.
The most affected districts include Nyagatare, Kayonza and Ngoma where residents say harvests were largely affected by early disappearance of rain. Hectares of maize and sorghum dried up before they could be ready for harvest.
“We don’t know what to do. We have not even been able to recoup what we planted,” said Solange Uwantege, a resident of Mwili Sector, Kayonza district, pointing to the four hectares of sorghum and maize they had planted as a group.
Apart from dried up plants, thousands of livestock are facing severe shortage of water and foliage. Residents of Nyagatare say the drought started earlier than expected.
“Usually the drought intensifies in late July to early September, when rains resume but now it started in May. We are not sure if our livestock will still be alive by then,” adds Jean Marie Mugabo, a resident of Nyagatare.
The Governor of the Eastern Province Odette Uwamariya and the mayors of the affected districts admit that there is a looming hunger crisis but say that instead of fleeing to neighbouring countries, locals should contact local government officials for help.
Civil society groups are blaming the government for failing to address the longstanding recurrence of food insecurity in parts of the country prone to drought despite the billions of francs which have been allocated to the agriculture sector.
Appearing on a local radio station, the chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda Chapter, Marie Immaculee Ingabire, blamed the hunger threat on poor planning, policy and decision making especially on the side of local government officials.
“It is an issue of poor planning and decision making by government officials. There are countries which receive far less rainfall than Rwanda but they plan well and their citizens don’t encounter hunger,” Ms Ingabire said.
Alexis Nkurunziza, an official of the Umbrella of Human Rights Organisations in Rwanda said that the government failure to fully prioritise agriculture in terms of planning and resource allocation is likely to setback the country’s gains in food security.
“A lot of progress has been made in the past five or so years, even going by what the government was allocating to the agriculture sector in areas of irrigation, extension services, but this momentum has slowed down,” Mr Nkurunziza said.
“We are at a point where more needs to be done to sustain the gains in the agriculture sector, rather than slowing down,” he said, adding that the external factors given by government to cut down expenditure in the sector are not convincing enough.
The government reduced spending on agriculture from 11 per cent of the total budget in 2015/16 fiscal year to 7.5 per cent this year.
Mr Nkurunziza says that reduced focus on the sector will have major implications including food insecurity, poverty, malnutrition and households which can’t sustain themselves.
The 2015 Auditor-General’s report indicates that irrigation equipment procured by government in the district of Nyagatare at a cost of Rwf2.7 billion was put to waste.
The AG also raised the red flag on the mismanagement of resources meant for the Crop Intensification Programme and the Post-Harvest Handling and Storage Taskforce, warning that this might set back the country’s gains in food security.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Tony Nsanganira said that the government has put in place short-term measures to avert the current shortage of food as well as long-term plans to avoid the recurrence of the same.
He, however, dismissed claims that policy and decision making are to blame for the recurrent food shortage in drought stricken parts of the country instead noting that climate change is responsible for the inconsistent rains.
“We have been aware of this situation since September last year and we have been monitoring it. The affected areas are the Eastern Province affected by drought and parts of Western and Northern provinces which were affected by floods. We are identifying families which have been affected and through the food for work approach, are providing them with food from our grain reserves,” Mr Nsanganira said.
He said the government has put in place other subsidies, forfeiting the seeds the government had given farmers and cooperatives due to poor harvest.
Mr Nsanganira said that the government is looking at long-term solutions to hunger and drought recurrence in Eastern Province with a new approach to irrigation where by farmers and cooperatives will be assisted to get irrigation kits and own them rather than the government buying them.
“We will help farmers acquire irrigation equipment with a subsidy of up to 50 per cent and link co-operatives to financial institutions. This is a more sustainable approach because farmers own these programmes,” he said.
He noted that the new approach will address the challenges identified by the Auditor-General because people will directly own the projects, rather than the government.
Mr Nsanganira said investigations are going on and some arrests have been made in regard to the mismanagement and vandalisation of the costly projects.