Rwandan policy makers are debating how more wetlands can be safely used to offset the ballooning food import bill.
Government officials say the current food production levels don’t match the country’s food production potential because significant arable acreage remains unexploited in wetlands alongside low yields in the uplands.
It is estimated that over 160,000 hectares of marshland across the country is laying idle while the yield per hectare in other areas is still below potential.
Francois Kanimba, the Minister for Trade, Industry and East African Community Affairs (Mineacom) says that if the country’s domestic food production potential was fully exploited, the need for food imports would be negated.
“Food production is still far below the available prospects with regard to the growing local food demand, and there is a need to shift from our outdated agriculture practices towards higher-yield food cultivation,” Mr Kanimba said.
National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda data shows the country is spending more than $200 million (Rwf164 billion) on food imports every year.
A big chunk of that money is spent on importing vegetables, fruits, spices and cereals among others.
While the country’s rice demand doubled in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period for 2015, most of it was imported.
The country spent $4.97 million (Rwf4.1 billion) on rice imports in the first three months of 2016 compared with $2.42 million (Rwf2 billion) for the comparable period last year. Domestic rice production stands at 5.5 tonnes per hectare annually against a potential of 12 tonnes.
Rice like other food crops namely maize, beans, vegetables, Irish potatoes and soybeans are the most grown on selected marshlands in the country.