Rwanda's Eastern Province faces hunger after drought, armyworm attack

Saturday May 13 2017

Vestine Nyirantama with one of her six children

Vestine Nyirantama with one of her six children in Rwinkwavu sector. She moved to the area in search of work so that she could feed her children. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Moses K Gahigi

Following recent attacks by the fall armyworm, it is feared that hunger will continue to affect households in Eastern Province. The area is also struggling to recover from famine, after a drought ravaged crops in 2016.

Rwanda Today visited Rwinkwavu in Kayonza district to monitor the situation there.

In an interview with Vestine Nyirantama, 36, she said she had to move from Kabarondo to Rwinkwavu to look for work so that she could feed her family of six.
She tills land for Rwf800 a day and uses the money to buy food. However, she said life in the area has become difficult.

She currently stays with four of her children while two remained in Kabarondo.

“We fled our home because I couldn’t watch my children die of hunger, so I came here to Rwinkwavu. The situation is worse in our village,” she said.

Kabarondo is one of the areas that was worst hit by hunger last year in the Eastern District of Kayonza. Many of the residents fled to other parts of the country in search of food and jobs to survive.

The area is yet to recover from the devastating drought that started in April last year, when rains stopped early, causing crops to dry.

The Eastern province is a semi-arid area that is prone to drought and scores of people have migrated to Uganda in search of food.

At the height of the hunger — which residents say has persisted for the past three years — the government gave foodstuff to the most affected households. The government gave them dried maize and beans. However, the households were too many and the initiative was stopped.

“For a long time we gave food hand outs to almost all residents. Up to 24,000 of the 30,000 residents depended on food from the government,” said Bizimana Claude, the executive secretary of Rwinkwavu Sector.

The government opened centres in different sectors of the most affected districts, where people could go to collect food.

According to relief NGO’s and agencies, close to 100,000 families in the Eastern districts of Rwamagana, Gatsibo, Nyagatare, Bugesera, Kayonza and Kirehe as well as Nyanza and Gisagara in the Southern Province are facing hunger. The government disputed the figure, putting it at 45,000 families.

The Rwinkwavu swamp now looks lush and green because the April rains have brought hope. Many smallholder farmers have planted crops, but the vestiges of hunger can’t be missed.

Laurent Batibuka, an extension worker in Rwinkwavu said that although things are now better in places like Kabarondo, residents still face hunger.

Just as the residents were beginning to hope for a good harvest after the rains started, the worst armyworm invasion the country has ever seen attacked.

Maize is critically important in averting a food shortage and many farmers planted it. Now, many hectares of the crop have been destroyed by the armyworm.

Prolonged drought, armyworm invasion and low food production have been the main threats to the country’s food security.

The government downplayed the impact of the armyworm on food security saying maize was not cultivated in a wide in the second farming season of this year.