August 2, 2020

By 2050, Rwanda Will Need Four-Times its Size to Feed Exploding Population


March 11, 2020: In Kirehe District, eastern province, President Kagame inaugurates the Nasho Solar-powered Irrigation Project funded by the billionaire Howard G. Buffett’s Foundation. The project includes pivot irrigation systems serving 2099 small scale farmers, a 3.3 Mw solar power plant & model village of 144 houses. The project is part of Buffett’s $500m gift he gave to Rwanda back in 2015.

If tough decisions are not taken now, Rwanda will have no food to feed its population expected to double in next 30 years, says government in a grim strategy report.

The plan, reading like a geopolitical masterpiece, tells government that food imports should not be an option because Rwanda’s neighborhood is “politically or institutionally unstable”.

Last week, Wednesday July 29, cabinet chaired by President Paul Kagame adopted the National Land-Use and Development Master Plan 2020-2050. The Chronicles has obtained a condensed 139-page version.

The strategy document establishes strict land allocation for different sectors. It calls for government to curve out land to be set aside for agriculture – which covers 47.2% of the country’s surface to ensure food security and sustainability.

Developed by Israeli firm TZAMIR Architects and Planners, with U.S-based Horwath HTL, the master plan gives government three scenarios for what food production will look like – depending on what President Kagame and his team do right now.

Scenario one, called in the document as “Business as Usual Assumptions”, whereby government does nothing on current situation, Rwanda will need 102,973 square kilometers for food production to feed the 22m population at that time.

Currently, Rwanda’s population is about 12m, on a total land size of 26,338 square kilometers.

If President Kagame and his team choose to stay put and do nothing now to revolutionise the country’s agriculture, there will be no food. We will need nearly four-times the size of Rwanda to grow food for all of us.

In the second scenario, the “sub-commercial Agriculture Assumptions”, the country will need to have 35,154 square kilometers for agriculture, which still is more than the total size of Rwanda.

As for the final scenario, the “Commercial Agriculture Assumptions”, Rwanda will need 15,104 square kilometers for agriculture production, which is 57.3% of current land mass.

But then the government’s advisory firms say scenario TWO “seems to be the most realistic, given the current growth rate of agriculture in Rwanda.”

They write: “In the last year’s [2019] agriculture in Rwanda grew 5% per year. If this trend continues until 2050 – agriculture will be 4.5 times larger than today. If most of the growth will be accounted for the increase in yields – this scenario may be considered realistic.”

The Master Plan also calculated the food yields that Rwanda MUST be producing by 2050. The yields in Rwanda are currently meager. For the size of Rwanda, it has to have yields beyond global standards to be able to feed its people, and government has already settled on that fact.

If indeed Rwanda could have trouble growing all it’s food, why not simply import the deficit. Well, Professor Yigal Tzamir and his colleagues say government of Rwanda should make sure it doesn’t have to import food. The region’s dynamics are not in Rwanda’s favour.

“Even if the food is imported from other countries [outside region] – Rwanda will be dependent on its neighboring countries that have a harbor through which the imported food could reach Rwanda,” says the strategy master plan.

Rwanda is bordered by DR Congo to the west, Burundi to the South, Uganda to the North, and Tanzania to the east. However, DRC’s route has no ground link to coast, – which is also thousands of kilometers far away. Both Burundi and Uganda are landlocked, and this is not the only problem.

“When considering importing food that is produced in neighboring countries only, attention should be given to their level of economic and agricultural development, their political stability, and institutional strength,” say the advisory firms.

“Political instability and conflicts are a significant threat to agricultural production, and therefore it is not recommended to rely on food imports from unstable countries.”

Should Rwanda need food imports, the firms that developed the master plan say Tanzania seems to be only viable option on the table. Tanzania will be both a source of food from its local farmers, and route of imports via its ports.

Before the ongoing impasse between Rwanda and Uganda, about 70 percent of Rwanda’s general imports came via Tanzania. A significant portion was coming in via Uganda, but this route is nearly closed – leaving Tanzania as sole entry route.

“….it seems that, again, Tanzania is the first option for food imports, as the other neighboring countries are either politically or institutionally unstable,” writes Professor Tzamir and colleagues.

“The question remains whether it is advisable to trust food imports for providing food security to Rwanda’s population. Developing the local agricultural production and protect the land is advisable so that the population’s food security will not be compromised even under conditions of regional instability.”

The Chronicles has established that Professor Tzamir’s company also developed the “National Master Plan for Uganda” for the government of President Yoweri Museveni in 2016.

So where will the land come from for the ambitious agricultural development plans being proposed, considering that Rwanda is already densely populated? The 2020-2050 master plan recommends about 13,000 Sq. Km should be designated for agriculture. It also lays out a wide ranging solution as a combination of drainage, irrigation, terrace building, consolidation, and farmers’ cooperatives formation, agricultural research, extension services, Greenhouses and urban agriculture.

Specifically, the expert team says majority of the best suitable agricultural land is in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Rwanda, where the area is relatively flat.

“This land should be protected as carefully as possible from construction. Agricultural development projects should be promoted on this land….,” says the master plan.

Some of the production at the Howard G. Buffett Foundation project in Kirehe district. One of the scenarios set out in the Master Plan is that if such extensive agriculture is not adopted, along with other innovative schemes, Rwandans will starve in 2050.

Another issue tackled by the Master Plan is yields. The yields in Rwanda are currently meager, say the expert team. President Kagame’s “Vision 2050” is said to have set crop yields that even higher than the best
global yields as the goal to be achieved (as seen in table above).

Low yields is not in Rwanda alone, its a regional problem. Food insecurity is perpetuated by unstable climatic conditions such as floods, droughts, famine, and diseases.

Developing early warning systems and technologies can pre-empt such disasters and assist in the mitigation of their impact on agriculture and food supply. Improvement in technology, infrastructure (drainage,
irrigation), farmland consolidation, market access, etc. can dramatically improve crops’ yields.

Though requires massive capital investment, Greenhouses are seen as an excellent technique for achieving sustainable intensification of fruit and vegetable production. Using greenhouses, one can increase the yields between 3-5 times per land unit, while saving up to 50% on the water for irrigation and pesticides.

“It is recommended that Rwanda will aim at having up to 10% of the farming land in greenhouses by 2050, supporting the farmers with funds for the needed investments and professional instruction,” says the Master Plan.

Urban agriculture – farming small plots in the cities, between the houses and on balconies and roofs – is also highly recommended as an essential way for supporting the urban dwellers with food security, especially with fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables. “All efforts should be taken to instruct urban dwellers regarding the possibilities of growing food on the available spaces,” says the strategy document.

However, warn the experts, livestock rearing in urban areas should not be allowed due to sanitary and health risks.

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