[Editorial] Exploiting city wetlands must be done sustainably

The Ministry for Agriculture plans to exploit about 600 hectares of wetlands in Kigali city for vegetable growing with expectations that such farming method would significantly impact on the feeding behaviour of city dwellers.

The ministry says it wants to promote vegetable growing.  

This is way to go, but there are big ‘buts’ to reflect on as the ministry go about implementing this business.

Indeed, wetlands offer huge farming potentials. Kigali, like many cities around the world, hardly has space for farming. Yet the demand for food crops is ever increasing. Much so, for perishables that are good to grow in the vicinity and consumed fresh.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture will have to go through this venture in consideration of many other factors. For starters, most people grow to naturally believe that wetlands are not arable land, that their purpose is to help drain water waste and act as catchment areas. The only crops they have known to grow in wetlands are yams and rice, among a few others.

Now when the people see vegetables and get ideas that they can farm marshlands, many are likely to pick interest in picking up hoes and engaging in one too. This is where it will call for the ministry to work closely with Rwanda Environment Management Authority and local leaders to regulate exploitation of city wetlands of all kinds, not just those the ministry is currently earmarking.

For instance, if the Ministry of Agriculture only has six marshlands in Gasabo District earmarked for the activity, other smaller wetlands that have been ‘respected’ by locals could soon end up reclaimed by those seeing that, say, Nyabugogo wetland is being exploited for vegetable growing.

Exploitation of city wetlands must be done sustainably. This will call for consideration of ecosystem. Authorities must ensure that certain parts of wetlands remain untouchable.

Experiences from some cities in the region on wetland management are not rosy. There are cities that flood with just light precipitation because wetlands where rainwater would drain into have been degraded.

Also, the ministry should consider aggressively engaging city dwellers into kitchen gardening (Akarima k’Igikoni) and inculcating the culture of using utensils such as pots, old tyres etc for growing vegetables within compounds.

The Ministry of Agriculture should ensure that this venture does not drain out city wetlands. Sustainability needs them.