Rwanda might have about 1.4 million hectares of arable land, but a big chunk of it is being used for construction rather than agriculture, a scenario that could gravely affect food production in the country in the near future.
Lawmakers say much of the country’s arable land is under pressure. They called on authorities to move fast and ensure that there is a clear demarcation of land for agriculture in the country.
Experts have attributed the pressure on land to population growth and growing construction needs occasioned by urbanisation, worse of all, unplanned settlements.
The Fourth Population and Housing Census, published in 2012, projects that the population will increase from 10.5 million in 2012 to at least 15.4 million by 2032.
According to the projections from the census, about 102,000 new households were to be created by 2015, which would shoot to 111,575 by 2017 and 125,674 new households by 2020.
This situation shows growing demand for housing.
A 2016 report by different agencies, whose results were derived from a survey of five districts, revealed that, in general, there is lack of compliance to standards and regulations related to land use, planning and management.
Some key findings include lack of enforcement of land use plans, increasing level of urban sprawl (rural land increasingly being urbanised as a result of people’s relocation) and informal settlements both in urban and rural areas, poor implementation of ‘Umudugudu’ (village) policy, poor environmental protection where buffers of lakes, rivers, wetlands and protected forests are misused.
The sampled districts are Kicukiro in Kigali, Musanze (as a secondary city) in Northern Province, Kamonyi of Southern Province, Ngoma in Eastern Province, and Karongi in Western Province.
In Karongi District, some portions of land have been dedicated to Imidugudu settlements but with no clear data on size given. Between 2011 and 2015, at least 300 hectares of land earmarked for agriculture in the district was encroached on for housing needs.
In Ngoma, the survey found no concrete zoning practice for various land uses which led to the encroachment of agriculture land to the tune of 244 hectares within the same reporting period.
The situation was not any different in other districts sampled.
MP Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, said that there was need to protect land designated for agriculture and optimally utilise it to ensure sustained food security, expressing concern over encroachment of such land, mainly for construction.
“If nothing is done, land that was designed for agriculture will be occupied by buildings. That is an issue that needs deep discussions to see how to protect agricultural land even if it has not been fully exploited for the intended use,” she said.
Senator Jean Damascène Ntawukuliryayo said a clear demarcation of land for agriculture and proper land use in the country is essential for proper planning for agriculture in terms of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, hence ensuring agriculture productivity.
“If we do not take a resolution and people continue to use land the way they feel like, it is a major issue,” he said.
Annie Kairaba, the managing director of Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local NGO whose main area of intervention is land, concurs with the legislators.
“Urbanisation is expanding, yet land size cannot increase. Most areas that were used for agriculture now hold buildings,” Kairaba said, citing Kibagabaga area in Kigali.
She told The New Times that Vision 2020 provides for 50 per cent of population to live off farm, which is a great vision for the economy considering the rapid population growth, “with our limited land.”
However, Kairaba observed that this should be strategically implemented in order to ensure sustained the food security, especially of the poor and the less educated who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
“Areas for agriculture should be re-examined and protected; smallholder farmers should be protected and supported to use their land more productively,” she said.
The Minister for Natural Resources, Dr Vincent Biruta, told The New Times that they would embark on measures to ensure that the land is properly being used and managed.
“Local leaders should wake up and start enforcing policies in place and use land use master plans to crack down on misappropriation of land,” Minister Biruta said.
He called for all organs concerned with land use and management to work together to ensure that land is used for what it was planned for.
Efficient land use in construction sector
The Director-General of Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA), Didier Sagashya, said “the MPs’ observations are valid because there are some areas where people do not comply with the master plan.”
He said it was important that an audit of the master plan implementation is mainstreamed in performance contracts (Imihigo) to curtail encroachment on arable land.
Under the Integrated Development Program model villages, Sagashya said, a four-in-one model – building houses of four units each to accommodate four households on one plot – has been adopted, noting that each of the districts has at least one village of that kind so far.
He said there are plans to have eight-in-one house model where eight houses can be constructed on a plot in the city suburb.
Another strategy being considered for efficient use of land, Sagashya said, is construction of more apartments.
He said the apartment projects is in the pipeline but the units will not be similar in all the cities; some will have seven levels, others five, others three levels.
The proposed apartment project, due for completion by 2022, he said, will include about 30,000 apartment buildings which will be distributed in the City of Kigali and the six secondary cities in the country namely Rubavu, Musanze, Huye, Rusizi, Nyagatare, and Muhanga.
“All that is intended to see how we can efficiently manage land in the construction sector,” Sagashya noted.
Figures from the Ministry of Natural Resources show that 11.3 million parcels of land have been demarcated under the land registration programme that started in 2009, with over 9.1 million land titles handed to owners – as of October 2016.
Each land title showed the activity that was carried out on it during the registration period, such as farming, construction, commercial purpose, among others.
However, Biruta said the prescription on a resident’s land title might be different from what is planned in the master plan depending on what such land was planned for since the land use plan was developed after land registration programme.