FEATURED: The challenge of turning the land of a thousand hills into the land of plenty

Farmers preparing their harvest. Photo: WFP

Rwanda has been called the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ because much of the country is covered by rolling, grassy hills. While it sounds idyllic it is not, as ninety percent of the arable land lies on slopes with the consequent effect of soil loss, erosion and decreasing fertility.

With more than thirty percent of Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 70 percent of the country’s workforce employed in the agricultural sector, this sector is vital to achieving Zero Hunger in Rwanda. Despite its importance, agricultural productivity remains low and high levels of poverty are witnessed among rural populations.

WFP is addressing this through its ‘Cash for Work’ programme. Through this project, WFP has been supporting the poorest and most food insecure communities develop assets such as land terraces, marshland and roads. In return for their work, each participant gets a fixed daily wage, providing them sufficient income to cover their basic food needs, and sometimes to pay school fees or cover medical expenses. The ultimate goal of the programme is to make farmers self-sustainable, while increasing and improving the quality of their produce.

“Due to constant food insecurity, I had decided to move from my ancestral home and look for a new place to settle down with my five children. I had reached a point where I was no longer able to harvest any crops due to the low fertility of soil and the effects of soil erosion,” explains Innocent Bizimana, one of the 12,000 participants in the programme. “Anything I tried to plant in my garden was washed away by rain water, and I could not afford to pay for any fertilizers.”

Innocent Bizimana, father of five, proudly displays potatoes harvested from his land thanks to WFP’s terrace construction. Photo: WFP/John Paul Sesonga

“Today I am happy because I did not have to relocate my family, thanks to the WFP programme that started in my village. After constructing terraces on my land, my cultivable land increased by almost 90 percent! I decided to grow potatoes on my newly terraced land because they grow well where I live,” he adds.

Through the Cash for Work programme, WFP has supported the construction and development of over 600 hectares of new land terraces on hillside slopes. People like Innocent who live in Rwanda’s most food-insecure districts have benefited from this support. They are now able to produce enough food for their families while also selling their surplus harvests to earn additional income.

In addition to land terrace construction, WFP is helping rehabilitate marshland for agriculture cultivation through the development of water management and irrigation systems. Over the last six years, WFP has helped rehabilitate 130 hectares of marshland — land which previously could not be used to grow crops properly.

Francoise Ingabire is one of the farmers who has benefited from a rehabilitated marshland in Nyamagabe district in southern Rwanda (Cyogo). Water drainage and the development of canals in the district have improved water management, and demarcating plots has enabled farmers to plant crops on ground that is leveled.

Francoise Ingabire is a member of the farmers’ cooperative cultivating and harvesting in the Cyogo. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

The total maize production from the farmers’ cooperative cultivating and harvesting Cyogo marshland doubled within three months, from 100 metric tonnes before its rehabilitation in April, to 200 metric tonnes after its rehabilitation in July. The cooperative has good leadership and functions well across all agricultural activities.

After WFP helped Francoise and others to rehabilitate the Cyogo marshland, her harvest significantly increased. “Before the marshland was often flooded, destroying our crops almost every season,” says Francoise, “but after its rehabilitation, my maize production has more than doubled, enabling me to have food at home and sell the surplus on the market.”

The Cash for Work programme is part of WFP’s Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project. The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project is an integrated rural development project which is funded by the Republic of Korea through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The project aims to improve households’ access to livelihood assets to ultimately enable them to meet their own food and nutrition needs. Since 2016, it has been implemented in the most food insecure districts of Nyamagabe, Karongi and Rutsiro and will continue through June 2019.

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