Harnessing the 175,000ha arable Rusizi plain

When heavy rains and floods last month hit Rwanda’s Bugarama valley, part of the larger Rusizi plain shared between Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo, rice farmers counted heavy losses.

This is according to Marie Alice Bayizere, the Rusizi District agronomist in an interview last week.

She was in Kigali attending a two-day workshop organized by the Rubavu-based Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) Secretariat for Rwandan officials to validate a report on a master plan for the vast arable Rusizi valley, a 175,000 hectares region – all underutilized farmland – shared by the three members of the regional economic bloc.

CEPGL brings together Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Due to floods on just two occasions, March 23 and April 3, Bayizere said, farmers’ losses included 343 sacks of dried rice in storage waiting to be taken to the market, 350 sacks of freshly harvested rice that was covered by layers of flood sediment and destroyed 1.6 hectares of rice fields that were not yet harvested.

For season B of 2018, nursery beds that would have planted 20 hectares, in addition to eight hectares that had just been planted were devastated, she said, showing pictures of the floods’ appalling destruction.

Bayizere agrees that the master plan, once complete and is implemented, will not only protect the environment but the farmers in the three countries.

40-year master plan

According to Lilliane Gashumba, the CEPGL Deputy Executive Secretary in Charge of Finance and Administration, the bloc got more than Euros 1.2million from the African Development Bank to produce a Master Plan for the Rusizi Valley and make a sample of 20,000 hectares with more details including environmental impact assessments.

She said: “The validation started with a local process. Today, it's at the national level and the same exercise was done in Burundi the last two days. It continues in Kinshasa in DRC next week and by month end, we will have a regional validation session.”

A Master Plan for the Rusizi Valley, Gashumba said, will help countries avoid disorder, cut farmers’ losses at the same time preserving the environment, boost production and enhance food security in the region since the vast valley is a potential food basket, and create thousands of better earning jobs.

Augustin Mutijima, a consultant with the Tunisian firm – STUDI International – developing the master plan, explained that the objective is to produce a strategic document that will be used for fund mobilization and future development of the valley in agriculture and livestock as well as other sectors like infrastructure.

The master plan will inform the development of the larger Rusizi region for the next 40 years, he said.

Since June 2017, consultants traversed the three countries consulting stakeholders including local committees at district and national level. The Kigali session was validation of the second phase – the master plan itself – by the national committee in Rwanda, before heading to Kinshasa next week.

By rehabilitation means many things, he said, including infrastructure within the marshland; irrigation drains, water intake infrastructure, reservoirs to increase water storage and be able to irrigate all Bugarama zones during dry spells.

“More importantly, soil conservation on the hillsides because existing infrastructure is regularly destroyed by storms and flooding. There will be landscaping rehabilitation intervention on the water shed and all rivers that pour into the valley will be protected”.

The Rusizi Valley section of Rwanda is about 2,175 hectares. Bayizere said Bugarama currently produces 16,500 tons of rice a year but can do far much better.

Development of master plan started last May. The master plan is also factoring in things such as construction of feeder roads to improve circulation of goods and people, capacity building to farmers’ cooperatives, increased investment in agriculture extension services, support to trade and quality enhancement.

Damien Niyongabo, senior irrigation engineer at the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), told The New Times that in marshland development, “nothing can be done before a master plan is made”.

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