When cynics talk about “the nutrient-rich topsoil” being washed away, every Rwandan feels stung. There is nothing that hurts so much as to see the rich, red soil that sails downstream in the rivers of Rwanda, or silts the lakes.
The smallest river in Rwanda seems to be a tributary laden with a gift-load of nutrient-rich soils that it feeds into River Nyabarongo.
This, in turn, pours everything into River Akagera that, finally, delivers the gift-load unto River Nile.
Has the exact amount of soil that Rwanda loses to these waters ever been determined? ‘Crête Congo Nil’, situated in the Gikongoro-Kibuye area, South and Western Provinces, would generally seem to be the source of these waters.
From there, the water that flows west into Lake Kivu is minimal. It is the water that flows east mainly and meanders around practically the whole country into River Nyabarongo and finally into Akagera River that presents the biggest worry. It seems to carry the biggest amount of soil with it.
Many an air-borne Rwandan has groaned on looking down, for there you will behold the wholesome beauty of rich-red River Akagera as it lazily snakes its way towards Lake Victoria in Uganda. That beauty represents unimaginable loss to Rwandans.
Being aware of this, the government of Rwanda has galvanised the populace into taking urgent measures.
These have included terracing, tree-planting, reduction of over-grazing and proper use of wetlands, among others, to stop rainwater from washing away the soil. Still, the rich soil continues to drift away.
What exactly can ‘suck’ this soil out of the river waters of Rwanda so that, even if they have to go, it will be without the soil and without degrading the land? In the first place, this Rwandan water does not have to go anywhere or, if it does, the volume should be reduced, Nile pact or none.
As for the soil, Rwanda needs to take more radical measures, the first of which the government has called upon its people to implement: the exercise of planting trees along lake- and river-shores.
Rwandans must get up in their entirety and work to halt the menace of losing this soil or else it is spelling doom to their land and livelihood.
All lakes and swamps must be ringed and rivers and river valleys lined with trees and all possible forms of vegetation.
Even the renowned Rwandan monthly unpaid communal work, ‘umuganda’, can be devoted to addressing this problem before all others.
In addition, someone has ever suggested providing prisoners serving life sentences with some form of exercise, especially those guilty of the crime of genocide.
There is no better exercise than contributing to this worthy cause.
Another measure, a more costly one, would be to erect embankments on all the river- and lake-banks in Rwanda. Here, it means erecting stonewalls along all shores in a way that water will not get in contact with soil.
Clearly, the cost involved is enormous, but so is that of losing the soil.
It must be noted that there is nothing novel about these suggestions and that what is being called for is more effort, time, resources and urgency in the activities that Rwandans are already engaged in.
Rwandans have answered their Government’s call with characteristic zeal before and no work need be insurmountable.
Of course, the effort feeds into the whole campaign of combating environmental degradation and tackling its underlying causes.
Already, commercial activities that lead to deforestation have been considerably curbed in the whole country. Rwandans have greatly limited the use of charcoal, timber, poles, medicinal herbs and foodstuff that had threatened to put the country to waste.
Especially, they have adopted farming activities that do not contribute to soil erosion, land salination or loss of nutrients.
However, the proliferation of towns poses great environmental challenge as the growing population is pressurised off the limited land and is forced into migration to urban and town centres.
This will call for strictly and tightly controlled planning of services like provision of energy, housing, water, sewerage, recreational amenities and others.
Going by the example of Kigali here, real estate developers are doing a commendable job providing housing and the other amenities in areas like Nyarutarama, Kibagabaga, Gaculiro, Kinyinya, Kabuga and Masaka.
However, they are all playing on the grave of that “nutrient-rich topsoil” as it has lost the least form of forest cover.
The new estates coming up in Rwandan urban centres should strive to conserve indigenous trees and other plants where they still are, and plant new ones where they are not.
I have seen high-rise buildings sitting comfortably side by side with forests in some cities of the developed countries. It is possible to protect the topsoil of every part of Rwanda.