Does urbanisation pose a threat to agriculture?

Several towns across Rwanda are growing and expanding at an unprecedented pace. This, agriculture experts fear, could in the future hurt agriculture output given the size of the country.
An earial view of new houses in Kibagabaga, Gasabo District.(Timothy Kisambira)
An earial view of new houses in Kibagabaga, Gasabo District.(Timothy Kisambira)

Several towns across Rwanda are growing and expanding at an unprecedented pace.

This, agriculture experts fear, could in the future hurt agriculture output given the size of the country. Some have called for policies that are more responsive to the realities on the ground to meet both urbanization and agriculture needs, while others say appropriate policies were already in place but needed strict enforcement.

And Rwanda is far from being alone in this situation.Speaking during a recent forum in Kigali, Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union, underlined the fact that by 2050, Africa will be home to one-fifth of the world’s population, which will put a strain on resources and food security.

She said that the envisaged population explosion, coupled with the strong trend toward urbanisation, poses a huge challenge and there was need for innovation to ensure that the continent meets its food and housing requirements.

The official explained that considering the increasingly soaring population, food will need to almost double by 2050 to satisfy global demand.

In Rwanda, the rapid urbanisation and its associated problems such as scarcity of land and environmental degradation (due to proliferation of unplanned settlements) are among the issues that preoccupy the minds of policymakers and technocrats at the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA).

Esther Mutamba, the Director General, RHA, told The New Times last week that, in anticipation of these challenges, detailed master plans had been developed to guide developers in all the urban areas in the country.

All of the 30 districts have concluded their conceptual master plans – 22 districts have put in place detailed physical master plans, four are in final validation phase, while the other four are set to unveil their plans later this financial year.

The plans, officials say, will ensure sustainable management of land, water, and biodiversity.

The estimated surface area for an urban area in every district, according to the master plans, averages 4,500 hectares.

“Master plans dictate the zoning of urban areas showing what will be or should be done where. Farmland is distinct from other zones like settlement, infrastructure, and manufacturing, among others,” Mutamba said.

She said that in urban areas, priority is being given to the construction of apartment blocks with multiple floors to help maximise space.

However, there are concerns that the master plans are no guarantee that urban dwellers would not end up encroaching on arable land which is estimated to be just 1.5 million hectares countrywide.

There are also questions as to whether all districts have the requisite skills to ensure the implementation of the plans.

The other challenge, Mutamba said, was the possible cases of corruption where local actors issue construction permits contrary to the guidelines of the land use master plan.

But we are trying to plug the loopholes, she added. “We are strengthening district urban planning and construction one-stop centres through staffing and capacity building. We believe this will help tighten inspection of construction works to ensure that the existing master plans are respected.”


Tony Nsanganira, the State Minister for Agriculture, said that close follow up is needed to ensure that tillable land is preserved so that agriculture output is not compromised in the future.

“We have already experienced such a problem in Musanze District where people build in areas that are reserved for agricultural activities. We are planning to meet with all stakeholders in the near future to collectively look at how master plans can be implemented to the letter,” Nsanganira told The New Times.

The minister said government was keen to make the most of the available farmland through use of fertilizers and hybrid seeds, as well as enforcing policies on land consolidation, crop intensification, terracing and irrigation.

Willy Ndizeye, the Mayor of Gasabo, one of the districts said to be fast losing arable land due to rapid urbanization, said that the main problem is not lack of tillable land but people who disregard the district’s master plan by encroaching on farmland reserve. “This is despite that the master plan clearly indicates which areas are for real estate development and which ones are for agriculture.”

“That is why we still have cases of people whose houses get destroyed. They do it stealthily, sometimes in connivance with local leaders or because the latter are simply irresponsible,” he said.

He said it’s for this reason that they have embarked on sensitising local leaders in Gasabo on the district master plan and their role in implementing it.

The same challenge is being experienced in Huye District where the Mayor, Eugene Kayiranga Muzuka, says the issue of scarcity of farmland wouldn’t be raising if everyone was respecting the master plan of the district.
“We are trying to ensure that we respect the plan we have put in place,” he said.

Agriculture accounts for a third of the country’s GDP and constitutes the main economic activity for the rural households, especially women.

A little less than 80 per cent of Rwanda’s population is employed in agriculture, with the sector said to be meeting 90 per cent of national food needs and fetching more than 70 per cent of total export revenue.

District master plans have a lifespan of 30 years but they can be updated when necessary, according to urban planners.

Vision 2020 projects that about 30 per cent of Rwanda’s nearly 11 million people will be living in planned cities across the country with access to basic infrastructure that allows sustainable development.

In order to help off-set the pollution pressure in the capital Kigali – home to an estimated 1.1 million people –, the government, under the framework of the 2013-18 Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy blueprint, seeks to develop six secondary cities across the country, namely; Musanze in Northern Province, Nyagatare in Eastern Province, Huye and Muhanga in Southern province, as well as Rubavu and Rusizi in Western Province.