Members of Parliament have raised the red flag over the increasing pressure on much of the country’s arable land. They have called on authorities to move fast and address the issue which experts have attributed to population growth and growing construction needs occasioned by urbanisation. Rwanda has about 1.4 million hectares of arable land.
The MPs have a genuine concern, which should be addressed to ensure that the agriculture sector is not affected by this trend. However, the issue of land pressure is not going to be solved by demarcating large chunks of land for farming at the expense of other development aspects like urbanisation and construction.
The question MPs should focus on is how to strike a balance to achieve desired transformation of the country.
This would mean that in some cases arable land could be used for construction of industries and settlements.
In the 21st century farming is not necessarily about having huge chunks of land, but it’s about how you use technology to maximise output from the available land, however small.
The reality is that pressure on land is a natural phenomenon that authorities cannot wish away because, as the population increases, the land will remain static. 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.
So how do we balance the two.
One is to ensure frugal use of land both for farming and other aspects like housing. In terms of agriculture, we should be thinking technology.
We can borrow a leaf from Israel, a country that shares a lot in common with Rwanda. It is also a small country, but has managed to have a highly developed agriculture sector, despite the shortage of land.
The country is a major exporter of fresh produce and a world-leader in agricultural technologies despite the fact that the geography of Israel is not naturally conducive for agriculture. More than half of its land is a desert.
Therefore, for Rwanda, the future of the agriculture sector is not about the quantity of arable land, but how we can use technology to maximise output.