ACTUALLY our population growth rate in ‘only’ 2.77626 %, if the World Bank is to bebelieved, but who is actually going to take me to task for rounding off the statistic? I had a torrid time trying to figure out a topic to discuss this week and until Sunday evening I still couldn’t think of anything that got my heart racing. That is, until I sat down to have dinner with a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer living in rural Rwanda.
As the evening progressed the issue of development came up. She had read a few news reports that outlined the population ‘ticking time-bomb’ that was Rwanda. She, and these reporters, made have some valid points. More than 80% of the population live directly off the land in rural Rwanda.
The problem is that this land is a finite resource and our population isn’t getting smaller. Presently, the population density of Rwanda is 235 people per square kilometre and its getting denser every year. People talk about the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) but, at least in the short term, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health will increase the already high population.
You can say what you want about the tragedy of infants (and their mothers’ dying) but it certainly thinned the population. Putting the morbidity aside, if one looks at the various issues that have to be addressed one can start to despair.
Most of the arable land in this country is being exploited to the max, the abundant rains wash away the fertile topsoil’s turning the rivers muddy and sending the best soils in this country to Egypt, the native plant cover is almost gone, and the farm plots have become smaller and smaller as each generation gives birth to the next.
If there wasn’t a secret weapon I would pack my bags and return to my pre-1994 home because I wouldn’t want to be here when the time-bomb exploded. What is the secret weapon in one word? Development.
Those projecting all sorts of Doomsday scenarios make the assumption that things remain constant. But as we all should know by now that’s a fool’s errand. Rarely, if ever, does a nation’s statistics remain constant especially when it’s a developing nation on the path of economic growth. This is a path that Rwanda is on right now.
Population isn’t a problem in itself. Nor is population density. I mean, look at Manhattan Island, New York City. In an area less than 60 kilometres square, 1.6 million people somehow manage to live, work and play.
Look at our development partner Singapore. Its population density is a lot higher than ours. They have to somehow managed to grow into one of the Asian Tiger economies. So, what exactly are the problems that we face?
The first would be food production. The size of farm plots wouldn’t be such a problem if they could provide the farmer and his family’s needs. Subsistence farming has to become a thing of the past. And this is what is actually happening.
Fertilizers are being given to rural farmers, land consolidation is being actualised all over the country and the entire land tenure system is being overhauled. What is the result? For the last couple of years Rwanda has been food secure and even able to export foodstuff to Eastern DR Congo and Burundi.
In my humble opinion, the reason we have such a large population is because not enough Rwandans had the opportunity to get an education. Many uneducated Rwandans have their first babies when they are teenagers.
Well, if these teenager mothers and fathers were in school, learning and dreaming of a better future, bearing children would be the furthest things on their minds. Sure they would have sex, but they would know how to use birth control. That is why I’m such an advocate of the 9 Year Basic Education programme. Certainly it has a few faults and it needs tweaking here and there. But when, not if, it reaches its potential it shall remove a huge number of potential parents out of the cycle of unplanned pregnancies and shotgun weddings. Therefore, reducing the birth rate.
Very few countries in the world develop economically and still have to worry about exploding birth-rates. In fact, countries like Germany and Japan are worried that their falling birth rates will adversely affect their work-force. People aren’t the problem, poverty is. Get to the heart of poverty and everything else will follow.