At least every Rwandan can afford a meal a day as the country has registered progress in food security. The question is- how is food security sustainable if measured against current population growth rates? There seems to be a challenge here when one scrutinises the two elements.
Of the country’s current population of about 11 million, we have seen many initiatives like the government’s new policy of one cow per family to help households raise their standards of living. Others such as land consolidation is meant to enable farmers boost their yields through merging of the previously smaller fragmented parcels into larger holdings that has potential of making the best use of inputs such as fertilisers, improved seeds and labour. The whole idea is to increase production on the same land.
More than 850 million people worldwide are classified as undernourished, many of whom are food insecure with a sizeable chunk coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. Further still, Sub-Saharan Africa has the dubious distinction of having a population structure capable of doubling and tripling every 30-50 years.
A survey by World Food Programme carried out in 2006 for Rwanda indicated that 28 percent of the rural population is food insecure, 24 percent is highly vulnerable, and 26 percent is moderately vulnerable. A recent survey carried out in the 2009 shows that nationally, 7 percent of women of reproductive age between 15-49 years are malnourished.
According to the survey, among children of ages 6 to 59 months, over 50 percent are stunting while 15.8 percent are underweight. Nyabihu, Ngororero and Nyamagabe Districts are reported to have the highest percent in poor food consumption at 9.5 percent, 9.5 percent and 8.4 percent respectively.
Slowing population growth is essential in reducing the outbreak of famine and achieving food security. The question is-will Rwanda achieve the goal of ensuring food security if the current trend of population growth rates continues unchecked?
Four years ago, government proposed a law that sought to put a cap on the number of children in a family to a miximum three. It is really not working. The only option left to government is voluntary family planning programs.
For some reasons, such programs seem not to be providing the right answers as the population is expected to exceed year from 9 million in 2006. Though it can be said that the impact of voluntary programs is remarkable, some experts such as Dr.Eugene Ngoga of King Faisal Hospital are in agreement that there is still a long way to go before Rwanda achieves the medium target of 70 percent.
Over the last decade, uptake of modern family planning methods has increased from less than 10 percent a decade ago to an average of 53 percent last year. I am convinced that the figures would be higher if mobilisation was not left to doctors and nurses in district hospitals and government.
Ngoga noted that the government has the target to reduce fertility from the current 5.5 percent to below 3 percent and population growth to just above the replenishment rate of 2.2 percent.
According to Ngoga, women are showing more interest in family planning than their male counterparts. Ngoga is optimistic that with continuous education, the percentage of those using family planning will dramatically increase, reaching the target of 70 percent.
But the question still lingering in the minds of many is-can we safely say that the current levels of food security is optimally measured up against the population growth rates?