One of the critical issues facing policy makers in sub-Saharan Africa and Rwanda in particular is realising economic development in rural areas.
Africa is the world’s second largest continent after Asia. It has a total surface area of 30.3 million km2, including several islands, and an estimated total population of 888 million (2005, UN). The vast Sahara Desert, divides Northern Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Poverty in Africa is predominantly rural. More than 70 per cent of the continent’s poor people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and livelihood, yet agricultural development is not at its best. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a big number of people live in extreme poverty.
Among them are rural poor people in Eastern and Southern Africa, an area that has one of the world’s highest concentrations of poor people.
In a couple of years ago economic policies and institutional structures were modified to close the income gap.
However, in ‘many’ transitional economies, the rural situation is marked by continuing stagnation, poor production, low incomes and the rising vulnerability of poor people. Lack of access to markets is a problem for many small-scale enterprises in Africa.
In some countries the rural population is poorly organised and often isolated, beyond the reach of poverty alleviation programmes.
Consequently, government policies and investments in poverty reduction tend to favour urban over rural areas which is why the rural area remains our primary concern.
In Rwanda particularly, population in rural areas depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agricultural growth is therefore a key to poverty reduction and economic growth as well as a driver of national economic development. Yet agriculture remains largely a subsistence activity and production has not kept pace with population growth.
Household income required to afford purchased food therefore, cannot be generated. Rainfall variability adversely affects rain-fed production in rural areas and is highly responsible for rural poverty.
One may ask himself or herself why there is still rural poverty despite the presence of good, which accommodates all developmental initiatives.
There is generally insufficient strategic plan linking agricultural water development to poverty reduction and growth. Even though most poverty reduction strategies include some focus on agricultural growth, agricultural water development (as a vehicle for achieving this), has generally not been given the attention it deserves.
This is not only unique to Rwanda but also refers to all countries, south of the Sahara and north of river Limpopo.
It is thus critical that Rwanda moves a step forward in identifying constraints to agricultural water development, pin-pointing the resources and skills needed to jump start the process, and consider agriculture water development as vital to unleashing future economic growth.
Strategies for irrigation
Rwanda needs to develop strategies for better and expanded irrigation systems so as to check over dependence on rain which has been a great undoing of many farmers in the country.
The strategy calls for a broader water management program that includes irrigation and many others.
Better management of rainwater, soil moisture, and supplemental irrigation offers enormous potential to reduce poverty.
Areas for example neighbouring Akagera River could benefit from any irrigation scheme set so much that reliance on rain would end.
Take an example of the district of Nyagatare that is steadily increasing its agricultural production. It would be harvesting a lot through out the year, if it had an irrigation scheme from river Akagera that cuts across it.
Look at how Egypt has greatly benefited from the Nile. The country is one of the most agriculturally prolific places in the world and is by far the leading producer of food among Arab nations because of irrigation. And yet, without the Nile, Egypt would be little more than a desert wasteland today. What about Rwanda?
Rwanda is blessed with two reliable rain seasons that only need to be supplemented by irrigation to make the country maximise its agricultural production.
Places like Bugesera would not be facing seasonal famine due to drought if there was an irrigation scheme.
There needs to be participatory approaches and management transfer reforms that promote a more cost-effective and sustainable irrigation services.
The irrigation and drainage program should follow a step-by-step methodology for water management system.
Engineering professionals, managers and practitioners have got to be hired or trained to modernise medium-scale to large-scale canal irrigation systems from the perspective of improving performance of conjunctive water supplies.
The arrangement should go hand in with the sensitisation of local population to embrace wholesomely the idea of irrigation.
In addition to irrigation people should be able to store rain water that can be used during dry seasons to help in watering crops.
It is only through new approaches to agricultural production that Rwanda and other sub-Saharan Africa can realise sustainable economic development and complete alleviation of poverty.