RUBAVU — Residents of Rubavu district in Gisenyi sector who were formerly tilling on the hills are complaining over the district’s decision to ban agricultural activities on the hills.
A group of seven residents on Monday stormed The New Times offices in Gisenyi town complaining that since the district restricted farming on the hills four months ago, they have been hit by hung and starvation. They demanded that the district immediately addresses their problem.
In a bid to conserve the environment, the district restricted farming on the elevated parts of the hill, but promised to reallocate affected residents to other areas not prone to soil erosion which has not been done to date.
The residents say they want the district to give them some food aid because they were stopped from cultivating.
"We need our problem addressed because we are starving. The district authorities should either move us to new places or give us food aid during this period because we did not grow anything this season. If not we should be allowed to resume farming activities," Hamis Hategekimana one of the seven said.
Contacted for a comment over the issue, Rubavu district officer in charge of good governance, Martin Habimana, downplayed the effects, saying the residents complaining were bent on giving the issue another outlook.
"There was no farm work on the hills. That place was originally filled with trees and most residents who are currently living on the hill are business people who earn their living through trade in Gisenyi town. These include motorists, shopkeepers and others," he said.
"Even those who depended on agriculture do their activities in other plots away from this hill. That is like some one complaining that he/she has been prohibited from grazing cows in town. Those complaining could be those who were evicted but deliberately resettled in the area," explained Habimana.
The district vice mayor in charge of social affairs, Jacqueline Bakunduseruye, acknowledged the problem and said preparations were underway to resettle the affected residents in other places.
She said until the district establishes a new settlement for the affected residents, their houses on the elevated parts of the hill will not be demolished.
Bakunduseruye stressed that the decision was taken in the interest of environmental protection; because human activities had led to environmental degradation. She said residents were given enough time to prepare for the eviction.
"There was no way we could allow continuous settlement and other human activities on the hill because we had started having problems during rainy season. Floods in Gisenyi town had become common destroying roads, merchandise in shops and markets and sanitation had become a problem," explained the mayor.
Gisenyi sector coordinator Emanuel Manzimpaka, last year said only 20 families would be evicted from the hills. He said that the sector authorities had in 2006 issued a warning barring people from further settlement on the hills but some people deliberately erected new houses and tilled new gardens.