Rwanda is a small, landlocked, densely populated country with diverse terrain, an abundance of water resources. It is also one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The country has made numerous economic, policy and regulatory reforms promoting private sector growth, thus helping it to achieve macroeconomic stability and rapid average annual GDP growth of 8 percent from 2001to 2014. Since 2009, the percentage of Rwandans living under the poverty line has decreased from 56 to less than 30.
Access to agricultural land is severely limited and most farmers cultivate small, rain-fed plots. Seventy- five percent of Rwanda’s labor force works in agriculture, but only produced 33 percent of the GDP in 2014. Average landholdings are 0.3 hectares per household. In spite of formal laws supporting women’s rights and the equality of men and women, women’s decision-making authority and transfer rights over agricultural land remains restricted in practice. Finally, after the 1994 genocide and displacement of 30 percent of its population, Rwanda faced the additional challenge of resettling millions of refugees and internally displaced people on limited land for which there were often multiple claims.
In order to address its land scarcity and low productivity in agriculture, Rwanda instituted comprehensive land tenure reform and a systematic land registration program along with a Crop Intensification Programme. Participation in the program requires community agreement to land consolidation and resettlement. While the program has shown some early success, its continued application in hilly and marshy areas may prove more difficult. Climate change and climatic variability also pose challenges to the program.
Rwanda’s natural resources face growing pressures. Eighty-seven percent of Rwandans have reliable access to improved drinking water, which increased from 77 percent in 2005 (NISR). Rwanda is also at the center of the most biologically diverse region on the African continent. Finally, the country’s forest resources are threatened by the expansion of agricultural land and the extensive use of fuel-wood.
Rwanda’s small mineral sector is attracting increasing foreign investment and the government is supporting the integration of the country’s artisanal and small-scale miners into the formal sector.
KEY ISSUES AND INTERVENTION CONSTRAINTS
- Ongoing support of land regularization and land administration. The government’s accomplishment of recording and registering rights to all land in Rwanda in a relatively short time frame is a demonstration of their commitment to improving tenure security. However, there is still work to be done to ensure full formalization and realize land tenure security for all.
- Continued support for all women’s land rights in law and practice. While Rwanda’s legal framework is impressive in its protection of women’s land rights, women still face challenges in securing their land, and control over it.
- Evaluation of land use consolidation (LUC). The government’s Crop Intensification Programme includes a land consolidation component. The component is supposed to be voluntary but consolidation is a condition of the program benefits. News reports suggest some communities have balked at consolidation and resettlement; in addition, a 2010 evaluation concludes that mechanized farming may not be feasible in hilly and mountainous areas, suggesting consolidation may not be appropriate in those (widespread) areas. Some farmers and observers have also expressed concern that while land consolidation and attendant mono-cropping could increase output and raise land productivity, most of the benefits may at least initially be realized by the wealthier farmers who can devote their land to cash crops. The poorer farmers who abandon traditional methods of managing risk and may have less reliable access to essential inputs and functioning markets may increase their vulnerability to food insecurity and the effects of environmental change. A USAID-funded study of land use consolidation found that LUC has not fully eliminated the problem of food insecurity and that abundant food availability does not mean nutritional needs are being met. It is unclear which impacts can be attributed to LUC, and which are a direct result of agricultural investments provided by the state. Donors could support additional research to better understand which interventions are responsible for farmer’s agricultural productivity gains.
- Community-Based Natural Resource Governance. Rwanda has abundant water resources, and the government has made great strides in providing safe and clean water to its citizens. About 80 percent of disease is traced to the lack of adequate water treatment standards, facilities, and functioning infrastructure for water delivery. The government has targeted the sector for sustained support and is in the process of creating infrastructure for reliable urban water delivery that reaches informal settlements. In rural areas, government efforts are focused on local infrastructure development and rural water distribution and management, including creation of water user associations. In both urban and rural areas, the government has identified the need to include women in management of the water resources. Donors with experience in creating community-based resource management programs in sub-Saharan Africa could help the government create decentralized, community-based natural resource governance models. The models should include components designed to ensure active and effective community participation and benefit-sharing among all community members, including women and marginalized groups.