Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with over 11 million inhabitants living in an area of 26,338 square kilometres. Population density data highlights the North Western part of the country as one of the most densely populated and food insecure part of the country. With Rwanda’s population projected to rise to around 16 million by 2020, there is likely to be continued intense pressure on natural resources.
Rwanda’s high population density (deriving from natural increase and from the repatriation of Rwandans displaced during the massacres in 1959 and the genocide in 1994) combined with its reliance on rain-fed agriculture means that the predominantly rural population is increasingly farming smaller and smaller plots of land. More than 80% of households own less than 1 ha of land.
Moreover, as the population has grown and land has become increasingly scarce, farmers have started to cultivate marginal land on steep slopes (up to and above 55%). The large number of people farming on Rwanda’s hilly and mountainous terrain has led to serious environmental degradation due to overexploitation of the soil and extensive erosion which results in soils being washed down the hillsides into the valleys causing extensive sedimentation of the main rivers and other water-bodies. The high dependence on biomass fuels further contributes to deforestation and erosion of the hilly landscape.
The slopes in the mountainous areas of North-West Rwanda, are particularly prone to landslides and soil erosion (with heavy leaching of nutrients and mineral content, as well as loss of organic matter) as the deep volcanic soils are fragile and underlain by rocky material. The potential evapo-transpiration is also limited since the area is located in the highland, frost and alpine zone.
In this area climate change is leading to more volatile, highly variable rainfall (reduced rainfall days but greater intensity during rainy periods), placing agriculture which is predominantly rain fed in a vulnerable and unpredictable position. Flooding and landslides are the dominant climate-related hazards due to the steep sloping terrain. Within this area there were a lack of soil erosion control measures in the landscape, a lack of knowledge and capacity in farmers to conserve soil, insufficient buffer zones, cultivation in wetlands and lack of capacity in water resources management.
Extent and impact of flooding and landslides in project area: This results in soil erosion, rock falls, landslides, floods and siltation and water-logging of the deep valleys which destroy crops, houses and other infrastructure (roads, bridges and schools), food insecurity, losses in biodiversity as well as loss of human and animal lives.
This results in soil erosion, rock falls, landslides, floods and siltation and water-logging of the deep valleys which destroy crops, houses and other infrastructure (roads, bridges and schools), food insecurity, losses in biodiversity as well as loss of human and animal lives. Most vulnerable groups to climate change disasters are:
-Households living on slopes are affected by landslides and soil erosion. This is because people have been practicing intensive farming with no anti-erosion measures such as terracing or planting of trees, therefore when the rains come there is nothing to prevent soil erosion.
– Households living in valleys or near rivers. Flooding can be temporary, but in recent years it is becoming more and more regular, expected at every rainy season, and in some areas this has led to worse situation. This impacts households through the loss of crops, trees, destruction of stables for animals, and damage to homes.
– Households relying on agriculture. Irregular rain and periods of drought and heavy rainfall are affecting anyone that relies on agriculture for survival.
Moreover, the effects of climate change are particularly pronounced on vulnerable groups such as poor and women. Women and elderly are also considered highly vulnerable populations, due to limited educational and economic opportunities within their communities and thus have fewer assets and alternative income opportunities, making it more difficult for them to cope with climate shocks. Children are also considered more at risk as they could more easily get sick or hurt due to the instability of the home or land (landslides or flowing water or flooding), and are often pulled out of school as families struggled to get money to pay for damaged school materials.
To cope with these climate change impacts; Rwanda has adopted an adaptation approaches targeting the most vulnerable groups, such as families within the lowest socio-economic categories (Ubudehe Categories 1-3) and female-headed households, who have less access to resources needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Initiatives undertaken consist of:
• Support for erosion control measures through construction of bench terraces and valorization;
• Installation of progressive terraces infrastructures and re-planting agro forestry and fruits trees of steep slopes;
• Support for vulnerable farmers’ cooperatives to adopt agricultural and small livestock and/or access to finance;
• The degraded areas due to soil erosion were rehabilitated through construction of bench and progressive terraces, and agroforestry and fruits trees plantation.
• Bench and progressive terraces were valorized though application of lime and green manure to increase the productivity of degraded lands;
• Agriculture productivity and food security have been improved;
• The soil conservation measures were achieved through HIMO approach (Labour Intensive Public Works); local communities have got green jobs and they were able to pay the health insurance, feed their families, school fees for the children; … etc
• Some families living in high risk zone have been resettled to rural development hubs where they can find all facilities (health, safe water, electricity; security…)
• To support the saving policy, communities were paid through their accounts opened in SACCOs (Saving and Credit Cooperatives)
• Creation and capitalization of a credit facility for enterprise development : through accounts in SACCOs opened by Communities