Arable land in Rwanda faces further subdivision in looming review

Monday April 05 2021

Since 2013, the government has put restrictions on subdivision of arable land if the result of the subdivision leads to parcels of land less than 1 hectare. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA


Opinion is divided over the proposal to allow subdivision of agriculture land parcels amid concerns that it could fuel further land fragmentation.

The government in 2013 restricted subdivision of arable land if the results lead to parcels of land less than one hectare.

This could soon be reversed in reforms seeking to address widespread land-related disputes that emanated from the restrictions.

The draft­ law now at the Land, Agriculture, Livestock and Environment Committee of Parliament has sparked concerns among stakeholders who call for alternative solutions to compensate for the likely decline in food production levels.

With the current high rate of urbanization and fast rising demography, there has been a rise in the number of landless people across the country, while the fragmentation continues to constrain agriculture land expansion and cause more land subdivision.

“We think this will affect food security especially given that over 60 per cent own less than 0.5 ha. The subdivision of land in my view also increases disputes and landlessness,” argues Annie Kairaba, head of Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local organization working on property rights issues.


Source of livelihoods

With over 76 per cent of the population getting a source of livelihood from subsistence farming on agriculture parcels averaging 0.5 ha, official figures suggest that many can only engage in production of food for their own use and their incomes remain too low to farm themselves out of poverty.

For instance, data from the World Food Programme Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis suggest that in 10 districts of the Western, Northern, and Southern Provinces, 40-50 percent of farmers have farmland of less than 0.2 ha. This represents 46.4 percent of national total arable land.

Extremely small farms are concentrated in Western Province where 70 percent of farmers own plots smaller than 0.2ha of land.

Further land fragmentation has been cited as a setback to Government’s efforts towards consolidating the small arable land parcels into large units to boost food production.

Frank Habineza, Green Party President and Member of Parliament, however, say given the need to address widespread intra-families’ conflicts around subdivision of inherited land or other types of land ownership transfers, the government will have to capitalise on big projects in parts of the country with ample agriculture land space or its own lands for agribusiness.

“I don’t think it makes sense to rely on smallholder farmers for market-oriented agriculture because that’s the root cause of restrictions on their own land parcels. The government can leverage a huge chunk of state-owned land like wetlands and other large scale projects,” he told Rwanda Today.

Much as the government warned that further land fragmentation could have a bearing the output of individual farmers, State Minister for Agriculture Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze told Rwanda Today they banked on appropriate housing models such as enforcing grouped settlements in rural areas, and densification in urban areas to liberate a huge chunk of land for modern farming.

“It is this land that investors in large scale farming can take up because it offers good return on investment and lower cost of production. Food production will not suffer because owners of the small arable land may continue farming for subsistence purposes, get employment in modern farming or choose to opt for things other than farming,” he said.