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September 07, 2008

Rwanda tackles soil erosion

Over the years local residents of Rebero in Gicumbi District north of the Rwandan capital of Kigali, watched as their soil was washed away by rain.

They also had to contend with landslides. Until a local group, the Rebero Emergency Response and Mitigation (ERDM) committee, started to reclaim the land in 2004, mainly through terracing.

"After being trained in risk management we came up with a community disaster preparedness plan," said Eugene Habyarimana, the committee chairman.

Working with the NGO World Vision, ERDM's activities aim to reduce the risk of disaster and increase agricultural productivity among the predominantly farming population of Rebero. Formed in partnership with the government, the ERDM represents the administrative unit known as a sector - part of Rwanda's administrative structure that comprises provinces, districts, sectors and cells split into groups of 10 houses.

Some results can already be seen. "We are teaching the community how to construct different types of terraces," said William Ngabo, a humanitarian emergency affairs manager with World Vision Rwanda. "We are starting to see some improvement. Previously, the soils from the hills would cover the crops growing in the valleys, these days that has reduced."

Rebero is just one area in Rwanda experiencing problems related to land, in a country with a population density estimated at 310 people per sqkm. With about nine million living on 26,338 sqkm of land, Rwanda supports the densest population in Africa, most of who are engaged in subsistence agriculture.

According to the agriculture ministry, the lack of enough arable land for Rwanda's population is exacerbated by the country's small territory, which does not offer many alternatives to increased land use. Apart from being small, the land is degraded. Erosion is responsible for soil nutrient losses estimated at 945,200 tonnes of organic materials, 41,210 of nitrogen, 280 of phosphorus and 3,055 tonness of potash annually.

"We estimate that erosion affects [our] ability to feed 40,000 persons per year," the ministry said in a recent statement. Erosion was directly responsible for the leaching of arable soils and indirectly for increased transport of solids through waterways downstream.

At least 37.5 percent of the land in Rwanda needs to be managed before being cultivated, and overall an estimated 39.1 percent of the land has a high erosion risk. So far, few measures against erosion have been implemented and losses from erosion per year average close to 14 million tonnes of soil, according to the ministry.


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