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Rwanda's efforts to adapt to climate change

Rwanda is one of the few African countries which has formulated a climate change policy (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Rwanda is one of the few African countries which has formulated a climate change policy
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The Rwandan government has developed a strategy to become a climate resilient, low carbon economy by mainstreaming climate change response into its development strategy and across key sectors. A primary focus of this is transforming the agricultural sector, encouraging smallscale farmers to change how and what types of crops they produce. This presents a significant challenge for smallscale farmers, who need to acquire new skills and capabilities.

Frodouald Kanyandekwe, a smallscale farmer from Nyaruguru, a mountainous district in Southern Rwanda, is convinced that his bad harvest following the recent drought was a result of climatic changes. This year's unusually long dry season from June to mid-September has had negative effects on the activity of many smallscale farmers, like Kanyandekwe, where low rainfall has resulted in poor yields across the country. "It has been very difficult for us to find water for irrigation during the long dry period," the 37-year-old father of four says. The majority of farmers in Nyaruguru say they now realise that seasonal changes are the result of climate change, about which they have been hearing on the radio. "I heard about climate change, but I didn't realize that it would affect me in such a manner," Kanyandekwe adds.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries which has formulated a climate change policy after officials realised how global warming was affecting local communities. The Green Growth and Climate Resilience strategy was officially launched by the Rwandan government at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa, in late 2011. The Strategy states that with the highest population density in Africa, and still growing at 2.8 per cent per year, Rwanda is especially vulnerable to climate change as it is so reliant on rain-fed agriculture, both for rural livelihoods and also exports of tea and coffee.

Small-scale farmers' training

The Rwandan authorities have adopted a new approach of constructing terraces (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
The Rwandan authorities have adopted a new approach of constructing terraces
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

In a country where more than 90 per cent of the population depends on agriculture, and in particular subsistence agriculture, authorities are planning to mobilise more resources and investments for the sector while focusing on training smallscale farmers on appropriate practices for erosion control and water management. As a way to mobilise communities to develop watershed management, plan in a participatory manner and protect land against erosion, the Rwandan authorities have adopted a new approach of constructing terraces, planting living barriers, teaching contour planting, shifting to crops suitable for erosion control on steeper slopes, and adopting integrated soil fertility management practices.

Rwanda has also already constructed 50 valley dams and water reservoirs on hillsides, with water conveyance structures for irrigating 3,570 hectares. However, some local communities complain that information and technical resources on how to adopt new practices are scarce and difficult to access, and that the efforts of government and its partners in this sector cannot fill the whole gap dedicated to helping them adapt to climate change.

Adaptation in context

Muyeye Chambwera, a former researcher from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), recently co-authored a study on the costs of adapting agriculture to climate change, focusing on Rwanda. He states that adaptation to climate change means different things in different contexts. "In Rwanda's smallholder coffee sector, for instance, the focus is on building the capacity of institutions and researchers," he says.

Smallscale farmers are being encouraged to change how and what types of crops they produce (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Smallscale farmers are being encouraged to change how and what types of crops they produce
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Another goal stated in Rwanda's Green Growth and Climate Resilience strategy is to expand crop varieties, local markets and manufactured products and exports in support of the sustainable intensification and climate resilience of smallscale farming. It is said that this multi-faceted initiative will involve diversifying agricultural production and enhancing the agriculture value chain, which will bring multiple benefits as it reduces dependency on external inputs such as fertilisers, food imports and fuel.

The new strategy also puts emphasis on reducing vulnerability to climate change and building an agricultural market economy based on added value and import substitution. But Chambwera has observed that climate-vulnerable countries, such as Rwanda, need to combine better information about the costs of damage and investments in adaptation at the farm level with improved climate data. "This would inform investment decisions across multi-year budgeting periods, would support early warning systems of climatic threats and help farmers and pastoralists to plan, to prevent losses and to shift to other activities if necessary," he remarks.

This article is supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

Written by: Aimable Twahirwa

Date published: September 2012

 

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The efforts of Rwanda is commendable. What is appropriate a... (posted by: Agastin Baulraj)

 

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