By Aimable Twahirwa;
For almost six month, Claude Ahishakiye, a fresh graduate in Finance from a local private university in the Rwandan Capital – Kigali has been looking to lease land for farming operations in Nyagatare a district in Eastern Rwanda, but struggled to find anything that was affordable.
The 24-year-old graduate seeking to venture into a commercial farming finally managed to find a land owner with large plots of fallow land leased him a few hectares before he started growing pepper.
“The toughest challenge that I have ever faced was to easily find affordable land for long-term lease in this rural region,” says Ahishakiye.
Yet the existing Rwandan law restricts leasing of agricultural land to prevent the abusive tenancy arrangements of the past, Ahishakiye is among the growing number of young entrepreneurs seeking for higher quality land in remote areas to initiate agricultural investment projects as profitable business ventures.
Rural and urban dynamics of youth
According to official statistics, the total arable land in Rwanda is about 1.4 million hectares, which is 52 per cent of the total surface area of the country.
However, new findings show that large chucks in several remote rural areas still lie fallow, which is a determinant that land access still has positive and significant effect on youth temporary migration to rural areas.
The Continuous rural and urban dynamics among young people is predominantly linked to accessibility of land with adequate employment opportunities expected to change migrants’ livelihoods in the destination, according to the new findings from a research paper published by a Rwandan agricultural expert under guidance by a team of researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
However, the major factor is that the Rwandan population has increased dramatically causing intensive land use pressure countrywide, land is still one of the significant determinants of livelihoods of the rural people.
Projections from the latest Population and Housing Census (PHC) show that the Rwandan population is currently estimated at 12,6 million of which 40.91% are under 14 while 34.53% are youth (14 to 35 years).
Yet little is known about the effects of land access to youth employment and migration decisions in Rwanda, the lead author of the new research Patrick Byishimo noted that due to informal inheritance practice at the family level [in Rwanda], young people from large families are still constraining with access to land and no complain about the size inherited.
It is observed that youth ageing between 16 and 30 years old work in wage farm and non-farm continued to rise overtime, from 12.4% to 16.3% and 24.2% to 28.1% in 2013 and 2016 respectively, and this increment is partly explained by substantial efforts made by the government in supporting both farm and non-farm opportunities preferred by youth, according to official statistics.
Researchers have indicated that yet the majority of urban youth prefer to stay in urban cities or secondary cities where more off-farm opportunities are available, still young entrepreneurs with enough startup capital and support from government are likely to migrate to rural areas where land rentals is cheaper than in periphery of urban areas.
Venture into agri-business
The growing global appetite for some agricultural commodities including Rwandan chili has led to an upsurge in the number of young farmers like Ahishakiye investing heavily in cultivating the crop, mainly in Nyagatare and Bugesera in the eastern parts of the country.
After learning of the growing chili market, the young graduate looking to venture into agri-business managed to lease several plots of land owned by local residents in Nyagatare district to exclusively concentrate on chili.
With respect to other patterns of migration, researchers have demonstrated that access to land has a positive effect on influencing urban to rural migration. It means that 10% increase in size of land inherited or availability of land increases the probability of urban youth to migrate to rural areas by 3%.
“These positive effects of youth migration to rural areas provides an important example of the ways that Rwanda’s countryside farmland can be used, said Byishimo, a research fellow for the study of Youth Engagement in Agribusiness and Rural Economic at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Over the past years, farmers in several remote areas in Rwanda endured major losses due to drought where by in Nyagatare district and other major parts of the Eastern Province have faced a shortage of rainfall, with farmers struggling to manage the fields.
Limited capacity for youth to rent land
Rwanda’s Eastern Province is more prone to drought than other parts of the country which in turn affects farming activities, according to the 2018 report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
Ahishakiye is one of the few young Rwandan agro entrepreneurs who took advantage of the situation during fallow to lease these unexploited farmlands from remote rural areas not only to make money with investments in Agriculture but also to create job opportunities for local residents.
But on the other hand, IITA researchers stress that young entrepreneurs with enough startup capital and support from government are also likely to migrate to rural areas where land rentals is cheaper than in periphery urban areas.
Despite high unemployment rate among youth, the government of Rwanda has embarked on different interventions and initiatives aimed to make agriculture sector more attractive to the youth. Financially, youth are eligible for agribusiness loan facilities like Kora Wigire scheme provided by Business Development Fund (BDF).
Through this scheme, the government of Rwanda subsidizes loan to the youth who are fully engaged in agriculture. Normally, a loan of around 10 million is given to the youth, 30% of that loan is a grant while the remaining amount is repaid in particular period with an interest of 11%.
Technically, government sets up and develop agriculture infrastructure facilitating investors to run youth centered businesses. These include, water, electricity, feeder roads, irrigation schemes, post-harvest and handling facilities (dryers, stores), greenhouse and mechanization schemes (tractors).
“Major challenge is that those who are not educated among the youth still do not have capacity to rent land. They are rather employed as agricultural laborers,” Byishimo said.