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Linking Water Research to Food Production in Rwanda: A research framework for food production within sustainable develop

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Linking Water Research to Food Production in Rwanda: A research framework for food production within sustainable development. Patrick Denny UNESCO-IHE, Delft, The Netherlands. Note. Rwanda is signatory to the African Millennium Development Goals set for 2015 on Environmental Sustainability.

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Linking Water Research to Food Production in Rwanda:A research framework for food production within sustainable development

Patrick Denny

UNESCO-IHE, Delft, The Netherlands

Rwanda valley systems


Rwanda is signatory to the AfricanMillennium Development Goals set for 2015 on Environmental Sustainability.

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what are the implications
What are the implications?

food production technology must be sustainable and in harmony, not to the detriment of the natural environment.

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landscapes and ecosystems are
Landscapes and ecosystems are:

Systems of complex interactions between organisms and the physical and chemical environment

Regulated by

  • Checks and balances
  • Carrying capacities
  • Robustness and steady states

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Natural FunctionsVegetated landscapes, ecosystems and wetlands have natural functions that are vital to the planet’s health and its people.

Valleys and wetlands are living landscapes for:

  • Water retension and purification
  • Evapotranspiration, humidity and clouds
  • Micro-climate regulation and cooling
  • Well-water and groundwater recharge
  • Soil retention and protection from erosion
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Carbon and energy flow

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a framework for research
A framework for research
  • “Linking Water Research to Food Production in Rwanda”cannot be be treated in isolation
  • It is comprised of a multitude of inter-relationships within the landscape including: topography, climate, soil, water, forestry, nature and agriculture.
  • The dynamics of the system is regulated, inter alia, by: carrying capacities and positive and negative feedback mechanisms

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rwanda and agriculture
Rwanda and agriculture
  • Rwanda is the country of a thousand hills.The valleys and terraced hillsides are the bread-basket of Rwanda
  • In the early 20th Century there was sufficiency to support the population.
  • With the expanding human population most of the hills and valleys are fully cultivated now.
  • In the valleys:
  • natural forests are cleared and re-forestation with alien species
  • hill-sides are terracedwith intensive agriculture,
  • valley swamps are drained and encroached upon

The balance of nature has tipped.

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The natural functions are destroyed

  • Water is not retained in valleys but causes floods downstream
  • Wells dry out
  • Humidity falls; micro-climate degrades
  • Valuable topsoil is lost downstream
  • Nutrients are flushed from the valley

The natural system no longer works for the benefit of the people

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the problem
The problem
  • The carrying-capacity of the land is insufficient for the growth rate of the population
  • Agricultural practices are currently non-sustainable.
  • Cultivated land is over-worked and falling in productivity
  • The forests, grasslands and wetlands are disappearing
  • Heritage, livelihoods in terms of sustainable food production, the natural environment, biological diversity and aesthetic values, is compromised.

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the long term prognosis
The long-term prognosis

The long-term prognosis is alarming.

  • Available land for encroachment will be depleted
  • The valley ecosystems will collapse irreversibly
  • Food production cannot be sustained
  • The quality of life will fall.


A stable population and a strategy forsustainable food production in an environmentally sensitive way will do much

to alleviate the issue.

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how can it work
How can it work?
  • By rehabilitating the landscape and ecosystem to re-instate its natural functioning, and putting it to work for food production in an integrated farming system

This will make a major contribution to the Millenium Development Goals on Environmental Sustainability

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a framework for research and development by
A framework for research and development by:
  • Restoring a core area of swamp
  • Swamps act as a filter, a sponge and a humidifier, and help to retain water within the system.

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Establishing an outer swamp zone for integrated farming systems that retains theintegrity of the swamp’s functions and cycles nutrients (From Denny et al 2006)

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3. Incorporating sustainable, non-intensive fish farming into ridge-and-furrow agriculture(From Denny and Turyatunga, 1992)

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4. Rehabilitating the terraces on the hillsides

5. Removing alien tree species progressively (especially eucalyptus) and replanting with native species

6. Identifying all waste discharges into the valley and appropriate treatment thereof.

  • Especially important is the treatment of domestic waste in such a way as to re-claim and re-cycle the nutrients for food production. Integrated, constructed wetland systems are a key feature. 

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constructed treatment wetland integrated with fishponds and agriculture from denny 1997
Constructed treatment wetland integrated with fishponds and agriculture(From Denny, 1997)

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research activities
Research activities
  • The water cycle
  • hydrological studies of water within the catchment and valley
  • inputs (rainfall, inflows etc) and losses of water

(run-off, percolation, evapo-transpiration; outflow)

2. Water quality and the nutrient cycle

  • particulates and solutes in the water
  • nitrogen and phosphorus cycling
  • domestic waste treatment and nutrient reclamation
  • (constructed wetland systems integrated with fish and horticultural activities).
  • Industrial wastes.

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research activities cont
Research activities cont.

3. Integrated farming systems

Working with local farmers for increased food

security, diversity and production

  • Rehabilitation of farming on the terraces and the slopes integrated with farming in the outer zones of the wetland
  • Integrated agro-pisciculture.
  • Natural fertilizer use from compost and mulch within the valley system,
  • Re-use of nutrients from domestic wastes.
  • Constructed treatment wetland systems integrated with agriculture and fishponds

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research activities cont20
Research activities cont.

4.Socio-economic dynamics

A comprehensive study of human activities

  • livelihoods and quality of life
  • crop production
  • participation within the valley project

5.Dynamic modelling

Appropriate models for:

  • water and nutrients dynamics
  • Integrated farming systems
  • socio-economic benefits and interrelationships between people and the landscape.

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research activities cont21
Research activities cont.

6.Catchment management strategy

  • In this ‘valley project’ only selected pilot research activities can be undertaken.
  • At the end of the project, a catchment management strategy will be drafted as a basis for long-term sustainable management of the valleys.

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  • The valleys of Rwanda are unique treasures for the food, health and livelihood of the people.
  • The aim is a framework for rejuvenation of the valley systems for increased food production and sustainable development
  • Pressures on the valleys’ ecosystems are excessive
  • Expansive agriculture has degraded their natural functioning so there is decline in productivity andenvironmental sustainability
  • Re-instatement of essential ecological functions for environmental sustainability and food production is key to any solution.
  • An holistic, multidisciplinary research framework for the rehabilitation of the systems is proposed.

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end piece
End piece
  • The basis of the proposal is capacity building. The programme should include post-doctoral, doctoral, masters and technical training.
  • Partners might include: environmental science, botany, zoology, geography, agriculture, hydrological engineering, water resources, forestry and sociology.
  • International partners might have particular interest in wetlands and valleys swamps similar to Rwanda; expertise in integrated farming systems, co-management and socio-economic studies, water resources, and waste-water treatment.

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end piece cont
End piece cont.
  • This inter-disciplinary project addressing poverty alleviation and sustainable development should be attractive. The hilly topography of Rwanda and its high population density is unique.
  • Integrated farming systems with biodiversity rehabilitation is an innovative approach.
  • It is suggested that two valleys be identified for study. A site by the university might be considered for easy access and convenience.

Thank you

Rwanda valley systems