An agrarian dream?

New research by International Alert has found that a lot more needs to be done to transform Rwanda’s ambitious rural settlements into the idylls of communal living envisaged.

‘Planned rural settlements’ (known as imidugudu) were introduced in Rwanda in 1996, largely to address the issue of land scarcity in the country. It was believed that by concentrating communities in defined areas, it would make it easier and more efficient to provide social and economic services such as security, employment, clean water and energy.

While the majority of residents interviewed for our research on land management and livelihoods said they prefer living in imidugudu to in isolated homes, most qualified this by saying that changes need to be made to truly make the settlements satisfactory places to live.

For one, the move has made residents heavily dependent on the government and others to meet their needs. Residents should be empowered to work together on improvement schemes that do not require financing, such as digging water trenches, planting trees, forming associations and cooperatives, and cleaning streets.

At the policy level, there is the need for better planned and serviced rural settlements. Although the National Human Settlement Policy provides a clear national vision to develop settlements, it lacks practical actions and strategies on how they should be created. For example, how land should be acquired, how poor families will be assisted, and how badly needed social economic infrastructure will be provided.

In this regard, adequate infrastructure such as roads, transport facilities, water boreholes, affordable energy, as well as facilities such as education, health and markets, need to be in place prior to residents moving in, or else such amenities need to be prioritised after.

Although the government is the main driver of rural settlements, buy-in is needed from the local community, through a consultative process, in advance of choosing any sites. This will allow many of the concerns raised during our research, such as the long distances between settlements and agricultural lands, crop intensification and land use, to be addressed in advance.

Alternative solutions and further research into imidugudu settlements are also required to ensure that the scheme generates genuine improvements for its residents, including increased agricultural production, better livelihoods, improved food security and greater resilience to climate change.

The initial findings of the research were shared locally in Rwanda at the end of last year, with an official launch planned for next month. You can read the findings in full here and find out more about our work in Rwanda here.

Photo: © Stuart Forster/Alamy Stock Photo