By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU
Four years ago, the Former Minister of Environment in Rwanda, now the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Vincent Biruta and the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Rwanda, at the time, Ms. Frederique de Man, together with various officials launched the project for the Landscape Restoration and Integrated Water Resources Management in Sebeya Catchment.’
The Project goal was and still is “to improve catchment management, contributing to increased resilience of communities and landscapes to the impacts of climate change and other drivers”.
The Sebeya Catchment is shared between Rubavu, Rutsiro, Nyabihu and Ngororero districts.
Back from the 4 years ago, under the concept of Embedding Integrated Water Resources Management in Rwanda (EWMR), the project was implemented by the Rwanda Water Resources Board in partnership with the consortium of IUCN, SNV and RWARRI with financial support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands (EKN) in Rwanda,
Why Sebeya Catchment was targeted for restoration initiatives
It is well known that Sebeya Catchment is one of the water reservoirs of Rwanda from which communities rely on for their livelihoods and other socio-economic transformation activities such as, agriculture, access to clean water, energy, irrigation and for other industrial use.
Being an important Water Reservoir for the country especially for the whole Western Province of Rwanda, Sebeya Catchment has faced social and environmental challenges, as it has some of the steepest slopes, highest mountains and a population density exceeding the national average at 400 people/km2.
During the inception of the project, a catchment plan that was developed by a group of experts with the involvement of local population revealed that around 18000 ha were under soil erosion threats.
The area was characterized by repetitive floods in Rubavu District, Nyabihu and river siltation from poor agriculture practices and Mining activities which had negative impacts on water supply and energy production downstream.
Quick project activities targeted the Restoration of degraded lands in Sebeya and other catchments by radical and progressive terraces, agroforestry, afforestation, gullies rehabilitation and river bank protection among other interventions.
Also flood retention structures such as walls and dams were constructed to combat Sebeya river’s floods, Development of the innovative financing mechanisms and value chains for improved livelihoods through ecological and economic benefits, and the Implementation of knowledge management systems for landscape restoration and integrated water resources management highlighted the project implementation process.
Sebeya Project Phase Out stage
As the project is approaching its Phase out Stage (2019-2023), one is wondering what is the situation in Sebeya today compared to last 6-5 years ago? What economic changes, what changed from disaster and soil erosion and what are the population sentiments today?
First and foremost when you talk to the farmers in particular, they believe that the Sebeya project has brought changes in their daily lives and has also taught them a lesson on sustainable land use.
From improved agriculture practice to the Landscape restoration, access to Flood control infrastructures, Supporting measures and Job creations among others, the Sebeya population and the administration as whole have hope of sustaining the gains of the projects.
For instance the administration of Nyabihu District highlighted that the activities of the Sebeya project have had a positive impact on the lives of the people of Nyabihu District and on the economic development of the district as a whole.
According to Mrs. Mukandayisenga Antoinette, Nyabihu District Mayor before the start of the project, they were faced with the problem of rain that washed away the land due to the highest slope and damaged the crops in the sectors of Bigogwe, Rambura and Muringa.
She says that “Normally, Bigogwe Sector as well as other sectors that have a connection to the Sebeya river have been facing the problem of soil erosion due to the soil nature and the people living there had a problem with the crop being washed away and that led to loss of arable land and severe hunger among local population.”
“This project’s results are high, as some of the challenges we used to face have been removed.” She said,
There are about 141 hectares of terraces as one of the gains in our district. Farmers have started to record the highest productivity where terraces have been established”
In addition to the terrace activities, Mrs. Mukandayisenga says that the residents have been given jobs which enabled them to buy additional livestock to which they have been given where 79 cows, over 280 small animals were distributed among the vulnerable families to improve their livelihoods.
The Project design was inspiring
Mrs. Mukandayisenga confirmed that the Sebeya project was well planned because the local community participated so that its actions did not contravene their expectations.
“The way the project was implemented was not dictated to local communities, but there was a participatory approach where they have been able to express their concerns throughout the project implementation.”
“This means that the people were consulted in what was done, the district is proud that the people working in the project knew how to make terraces, which is the answer to the problem.” She said
According to the Mayor this project does not end as it left the local communities with the knowledge to make terraces so that they will be able to repair them when they are damaged or construct the new ones where they are not.
“Even though making terraces is expensive, a citizen can get together with others and do it.” She said,
Nyabihu District Mayor assures that the legacy of the Sebeya Project will remain as its activities are in line with the country’s vision for sustainable development.
The figures provided by the Nyabihu district administration show that through the Sebeya project, 141 hectares of terraces were constructed and improved with Agroforestry plantations to help fight erosion and improve soil fertility, about 1155 people got jobs, 79 cows and 285 small animals were distributed, 93 rainwater harvesting tanks and 7824 fruit trees were distributed among others.
Mrs. Mukandayisenga said, “It is a project that has opened people’s eyes.”
Beneficiaries speak out
Nyirabasirimu Uwizeye, who lives in Busasamana/Arusha Village, says that the project gave her terraces, cows and Rain Water Harvesting tank.
“Before the project, I was practicing poor agriculture because I was not using fertilizer and even When it rained it washed away our land, sometimes you planted crops and found them in the valley, but now it’s not the case.”Nyirabasirimu Uwizeye
When it comes to self-improvement, she says that the produce has improved three times which helps her feed her four children and sells the produce in the market.
Nyirabasirimu says that she got the knowledge on how to make terraces. The cow that was given helps her to get manure and the milk of 15 liters a day which gives her Rwf 3000 per day in milk selling while she also gives it to the children for their wellbeing.
“Today I am able to eat what I want because of this project,” she said.
On the efficient use of money she earns, she said that they are using saving groups where she allocates Rwf 2,000 per week from the milk she sells, thanks to the cow given through the sebeya project.
Available statistics show that in Sebeya Catchment 331 Village Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs) were established, with over 6,000 members (of which 58% were women)
Soil productivity increased Threefold while damages shrinked
Mr. Butera Musafili, from Bigogwe says that they were often destroyed by erosion and in 2007 floods killed more than 20 people in the area.
He said, “So we were blessed, the problem is now history, we are farming, you see that the potatoes are in a good condition, we were blessed with this project.”
It is said that farmers used to leave the place because of the soil erosion, but now the terrace has solved the problem.
Regarding the production, Mr. Butera says that a hectare used to produce between eight and ten tons, but later after a terracing project it produced between 25 and 30 tons.
Another thing he adds is that when the terraces were being built, some people thought that they were going to take the land from them, but now they are farming safely and providing grass for their animals.
As Butera said the land is no longer eroding as in the past. Potato harvest has tripled. His cows are milking 10 liters per cow.
The Sebeya Project in Figures
Within a three-year period, the EWMR project in Sebeya Catchment (Rubavu, Rutsiro, Nyabihu and Ngororero districts) achieved the following:
- Radical terraces : 1,559.73 Ha
- Progressive terraces : 836.37 Ha
- Trenches in forest : 2,818.13 Ha
- Afforestation : 215.68 Ha
- Agroforestry : 730.90 Ha
Flood control infrastructures
- Sebeya lateral dyke (Location: Village: Nkora-Mukondo, Cell: Mukondo, Sector: Nyundo)
- Sebeya retention dam (Location: Village: Kaje, Cell: Musabike, Sector: Kanama)
- Bukeri Diversion channel and flood retention walls (Location: Village:Kagarama-
Kamuhoza, Cell:Kamuhoza, Sector:Kanama)
- 621 Rainwater harvesting (RWH) Tanks to Households (HHs)
- 35 RWH Tanks to Schools
- 860 Cows to HHs through the Girinka Program
- 2,182 Small livestock for HHs
- 154 Kitchen Gardens
- 3,249 Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS) to HHs
- 12 Community ICS to Schools
- 331 Village Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs) established, with over 6,000 members (of which 58% were women)
- Implementation of value chain development (e.g. maize, beans, potatoes) and agricultural livelihood interventions to enhance food security and local income, enhancing the resilience of local communities to economic and natural shocks.
- Total Males : 16,589
- Total Females : 20,327
- Over 25 technical studies have been conducted, and guidelines and knowledge products developed, and disseminated. These include the Community Approach Guidelines, the State of Soil Erosion Control in Rwanda, Implementation Design of Payment of Ecosystem Services,
- Value chains analysis, Climate-smart agriculture guidelines, Compost making guidelines have been developed.
- Baseline Report food, and Nutrition survey in Sebeya Catchment Pilot village, and Radical terraces and agricultural productivity cost-benefit analysis were conducted.
Sebeya Project Beneficiaries call for the Project Extension to eradicate soil erosion and poverty
Like other young people, 29-year-old Niyoyita Thierry is one of the young people who have been able to get employment in the Sebeya Project which has been implemented in Sebeya Catchment since 2019.
In 2020, when COVID 19 affected the world economy, Mr. Niyoyita Thierry, who had been unemployed, became more challenged by the economic crisis.
Fortunately in the same year, Mr. Niyoyita got employed in the Sebeya project.
In his local community, the project activities targeted the Restoration of degraded lands by radical and progressive terraces, agroforestry, afforestation, livestock distribution among vulnerable families and distribution of rain water harvesting tanks among others.
“I remember It was in 2020 when we were in the Lockdown due to COVID 19.” He said.
During this time, the Government of Rwanda decided to reopen some economic activities that were previously closed to contain the spreading of Coronavirus among local communities.
Among the activities that resumed after several time of closure include the Sebeya Project that helped farmers in the project zone to cope with the economic crisis in their families.
“As youth, we were encouraged to participate in the project implementation.” Niyoyita said.
Since then, Niyoyita got a job that enabled him to get out of poverty and he was able to buy a cow and rent a parcel of land where he started to do farming activities, thanks to the income generated from the employment opportunity.
Mr. Niyoyita believes that even after the Sebeya project he will continue to be successful through agriculture and livestock breeding.
“Now I have two cows and a calf. Another one will give birth in May.” He said.
Tracing the way to a professional farmer
The Employment that Niyoyita got in the Sebeya project, he says, is a bridge that connects him to the direction of becoming a professional farmer, since he is also an agriculture graduate.
“I used the money I earned to invest in different activities, especially in agriculture and buying livestock” He said.
“Also, I studied agriculture and animal husbandry. So I was lucky when I got the opportunity that gave me the capital.” He explained
“I invested 40% of my capital but in the next month I am going to invest another 40%.” Niyoyita said.
“The money I will get I will continue to expand my farming activities so that after two years (now I am renting a neighbor’s land) I can take the money and buy my own land and it will be registered on me and then I will be a farmer who does not rely on renting other people’s land but as a farmer owning land.”NIYOYITA THIERRY
So far, Niyoyita is confident mainly because agriculture and animal husbandry have started to yield the benefits.
“I planted 500 Kilograms of potato seeds and I am expecting to harvest about five or six tons.” He said.
“ For the Rwf 700,000 I invested I will harvest about Rwf 1.8 million” Niyoyita noted.
Nyoyita says that before the Sebeya project the life of the youth was very difficult because there were no employment opportunities.
He added that only people could go to graze cattle while other young people like him went to Kigali and Southern Province to find jobs.
However, he said that after the project came the youth returned to participate in the work that they were paid on time, and now they are doing well.
He said, “To tell you the truth, when the project came I had any money in my pocket because I was just finishing school, but I made some progress.”
Commenting on the role of participation in the project activities, Niyoyita said they have the knowledge in cutting the terraces and improving the agriculture and animal husbandry.
The Project goal was and still is “to improve Sebeya catchment management, contributing to increased resilience of communities and landscapes to the impacts of climate change and other drivers”.
The Sebeya Catchment is shared between Rubavu, Rutsiro, Nyabihu and Ngororero districts.
By observing the positive impacts that this project has brought to the community, the project management at the IUCN Rwanda found that the project expansion can thus continue to improve the quality of life of the community.
Mr. Albert Schenk, the IUCN Rwanda Programme Manager who also worked on this project, said, “the progress for this project and the results are excellent.”
He reminded that “ In the beginning, when the project started in May 2019, we were hit by the Corona pandemic and the project was somehow delayed.”
“But because of the importance of this project, the government of Rwanda allowed the project to continue even during the corona pandemic. So in the beginning, it started a bit slow because of the COVID. But we have picked up the pace tremendously. And we are very much on track to achieve what we wanted to achieve on the project.” He explained.
Mr. Albert Schenk added that “When it comes to the impact and based on the testimonies from different beneficiaries, district representatives, community representatives that are all very positive, It is very encouraging.”
“We hope, of course, there might be an extension, because the benefits and achievements of the project are so great. It really well requires continuation, or at least scaling up this project approach to other parts of Rwanda.”Mr. Albert Schenk
Beneficiaries call for the project extension
Apart from the observation made by Mr. Albert Schenk, the administration and the local communities also confirmed that this project was useful and if it continues, it would add more support to the development of the citizens and the region in general.
Havugimana Etienne, the Vice Mayor in charge of the economic Development in Rutsiro District said “It is true that the Project has helped us a lot in the District.”
However, he adds that “Of course, we still have a problem and we are still in discussions with partners to see if the project’s activities can reach more areas.”
Mr. Havugimana noted that the District still has places where erosion is still a major issue.
“We still have that problem and we are still doing advocacy. Maybe an extension would help us and our people.” He added,
“You know that our District is mountainous and agricultural; So you can see that when we join together to fight erosion, we increase productivity and in that time we kill two birds with one stone.” He explained.
Nyirabudori Rahab is a 67 year old who lives in Nyabirasi Sector, Mubuga Cell in Rutsiro District
She said that “I was in the First Category of Ubudehe and I had no clothes to wear. I couldn’t find soap, but this project helped me to improve myself. With the extra money I got from VUP, I was able to buy a plot. I wish the project to continue so that I can be able to build a house in that plot”Nyirabudori Rahab
According to the Director General of the Rwanda Water Resources Board, Dr. Emmanuel Rukundo, the Project has so far used 90% of its total budget adding that the remaining 10% will be used in the finalization of the ongoing intervention.
The USD 22 million project is expected to close in June 2023.
Dr. Rukundo revealed that the current project activities progress stand at 86% of the total works to be done within the project framework.
By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNGU