Land use dynamics in the face of population increase. A study in the districts of Gatsibo and Nyagatare, Eastern Province, Rwanda

Abstract: This thesis is about land use dynamics in areas undergoing population increase. The study was undertaken to clarify how the increasing population interacted with their physical environment through farming in Eastern Province, Rwanda. This part of the country was of particular interest as it presented old as well as areas that was newly-settled in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide. The aim of the study was to explore land use dynamics and land cover changes in areas with rapid population increase, focusing on Eastern Rwanda. To fulfill the aim, three research questions were formulated. (1) How did the population increase in the aftermath of 1994 Genocide in old and new settlements? (2) How was farming developed in new and old settlements? (3) What are the changes in the physical environment and how are they related to land use dynamics in the old and new settlements? A conceptual framework from political ecology was used which focused on linkages between socio-economic, political and environmental factors. The intention in this regard was to shed light on what was going on in terms of cropping and livestock development and the impact on land cover changes. To realize the study aims, both, quantitative and qualitative approaches were used. A questionnaire survey was carried out with 360 respondents and data was processed in SPSS. The survey was complemented by 60 semi-structured interviews. Both the questionnaire survey and the interviews were conducted among farmers within six study sites from within Gatsibo and Nyagatare districts. To complement the information collected using both tools, regular field observations were carried out throughout the study period. Furthermore, an analysis of land cover changes using satellite images with remote sensing was conducted and GIS was used for spatial representation of these changes. The research showed that the areas under study have witnessed an increased population that put increased pressure on farming land in both old and newly-settled areas. Access to land has been changing under different tenure systems with the result that land scarcity has driven intensification of cropping in Gatsibo and excessive grazing in Nyagatare. Cultivated areas have expanded in both districts at the expense of uncultivated vegetation cover. Notwithstanding the intensification of agriculture and the expansion of cultivated areas, farm production has not been adequate to satisfy household needs. Various mechanisms were put in place to improve farming conditions while at the same time assuring environmental protection. The study found that, from a local perspective, national farming and environmental policies under implementation have not been successful. The farmers expect more response to their concerns, enabling them to improve arable farming and/or cattle species. Unfavorable market conditions are one of the challenges faced by farmers. A more encouraging conclusion was that supporting mixed farming may be a promising solution to increase farm production and protect the environment.

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