When it comes to maximizing its economic growth potential through agriculture, Rwanda faces several challenges. While agriculture is a mainstay of the economy, providing 36 percent of GDP and 70 percent of employment, there is limited arable land to be found. With the second-highest population density in sub-Saharan Africa, the country is land-scarce but labor-rich. Land use optimization in Rwanda is therefore not just a goal – it is a necessity.
In 2005, the National Land Tenure Program in Rwanda mapped and registered 10.3 million parcels across the country, resulting in the identification of more than 50,000 land parcels suitable for agriculture that belonged to the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI). MINAGRI’s more than 24,000 hectares of agricultural land could be auctioned to or leased by the private sector for responsible commercial agricultural use and investment. However, the government had not been systematically tracking the location and use of these parcels, leaving important questions on the table:
1. Where is all the land under MINAGRI’s custody located?
2. What is that land being used for?
3. What is the land suitable for?
4. Who is currently using that land?
5. How do they manage land use requests from the private sector?
Meanwhile, Rwandan and international private sector companies faced challenges in identifying available commercial blocks of land and gathering the information required to make an informed investment decision because the relevant data was not readily available. At the time, potential investments took from six months to over a year to negotiate with the government.
In order to streamline agricultural land investment to put the public land to productive use, the Feed the Future-funded USAID/Rwanda Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth (PSDAG) project worked with MINAGRI to develop the Agricultural Land Information System (ALIS), an open-source, real-time web platform that visually maps public land available for investment, including information on plot size, general soil type, current use, proximity to infrastructure and agro-climatic conditions, among other attributes. ALIS helps facilitate agricultural investment and improves agriculture land management while also enabling MINAGRI to monitor the use of public land under its custody and ensure optimum productivity by current and future users.
To ensure sustainability of the system, the government developed and passed a 7-year budget allocation of $18 million for its new Smart Agriculture Information System (SAIS), which includes ALIS. Following this display of commitment to the platform, PSDAG is now working with MINAGRI to implement a second phase for the system, which will add land information on an additional six million parcels of private land and include information such as whether a parcel is for sale or lease. PSDAG is currently providing guidance on Land Use Management Guidelines for MINAGRI to improve negotiations on land use and increase investment on available land and is supporting the design phase, which will enable the government to procure the development of the system.
SAIS will also incorporate a farmer registration and land profiling system intended to help the government verify and monitor subsidy programs and provide additional information to investors looking to partner with or sublease land from smallholder farmers. The information on who is currently inhabiting or tending to the private sector land will help protect smallholder farmers and rural families and ensure that they are compensated fairly for the land and are connected to the investors to explore future employment opportunities should they choose to sell their private parcels. This combined data will not only improve information for investors and suppliers, but also enhance MINAGRI’s ability to manage agricultural land for improved food security.
The app can be found at www.minagri.gov.rw/investorapp/ and can be accessed through computers, tablets and smart phones from around the world.