Land Use, Soil Loss, and Sustainable Agriculture in Rwanda

  • Daniel C. Clay
  • Laurence A. Lewis


Rwanda has one of the highest population densities of any African country, together with steep slopes and high rainfall. Conservation, then, is not an abstraction; it is central to continued farming. If land use is not compatible with erosion control and soil maintenance, Rwanda will not support itself. Thus, the problems addressed by Clay and Lewis have to do with long-term viability of agricultural systems throughout the Third World, especially where resources are scarce and population densities high. Rwanda’s population (at least before the recent war) continues to grow at the rate of 3.7% a year—an extremely high rate that will double the country’s population within 30 years. Population pressure continues to push agriculture onto marginal lands and is causing a rapid increase in slope and soil degradation. What are the Rwandan farmers doing about this problem? The quick answer is not enough. From a nationwide sample of 2100 farm households, it emerges that, even though farmers are cognizant of the problem, the selective placement of crops, woodlots, and pastures for the purposes of controlling soil loss is uncommon. The problem is that each family has to sustain itself on the land available. As farmers cultivate marginal areas and increasingly small plots, they cannot afford the luxury of woody crops and crops that serve to stabilize soils; to feed their families they have to maximize their yields within any given growing season, which is incompatible with long-term stability. The issue facing ecologists such as Clay and Lewis is how to promote cropping strategies that work for conservation while still acceptable to local people.


Soil Erosion Steep Slope Soil Loss Crop Cover Farm Household 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel C. Clay
    • 1
  • Laurence A. Lewis
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of GeographyClark UniversityWorcesterUSA

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