Socio-economic impact of commercial exploitation of Rwandan marshes. A case study of sugar cane production in rural Kigali

Much of Rwanda’s marshland has traditionally been farmed by local subsistence farmers. In 2005 the government, aiming to encourage more intensive forms of agriculture to supply new markets, passed a new land law which brought all marshes and river valleys under State control. This study examines the case of a State lease of 3,100 hectares of land in the marshes outside the capital Kigali to a Ugandan-based enterprise for sugar cane production. In a context where most of the local people who had previously exploited the marshland experienced its takeover as a loss, the study indicates that if a local population is largely dependent on an incoming investor for securing their livelihoods but they have few enforceable rights to bargain with, the chances that they will benefit from the investment are reduced. The authors recommend that, to safeguard local communities, a socio-economic impact assessment of such leases should be made, and negotiations between communities and investors should be regulated and incorporated into the final agreement.