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Famine hits over 100,000 Rwandan families in Eastern province

Reports of famine ravaging parts of Rwanda have led to blame games, with some faulting government policies in drought-prone areas while the State says climate change is responsible for poor harvests.

Close to 100,000 families mainly in the Eastern Province districts of Rwamagana, Nyagatare, Bugesera, Kayonza and Kirehe as well as Nyanza and Gisagara districts in Southern Province, are facing a threat of hunger if nothing is done to avert it.

It is reported that hundreds are fleeing starvation to neighbouring Uganda in search of food after two seasons of poor harvests which left families with nothing to eat.

The most affected districts include Nyagatare, Kayonza and Ngoma where residents say harvests were largely affected by early disappearance of rain. Hectares of maize and sorghum dried up before they could be ready for harvest.

“We don’t know what to do. We have not even been able to recoup what we planted,” said Solange Uwantege, a resident of Mwili Sector, Kayonza district, pointing to the four hectares of sorghum and maize they had planted as a group.

Apart from dried up plants, thousands of livestock are facing severe shortage of water and foliage. Residents of Nyagatare say the drought started earlier than expected.

“Usually the drought intensifies in late July to early September, when rains resume but now it started in May. We are not sure if our livestock will still be alive by then,” adds Jean Marie Mugabo, a resident of Nyagatare.

The Governor of the Eastern Province Odette Uwamariya and the mayors of the affected districts admit that there is a looming hunger crisis but say that instead of fleeing to neighbouring countries, locals should contact local government officials for help.

Government failure

Civil society groups are blaming the government for failing to address the longstanding recurrence of food insecurity in parts of the country prone to drought despite the billions of francs which have been allocated to the agriculture sector.

Appearing on a local radio station, the chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda Chapter, Marie Immaculee Ingabire, blamed the hunger threat on poor planning, policy and decision making especially on the side of local government officials.

“It is an issue of poor planning and decision making by government officials. There are countries which receive far less rainfall than Rwanda but they plan well and their citizens don’t encounter hunger,” Ms Ingabire said.

Alexis Nkurunziza, an official of the Umbrella of Human Rights Organisations in Rwanda said that the government failure to fully prioritise agriculture in terms of planning and resource allocation is likely to setback the country’s gains in food security.

“A lot of progress has been made in the past five or so years, even going by what the government was allocating to the agriculture sector in areas of irrigation, extension services, but this momentum has slowed down,” Mr Nkurunziza said.

“We are at a point where more needs to be done to sustain the gains in the agriculture sector, rather than slowing down,” he said, adding that the external factors given by government to cut down expenditure in the sector are not convincing enough.