Robert E. Ford
For the foreseeable future, the vast percentage of Africans will continue to make their living directly from the land. Therefore, population- agriculture relationships in rural areas are crucial to the issue of sustainable development. Of particular concern for the future of sub-Saharan Africa is rural population density. Rwanda has the second highest population growth rate in Africa (3.4-3.7 percent/annum) and one of its highest overall population densities (210-350 persons/km2) in Africa ( UNICEF 1985: 7-25). Furthermore, 95 percent of its population is considered rural, even though the urban growth rate has increased in recent years.1 Seven of the ten prefectures or districts in Rwanda have surpassed the 200 persons/km2 threshold ( Johnson 1986: 20).
A cursory evaluation of the situation suggests that Rwanda has coped remarkably well with land pressures without major deterioration of its agro-ecological resource base ( Rossi 1984). This said, positive developments appear to have barely kept the system on a precarious balance between land and people, without really bringing about major improvements in living standards. A critical appraisal forces one to ask: if agricultural production has indeed kept pace with population growth in Rwanda, under what conditions has it achieved this tenuous stability? Even more crucial, are the present coping mechanisms sufficient for the projected demographic challenges of the future?
These and related questions are explored here through a case study of one of Rwanda's most densely populated districts, Ruhengeri. Its experience may serve as a natural experiment for exploring potential scenarios common to many of the high-density tropical montane regions in East and Central Africa ( Kates 1987).