Balancing economic growth and conserving nature: Rwanda’s forest conservation story

In Rwanda’s hilly lands, where nature paints a beautiful picture, a special story unfolds. It’s about finding a balance between making economic progress and taking care of nature. Picture yourself in the Nyungwe forest, where tall trees have stories to tell, and the air is filled with the sounds of lively birds. Even though this peaceful place is delightful, there is a big question: How can a country grow its economy today without hurting the natural beauty of its future?

With increase of the use of forests, government, stakeholders, and experts in environmental management organshave feared for the consequences of poor management and conservation of the environment like reduction of oxygen and lack of habitats for animals.

There is also severe soil erosion, mostly for steep slope land like in Northern and western province.Forests help to prevent soil erosion by stabilizing soil with their root systems. But the improper management, like deforestation can lead to increased erosion, reduction of soil fertility, and sedimentation in water bodies, Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA) report confirms.

Emmanuel Niyigena in charge of Seed Stands and Orchards Maintenance Officer, at Queen Elizabeth II Canopy Project-Ruhande forest says:“Forest is a multi-purposeresource, so depleting it will lead to loss of an ecosystem. Wildfire risk would be severe. Imagine if all monkeys, birds, and other wildlife in Arboretum forests lost their habitats.These animalswould become more vulnerable hence posing risks to nearby communities.”

Because many forests are now threatened by uncontrolled human activities, new initiatives are underway to create fresh environmental friendly areas within Rwanda cities. For instance, the transformation of theNyandungu wetland in Kigali into recreational area exemplifies this direction.

Nyandungu in Kigali city exemplifies feasibility of conserving nature

Cyamudongo forest in western province has also renewed to be among the national parks found in Rwanda such as Nyungwe, Virunga, and Akagera National park which plays a big role in attracting tourists.

In September 19, 2023 theNyungwe National park, straddling Rwanda’s Southern and Western province, received formal recognition as a natural world heritage site from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. This marks an important milestone for Rwanda’s efforts in environment conservation.

Mukura-Gishwati National park was established to safeguard ancient rain forests and animals like chimpanzees. This park comprised of two distinct forests-Mukura and Gishwati sits on top of ridge separating Congo and Nile watersheds in western province.It aims to bring the forest ecosystems into better management and nearby communities leverage these forests.

Rwanda has set up Tree Seed Centers in Gatsibo and Huye district to enhance the accessibility of high quality seeds. These centers aim to encourage better management of woodlots, effective energy sources, and better seed quality.

Other districts like Nyamasheke and Karongihave adopted the distribution of seeds to the farmers at low costs to mobilize forestry activities.

According to Rwanda’s Ministry of Environment, the government has also established afforestation and reforestation policy that has enabled the creation of an Annual Forest Planting Season, where people attend plant trees on their lands or government ones. In 2020-21, Rwandans planted 25 million of trees and over 6 million have been prepared to be planted by December 2023, to support the global target of addressing climate change.

In addition, home grown solutions like Umuganda (A monthly communal activity which unites people to work collectively toward a shared goal) has been strengthened. This indigenous program enables individual to participate in tree planting, fostering growth in the country’s forest cover by getting the seedlings from government’s seed preparation sites and safeguarding the local environment as well as their homes.

Another initiative is Urugerero (A period of 3 months where students who have completed senior 6 join efforts and do developmental works)such as forestation, mobilization of environmental friendly activities, and building houses for the poor.

To put more emphasis on efficient management of forests, the government has privatized about 40%of state forests through long term agreements.

In May 2023, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) introduced the use of gas in 20 schools in Kamonyi, Nyanza, Ruhango, and Gisagara districts to reduce the use of firewood for cooking under Green Amayaga Project Intervention Area. About Rwf 330M was spent for this project to save over 1000 hectares of depleted forests.

Rwanda hopes to completely stop using firewood for cooking in the next 10 years. However, it is limited by the cost of gas and other alternatives, and resistance by some people. For example, a gas cylinder of 6 kg costs over 9000 FRW which is much more than what many average Rwandans earn in a day.

Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA) plans to plant new forests covering about 3,000 hectares, forestry trees on 50,000 hectares, creating new tree seed stands, and establishing new small forest plantations about 600 hectares.

According to the Wildlife Economy Investment Index report of 2023,Rwanda is 6th position in Africa in wildlife conservation with a score of 56.7% on environmental matters. This indicates that Rwanda invested heavily on conserving the environment.

Proper forest management is essential to maintain ecosystems, support biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and provide a range of valuable services to society. It requires a holistic approach that balances ecological, social, and economic considerations to ensure the long-term sustainability of forest resources.

By aimable ISHIMWE