Home Environment How Rwanda has increased its forest cover to 30.4 per cent

How Rwanda has increased its forest cover to 30.4 per cent

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During the 2020/2021 forest planting season, for instance, 25 million trees were planted, which encompassed 7,400 hectares of agroforestry, 900 hectares of classic forest, and 77,000 fruit trees, according to the IISD report
During the 2020/2021 forest planting season, for instance, 25 million trees were planted, which encompassed 7,400 hectares of agroforestry, 900 hectares of classic forest, and 77,000 fruit trees, according to the IISD report

Rwanda increased its forest cover to 30.4 per cent in 2022 – up from 10.7 per cent in 2010 – according to a new report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a global think tank that works to accelerate solutions for a stable climate and sustainable resource management.

The latest IISD’s report, titled Measures to Enhance Forest Conservation and Reduce Deforestation: Viewpoints and lessons from producing countries, analyses five countries in the Global South that have significantly increased their forest cover within the last few years: Costa Rica, Peru, Rwanda, Indonesia and Gabon.

“The experiences of the selected countries can provide useful starting points for governments in the Global South seeking to preserve their forests and comply with emerging regulations and international frameworks that target deforestation-free commodity production, as well as forest conservation and restoration more broadly,” the report reads in part.

Nyungwe Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Rwanda, which is home to Nyungwe forest, the largest tropical rainforest forest in Africa, has historically depended on forests, which play an important role in most Rwandans’ livelihoods, especially considering that most of them depend on agriculture, the country’s main economic sector.

Intense deforestation and degradation

But between 1990 and 2010, the country’s forests were subjected to intense deforestation and degradation, leading to reduced forest cover from around 12.8 per cent of the country’s total land area to 10.7 per cent.

The increased deforestation was attributed to socio-political instability, ballooning populations, and economic pressures.

“Starting with the Rwandan civil war in 1994, many people were displaced and forced to seek new land and sources of income, mainly in rural areas. In this context, agricultural expansion, logging, and charcoal production have been seen as easy ways to generate income. However, unsustainable land management damaged soil fertility and led to even more agricultural expansion,” the report says.

When President Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front captured power in 1994 after the genocide that left the country in tatters, there was a lack of political attention to deforestation as the new government had more pressing issues that needed urgent attention as the country emerged from the ruins of war that left an estimated 800,000 people dead.

However, when deforestation reached what the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation described in 2010 as a “critical tipping point” when 40 per cent of Rwanda’s cultivated land was at risk of severe erosion, the government was faced with an urgency to act.

The country’s 2004 National Forestry Policy was subsequently updated with an ambitious plan to sharply increase domestic forest cover and restore two million hectares of deforested land by 2020 – a target that was met in 2018.

The updated forestry policy included a framework based on strategies and practices linked to the forest landscape restoration approach, a long-term process that seeks to regain ecosystem functionality and enhance human well-being across deforested or degraded landscapes, according to the IISD report.

“This approach offered Rwanda a chance to reach broader, overarching goals, such as boosting agricultural productivity, improving food security and rural incomes, increasing resilience to climate change, improving water supply, and reducing vulnerability to landslides and other disasters,” the report says.

Achieving reforestation goals

To achieve its reforestation goals, Rwanda collaborated with the World Resources Institute and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and elaborated a detailed Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities Assessment, which analysed the country’s ecological, social, and economic conditions and then identified strategies for implementation.

One of the main strategies was to promote sustainable agroforestry and land-use practices, which involved integrating trees such as Eucalyptus, and Alnus and crops on farmlands to increase soil fertility, reduce erosion, and provide alternative income streams for farmers.

The Rwandan government also established the National Forest Landscape Restoration Cross-Sectoral Task Force to share experiences and discuss ways to effectively implement the projects. In addition, the government also introduced annual forest planting seasons.

During the 2020/2021 forest planting season, for instance, 25 million trees were planted, which encompassed 7,400 hectares of agroforestry, 900 hectares of classic forest, and 77,000 fruit trees, according to the IISD report.

Modern technology

Rwanda also used modern technology by establishing the National Forest Monitoring System to get reliable information on changes in forest cover, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.

“These results suggest that Rwanda’s restoration policy model was able to stop deforestation and even reverse net deforestation. Thus, the country has been internationally lauded as a “restoration leader”,” the report says.

However, even though Rwanda’s forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach has produced remarkable results for the country, it may not be effectively replicated elsewhere because it has several weaknesses and limitations.

“There is no “one-size-fits-all” forest landscape restoration solution: each country has a unique context that requires the creation of a unique FLR strategy,” the report says.

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