For two days this week, local and international delegates convened at Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village, previously referred to as Camp Kigali for the 3rd Conversation on Conservation ahead of the gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina.
Three contending challenges in conservation clouded the two-day event: conservation in the face of climate change, conservation, a collective responsibility and more importantly, engaging youth in conservation as a crosscutting sub theme in all discussions.
I had the privilege to attend and listen in on the expert presentations as well as the resolutions derived from the breakout discussions and from there I got to appreciate the role of the conservation forum in encouraging youth enterprises, youth engagement and involvement in decision making.
First of all, delegates agreed to the fact that climate change is real and there is a need to protect not only ourselves but also the diverse flora and fauna in the region.
Rwanda already established the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy in 2011 to adapt to the variability before the cost of rehabilitation becomes higher in the coming years.
It was also clear that everyone has a role to play in protecting the ecosystem, for example engineers and architects are not ruled out in taking into account the natural environment while building cities.
Rwanda is however doing well as the Green Business Master Plan policy guides the expansion of cities.
However, during the conference, all speakers could not emphasize enough the role of youth in conservation to ensure long-term sustainability.
Starting from the grass root level, professionals within the education sector were encouraged to incorporate conservation in multidisciplinary systems of learning.
I can highlight a few speakers who encouraged the youth at the conference;
Dr. Winnie Kiiru from Kenya Wildlife Service talked about the need for establishing a think lab for young conservationists just as we have a number of ICT tech-hubs in the region.
Dr. Tara Stoinski, the Chief Executive Officer at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund gave an inspiring presentation about the behavioral changes noted among the gorilla species over the past 50 years and the urgent need to expand their habitat to reduce stress and injury.
To cap it all, she encouraged youth interested in scientific research and conservation to apply for internships at Karisoke Research Center.
Youth at the conference, specifically from the University of Rwanda and Kitabi College of Conservation and Environment Management were given the opportunity to collectively discuss their ideas during break out sessions and present their recommendations in enhancing conservation.
Ange Imanishimwe, founder of Biocoop, a social enterprise composed by Rwandan youth committed in biodiversity conservation, was among the delegates at the forum who inspired the youth to start by giving back to society as they scale up to develop their businesses in conservation.
Edwin Sabuhoro, founder Iby’iwacu Cultural Village, now referred to as the Gorilla Guardians talked to the youth about his success in rehabilitating poachers who have now reformed into community caretakers of the gorilla species.
In fact Charles Karangwa actually made known to the youth who would like to embrace biological science and build innovative ideas in conservation of the Business Master plan by Forests and Landscapes, IUCN Rwanda.
To top it all, before Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer at the Rwanda Development Board officially closed the forum, she awarded over ten students with certificates, especially three innovative students who were cash prize and laptop winners for the Youth Paper Prize competition.
Rwanda Development Board together with their partners really outdid themselves by successfully organizing such an influential conference.
We can only hope that the youth will listen to the call for action and take up the opportunities placed before them to promote conservation so that we do not leave our ecosystems depraved, a debt that our future generations will have to pay for.
The writer is the executive in charge of public relations and content development at Strategic Great Lakes-Rwanda