Forests in Rwanda continue to occupy a high-table position as a major resource providing multiple functions to the population’s livelihoods, supporting the equilibrium of the ecosystem and contributing to national socio-economic development.
Forests currently cover 29.6 %( 10.3 % natural and 19.3 % plantations) of the dry land area of the national territory and the aim is to achieve a 30% target by 2020. Forests are the major source of domestic cooking energy, with 86.3% of the Rwanda population using bio-fuels in different forms, wood and charcoal being the dominant ones. Rwanda’s energy policy, however, has planned to reach the level of 563 MW electricity generation by 2018 which will fulfill the population’s access to 70% and decrease the dependence on fuel wood to 50%, lessening the pressure exerted on forests.
Forests also provide the foundation for Rwanda’s tourism opportunities, which are targeted to generate over US$ 600 million by 2020. Rwanda’s forests also protect watersheds, downstream wetlands and support agriculture. However, due to dense and rapidly increasing population on a fragile land resource, forests have been threatened by deforestation and continuous degradation.
It is therefore imperative that the Government of Rwanda through the Ministry of Land and Forestry develops and implements a very competitive forestry policy to realize quick forestry contribution to economic development and resilience to the effects of climate change. The revised policy is expected to transform the forest sector into a more opportune and vibrant sector which promote alternative sources of energy and significantly reduce pressure exerted on wood biomass. The revised National Forestry Policy, Revised Forestry Sector Strategic Plan and National Tree Seed Strategy which have been approved by the Cabinet meeting of 14th February 2018 are important tools that will lead the forestry sector towards better managed forests, increased value-addition on forest products and consistent participation of the private sector and create millions opportunities of job creation in both youth and women.
A series of interventions have therefore been crafted and spelled out, under the new National Forestry Policy, aligned with National Strategy for Transformation, to realize forestry full economic and ecosystems support potentials. These have included, but not limited to provision of high quality tree seedlings adapted to different agro-ecological conditions, encouraging private sector investment in the forestry diversification and processing industries and introduction of better management practices of natural and man-made forests as well as capacity building of all forest actors, starting from grassroots level farmers who owns a woodlot, to carryout himself affordable forest management practices to increase his forest productivity.
SPREADING FORESTRY BENEFITS
Contribution to poverty eradication and national economy
Currently, forestry contributes to the national economy in a number of ways.The forest sector plays a big role in job creation. According to Rwanda Supply Master Plan for fuelwood and charcoal of 2013, the largest proportion of employment was generated by charcoal production (61.8%) followed by wood production (19.2%), both located in the production areas, while distribution and selling cover 6% and 12.8% of the generated employment, respectively. Tourism is a growing industry in Rwanda that, in 2016, generated US$ 404 million and therefore considered as Rwanda’s largest earner of foreign exchange, and is dependent on mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, and the preservation of the Nyungwe, Mukura-Gishwati and Akagera National Parks.
Under the new policy, the contribution of the forest and timber sector to the national economy will be increased by promoting value addition on all steps of the supply chain starting from efficient forest management to efficient timber processing and sophisticated manufacturing of timber end products.
Forest biomass supply
Rwanda’s main energy source is biomass, sourced mainly from on-farm trees and plantations of fast growing eucalyptus trees. Approximately 98.5% of primary cooking energy in Rwanda comes from biomass, in the form of firewood (83.3%) and charcoal (15.2%), together with smaller amounts of crop residues and peat (0.8%). The previous national forest policies identified the prevailing wood supply/demand imbalance. However, they recognized the potential of land to be converted into forest and possibilities of improving agroforestry systems to increase biomass availability and reduce pressure on existing forest resources.
Excessive pressure on private and public forests leads to over-exploitation and poor productivity and stocking. The lack of organization and skills of small land owners’/ farmers limits achieving optimum yields from their woodlots. However, several measures are proposed to curb the issue of biomass supply/demand imbalance such as promoting green charcoal production, improved cook stoves (ICS) use, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and use of other sources of energy.
Under the new policy, forest reserves shall be managed in ways that improve biodiversity and habitats for wildlife. Relictic natural forests scattered all over the country will be put under management system that can make them generate benefits and services to the surrounding communities. This will be achieved through entering into contracts with communities for forest protection and determining which income generating activities can be carried out in those forests without changing the nature of the forest.
Improvement of livelihoods and fighting poverty shall be a major goal in all strategies and actions in the forest sector. Even as the policy focuses on reducing use of bio=fuels, efforts are being hatched to introduce clean cooking energy sources, tools and diversification of forest resources, to achieve a more resilient forest ecosystem which cannot easily succumb to disease and pests.
A Training Centre on bamboo processing hosted by Workforce Development Authority (WDA) has already been established in Masaka, Kicukiro District under support of Chinese Government while timber processing and selling points (UDUKIRIRO) have been established in all districts of the country to improve wood value chain and accessibility.
As key components of landscapes, forests shall be managed in an integrated way to achieve the multi-functional goals of landscape and watershed management. Coordination of management of all types of land use is essential.
Sustainable forest management
All forest and tree resources in Rwanda shall be managed to yield sustainable streams of social, economic and ecological goods and services. The new policy promote the approach of landscape restauration and measures of joint planting in establishing and managing a forest based on the end use of it and the expected benefit it will bring to beneficiaries at different levels. In addition, the policy provide room for incentives to farmers owning a forest and to practitioners that intend to increase value to the forest production and improved forest product processing.
Private sector involvement
Private smallholder plantations represent more than 55 of production forests and are the most over harvested. They are mainly managed under coppice regime characterized by lowest stock caused by short harvesting rotation of 2 to 3 years. They also display a low productivity due to the senescent stumps established more than 40 years ago which have lost coppicing capabilities.
Other hindrances to sustainable management of the small size of each forest plantation are their unsuitability to long term investments and vulnerability to land use change driven by agriculture. To reverse the tendency requires supporting these smallholders in gathering their woodlots into consistent private Forest Management Unit for attracting investments and rehabilitating degraded forests for improving their productivity. This is already provided for in the District Forestry Management Plans and the current forestry law. Work is already underway in organizing private smallholder forest farmers into Forest Owners’ Association (FOA) to pave the way for collective and profitable smallholder forest owners woodlots.
Besides, Co-management agreements for forests covering a total 465.64 ha of wood fuel plantations have been entered into between the Government and Tea factories, besides 8325 ha of forests have been rendered to the private sector management under concession system
Under the new policy, there will be a systematic phasing-in of the private sector to play a dominant role especially in forest management and forest products processing, the public sector retaining only the regulatory function, research and quality assurance. Already, an electrical transmission pole plant for local supply and export was launched in April 2012 in Nyungwe Buffer Zone under New Forest Company lease agreement, only that the plant has relocated to Nyanza near the Kigali-Huye highway.
Since then the plant has been exporting poles in the region. For example, by June 2015, 11,500 electrical poles from the plant had been exported to Tanzania Energy Authority fetching USD 2,114,735. More importantly, the ambitious rural electrification programme is sourcing the power transmission poles locally from the above mentioned pole treatment plant. More public forests are expected to be managed under concession agreements with private sector and this approach will boost job creation for youth.
Non-timber forest products
Planting more trees is currently emphasized and other aspects of forestry such as sylvicultural treatments shall be emphasized. Forests shall be managed to deliver products beyond woody material like nuts, honey, seeds or basic substances for medicine. These products, will have a vital role in boosting food security and generate income to increase wealth of beneficiaries while increased production and processing will satisfy local market and exported on international market.
Forest management planning
The current forest planning process supports both economic and ecological roles of national forest resources. The formulation of DFMPs proposes the organization of the forest landscape into forest management units (FMUs) of around 200 ha each to attract private small and big investments in the management forests. The current forest strategy lays the foundation of sustainable management based on planning at all levels of the forestry sector. Management of forests shall be in accordance with approved management plans to achieve objectives stated therein, irrespective of ownership.
Farmers have been sensitized to plant agroforestry trees targeting to increase the agroforestry areas to 85 % of all arable farm lands. Today the agroforestry trees cover 153,901 ha; 7% of national arable land and17% of total wood stock of Rwanda. Agroforestry shall be mainstreamed and promote multi-purpose tree species delivering wood, fodder, fruits and fixing nitrogen. The focus shall be on species diversity including both native and exotic species. More importantly, agroforestry will put emphasize on fruit trees which can contribute significantly to improve Rwandans food nutrition and become an opportunity to job creation especially in food processing
To the extent practicable, key decisions on forest management shall be supported by fundamentals of forest science, supported by appropriate knowledge emanating from research. The new research orientation will address challenges that need an in-depth understanding and well informed solutions in order to ensure the sustainability of the forest sector. These challenges are but not limited to changes from forest to other land uses, high dependence on fuel wood for cooking result into over-cutting of Rwanda’s forest plantations which influences overcutting of woodlots, the low productivity of woodland which need to be corrected by well adapted sustainable forest management practices, low species diversity where Eucalyptus species which is becoming irreplaceable given its multiple roles in Rwanda and pest and diseases control. Forestry fundamental research is expected to bring in solutions starting on tree resources materials to forest products and their whole value chain.
In February 2016 the Gishwati-Mukura natural forest was declared 4th national Park, and today it is being rehabilitated under the principles of restoring ecological integrity–restoring by planting indigenous species while at the same time improving human wellbeing by creating non timber forest products projects.
For more on forest Policy and strategies, you can visit www.minilaf.gov.rw