FEATURED: Ensuring generative buffer zone around Nyungwe Natural Forest

NFC out-growers working in the pine nursery beds

On March 21, the United Nations marked the International Day of Forests and it was a time to celebrate individuals working hard to protect the planet’s precious trees and forests.

Rwanda has set an ambitious goal to increase forest cover to 30% of the total national area by 2020. Today, commercialization of the buffer zone is conducted sustainably, jobs have been created for the locals and community development projects are thriving.

The New Times’ Joseph Mudinguhad a one-on-one with Wellington Chirinda, the CEO of New Forests Company (NFC), Rwanda’s fast growing only forestry and value-added wood products company. NFC is supporting the government’s economic strategy of job creation, poverty alleviation, import substitution and economic growth. 

In July 2011, the Government of Rwanda represented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Rwanda Development Board (RDB) signed a 49-year concession agreement with New Forests Company to manage, develop and make productive the Nyungwe forest buffer zone.

Today, the New Forests Company is managing an area of 10,046 hectares around Nyungwe National Park with a planted area of 8,215 hectares of which 65% is pine, 15% eucalyptus and 20% other species. The company explains that the buffer zone was established for conservation purposes with the main goal of ensuring that people do not encroach on the National Park.

After years of planting it was realized that this was actually a resource which could be exploited commercially in a sustainable manner. So it was in this spirit that The New Forests Company was contracted, after a long tender process, to manage and commercialize a forest that was primarily for conservation.

The company is committed to replanting improved tree species in all areas around Nyungwe forest in a sustainable rotation and socio-economic management strategy that reduces the carbon footprint. While NFC is a private company seeking to deliver profits to its investors and shareholders, the company also fundamentally believes it must do the right thing for people and the planet by creating jobs, improving the lives of workers, neighbours, and protecting the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

NFC also supports local communities in building schools, beekeeping projects, among other communally-owned projects. Currently, the company employs 350 people around Nyungwe Forest that straddles across five districts.

With the doubling of production and value addition, these numbers will definitely double to further benefit communities living around the forests. NFC also buys poles from out-growers and local farmers which encourages them to plant trees thus helping to preserve the environment while earning an income.

A crane used to carry poles in Nyugwe forest

NFC gives seedlings to farmers at no cost to grow wood-lots, makes follow ups on performance of the trees and advises farmers when it’s time to thin and prune. To date, NFC has distributed more than 633,622 seedlings, over 495.4 hectares, to private local growers.

“Our philosophy as a forest company is economically, socially and environmentally oriented. So we look at all the three aspects; the community and how it should benefit from the forest, the environment, and making a profit, making it a win-win situation for everyone,” says Chirinda.

NFC has so far spent $450,000 on community projects, executed ten clean water projects in communities around the forest, built four classroom blocks, established 150 beehives in various cooperatives and supported third parties that grow seedlings for the company.

With a mandate of reforestation and afforestation, NFC started growing some of its own seedlings particularly to serve where trees have been harvested in the buffer zone. The company’s seedlings nursery bed in the forest is grown depending on the need but has a capacity of 200,000 seedlings.

Since 2010, Rwanda vowed to increase forest cover to 30 per cent of the total national area, equivalent to 790,140 ha of forests, by the year 2020. Besides this, the forest policy intends to create a favorable environment for a flourishing wood industry based on sustainable forestry.