Did you know that Rwanda is one of the only countries in the world that has a positive rate of forestation? Every year more trees are planted and protected in Rwanda than cut down. This is no easy feat considering Rwanda’s population density and the economic pressure on the small land size. In fact, Rwanda is much more difficult to reforest than countries like the United States, Brazil, and Russia which have large tracts of unused land but still have negative rates of forestation.
I think the secret to Rwanda’s success is simple: good leadership. In the past month alone, I have heard Prime Minister Ngirente, Minister Tumushime, and Minister Mukeshimana all call upon citizens to plant more trees. It is a hallmark of good leadership to balance the short term and the long term, to invest in what is needed for the next generation and not just satisfy the wants of today. In the decade that I have lived in Rwanda, I have repeatedly seen this type of leadership in action. Rwanda has become an example for the world, from banning plastic bags to hosting a critical international deal to eliminate global hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Rwanda has also taking huge steps toward reforesting the country, creating long-term benefits for rural communities and the environment.
By the end of 1994, forests had been eliminated from 78 percent of the country and were decreasing at rate of 7 percent per year, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the United Nations. The Government knew that without trees, the country could never fully rebuild itself, so it reversed this trend, planting millions each year. From 2015 to 2016, the Rwandan government planted 32 million seedlings, which is equivalent to the reforestation of 15,000 hectares. In 2017 Rwanda reached its target of 30 percent forest cover – three years earlier than planned.
Trees are integral to healthy land. Their roots cling to the soil, anchoring it to allow crops to grow. They hold on when the rains come and landslides threaten to wash away crops. Certain tree species pull atmospheric nitrogen from the air, break it down and contribute essential nutrients to the soil to help other plants grow. Other tree species regularly shed their leaves to provide nutrient fodder to the soil below.
My organization, One Acre Fund-TUBURA, also believes in the value of trees. Our mission is to equip farming communities with the tools they need for long-term sustainable growth. Since starting in in 2007 in Nyamasheke District with just 37 farmers, we have now grown to serve over 251,000 households. As stewards of the land, farmers have an important role to play in protecting the environment. We’re working to support them by offering financing and training on improved agricultural techniques and market facilitation, so that they can produce more food and achieve better incomes from their existing farmland, without clearing more forests.
This year, One Acre Fund-TUBURA is proud to contribute to the Government’s forestry efforts by nearly doubling the size of our tree program. In November, we distributed 3 million tree seedlings free of charge to farming families across Rwanda as part of the “A Thousand Hills, 3 Million Trees” campaign. For the past month, every morning our team has loaded 30 trucks with hundreds of blue crates of carefully packed tree seedlings from one of our four professional nurseries. These trucks then deliver the tree seedlings to one of our 967 pick-up points across the country where farmers are trained on agroforestry techniques and proper tree care. This campaign is a big logistical operation as we deliver 150,000 live trees per day for four straight weeks, but the TUBURA team did it. We make the effort because we understand the impact trees can make for farmers.
Recently, we spoke to Theogène, a farmer enrolled with One Acre Fund-TUBURA in Karongi district. He started growing grevillea trees in 2010, when we first started our agroforestry work. “These trees are making a big difference in my family’s life,” says Theogène, who has a wife and five children. Over the years, he’s used wood from mature trees to build windows and doors for a small business he opened in his village. He also built a wooden shelter for his cows, and he uses the branches for poles for his crop of climbing beans, helping improve the overall health and productivity of his farm.
We’re proud to enable farmers like Theogène to improve their livelihoods, while contributing to the country’s broader environmental goals. The Government is vigilant about ensuring a vibrant and sustainable future, and it is the role of nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to support this foresight. Whether we are lighting households throughout the country with solar energy or planting trees on as many acres as possible, One Acre Fund-TUBURA stands in partnership and collaboration with the Government’s vision for reforestation and economic growth.
Personally, I am proud to live in Rwanda because it is a country that stewards its land well, a country that thinks long-term about its environmental impact, and a country that creates thoughtful global citizens through good leadership.
Eric Pohlman is the co-founder and Rwanda country director of One Acre Fund-TUBURA. He is also the 2015 recipient of the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, presented by the World Food Prize Foundation.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.