The village environmental care project: A model in fighting poverty

The Gicumbi District authorities and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), through the Rwanda Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI); have recently launched a project in Rubaya Sector aimed at poverty eradication and transformation of livelihoods through sustainable environmental management.

The Gicumbi District authorities and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), through the Rwanda Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI); have recently launched a project in Rubaya Sector aimed at poverty eradication and transformation of livelihoods through sustainable environmental management.

The partnership project follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Gicumbi District and REMA at the project Site “Nyirasunzu” Kabeza Village in Nyamiyaga cell-in Rubaya.

“This is the time to realise that you can become rich and at the same time protect the environment”, said Nyangezi Bonane, the Mayor of Gicumbi District, while addressing hundreds of Kabeza villagers during the well attended signing ceremony.

Umudugudu of Kabeza has been chosen as a demonstration site for the implementation of this highly integrated poverty reduction project under the Rwandan PEI programme.

The overall objective of PEI in Rwanda is to integrate sustainable management of environment and natural resources into national and district planning processes such as in the implementation of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS). 

It is also a way to bring the Vision 2020 alive through local community participation and empowerment.

“As the EDPRS process has reached the crucial stage of implementation, of sector prioritisation, budgeting and implementation, there is an increasing need to showcase practical examples at village level,” explains Dr Rose Mukankomeje, Director General of REMA, the implementing institution for PEI.

“Practical demonstration projects like this in Kabeza village will increase understanding of the extent to which livelihoods are dependant on the environment, develop skills and knowledge and inspire good practices in managing natural resources”, Dr. Mukankomeje counselled.

This can later benefit other farmers, resource managers, political leaders and other actors when they are to design and implement integrated development projects that improve well-being while protecting the environment”.

The design and implementation approach of the demonstration project is inherently bottom-up and participatory, in a sense that it responds to the needs of the local communities and focusses on addressing the environmental problems that increase their poverty and hinder development such as soil erosion, inappropriate settlements and energy shortages.

The project relies on local people’s own efforts and innovativeness in implementation.

This focus on unlocking local potential will free them from poverty, and sustain the project activities, as they will learn to solve their own problems building on existing initiatives and the little external support.

This seems to be a shared view of both the Gicumbi Mayor, Director General REMA and John Musemakweri, a UNDP official. 

The most critical issues identified which the project will address are related to access to water for domestic use and hillside irrigation in dry season, access to energy, food security, nutrition and, community participation and empowerment.

Other problems were poor management of farmlands on steep slopes and increased deforestation and intensive farming that has contributed to increased soil loss.

“There are many good practices from both environmental and economic perspectives. Terracing can, forexample, increase land productivity by up to three times; and water harvesting will ensure that women and children get water nearer, which spares women and children the burden of having to walk up to 3 hours down the steep hill carrying a water container. It also means that the price for drinking water will fall by three times from Frw150 to Frw50 presently”, observed Dr Mukankomeje. 

”This is good development”, says  Nzayino Elip, one of the villagers who attended the ceremony.

”This initiative means that my family will no longer have to frequent the valley to fetch water; less time and energy will be spent and our children will be able to attend school. It also means that we can put money aside for other use”, he adds.

In encouraging partnership and synergy with other initiatives, the Kabeza PEI demonstration will provide a cow to each of up to 20 households and install biogas plants for a planned grouped housing project in which the district plans to relocate at least 500 households, initially starting with a 100 houses. 

The cows and biogas plants to be provided by the project will simultaneously address poverty and environmental problems in an integrated way.

The cows will provide organic manure to improve land productivity while at the same time provide raw materials (cow dung) to power the biogas plants.

The biogas will in turn reduce the pressure on the few resources and provide clean, smoke-free energy for heating and lighting.

Residents who attended the launch ceremony are already excited about their future prospects that their children will have light to study at night and teachers will have time to mark their children’s books.

For the women, they said they are already visualising a smoke-free kitchen which translate into fewer incidences of respiratory diseases.

There will also be agro-forestry program to protect terraces, increase soil fertility and promote fruit trees for improved nutrition as well as income generation.

Dr Mukankomeje said, “Protecting the environment means protecting lives.” She also urged the villagers attending the ceremony to be responsible and continue to work hard. ”Because it is your project”, she told them.

John Musemakweri, UNDP’s Head of the Environment Unit at Rwanda, also emphasised the importance of hard work in order to achieve the targets set in Vision 2020.

“With this project no one will be left out, you yourself have to contribute at lot”, he told the villagers. ‘But when we visit you sometime midway through the project I am sure that this will be a well developed area.

And we know you are naturally hardworking so you will be a model for others”.

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