Gisenyi shares a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west and the Republic of Burundi in the south. The Western Province is made up of parts of the former provinces of Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu.
These parts of the Province are found in a region covered by a chain of mountains with a multitude of rivers cutting through them. Though these rivers produce attractive scenery, they sometimes burst their banks especially during rainy seasons.
The fertile volcanic soils that characterize most parts of the Province have in the past helped residents to provide the country’s towns with a variety of food crops such as Irish potatoes from parts of Kanzenze and Bigogwe where crops were grown on the elevated volcanic fertile hills of Gishwati.
The Western Province is also blessed with various tourist attractions which include the Nyungwe National Park, Cyamudogo natural forest and Bukunzi hot springs and Lake Kivu. Beaches where tourists and locals go for relaxation and swimming are also in abundance.
The cold fresh breeze from the lake surface and the clear sand makes the area ideal for sun bathing especially to tourists accommodated by a network of modern hotels along the lake.
The area also has many potential sites for the tourism sector. These other sites that need particular attention are beaches of Lake Kivu. They include King Rwabugiri’s retreat palaces, Urutare rwa Ndaba, King Ruganzu’s bed, volcanoes and hot springs.
If all these historical sites are developed even more, the western province would much more income from the tourism sector.
Farming and livestock are the dominant sectors in the Western Province largely due to high fertility of the soils. On numerous hills and valleys found in the area, many types of crops are grown.
These include Irish potatoes beans, sorghum, Soya, sweet potatoes, banana, tomato, coffee, pepper, and onions to name but a few.
Eighty-eight percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, which has in the past been affected by plant and animal diseases, inappropriate farming practices, and inadequate inputs.
The fertility of most volcanoes in the western province has attracted residents to cultivate on the elevated hills leading to environmental degradation such as the September 12 floods where heavy rains caused floods and landslides resulting in 17 deaths and extensive damage to houses and property, displacing over 1,020 households (12 000 people).
Almost 1,000 houses were completely destroyed or partially damaged. The water supply system was interrupted, forcing people to look for alternative sources of water which increased risk of use of contaminated water leading to the spread of waterborne diseases in the affected parts of the province until electro gas provided emergency taps to the camps in which all the flood victims were settled.
The September 12 floods forced the authorities to halt all agricultural activities on elevated volcanoes in most parts of the province especially Bigogwe and Kanzenze which are best known for providing towns with high quality Irish potatoes. This could be one of the reasons to explain the current food shortages in the markets.
According to Nyabihu district mayor Charles Ngirabatwari, the ban was meant to protect the environment dearly.
“There were many agricultural activities in Giswati which was formerly covered by natural forest. The soil cover according to experts are very fertile and were created by the decomposed tree leaves, making the ground soft and vulnerable to the erosion,” the Mayor explained.
He blames last year’s floods to inappropriate farming practices and says that in a bid to protect the environment and to avoid future disasters, farmers on elevated parts of the Province were and are still being resettled in other places.
Coffee production to rise
According to the governor of the Western Province Pénélope Kantarama, the now vacant areas will be developed to produce more coffee.
“Experts and researchers from IZAR have indicated that coffee is one of the crops that can be grown on the elevated fertile hills without causing any danger to the environment,” she explains.
The governor further explains that experts have also said that unlike other crops, coffee roots can help soils to resist from soil erosion.
According to Kantarama the evacuated areas will be used for coffee plantations thus providing employment to the people at the same time increasing coffee exports which generate over 50 per cent of national export earnings.
The new coffee plantations will supplement the existing coffee plantations owned by various coffee growers such as OCIR coffee thus boosting coffee production in the province.
“Properly utilized, the evacuated areas such as the fertile elevated Gishwati hills can greatly improve the country’s coffee exports,” she said.
Lake Kivu coffee area is currently being developed to address the demand for superior coffee quality. Experts have pointed out that coffee grown on Lake Kivu shores posses high quality, which makes it renowned and attractive to international buyers.
In his recent countrywide tour to evaluate the first quarter of the district’s performance contracts, The Prime Minister Bernard Makuza cautioned district leaders in the Western Province to do their best in using the existing natural gifts in the province for economic development.
“The Western Province is blessed with many opportunities, natural resources, many tourist attractions and rich fertile volcanic soils. We just need cooperation among the leaders and coordination to achieve the economic revolution thus improve people’s welfare’’ Makuza explained.