By Hwaa Irfan
It is not often that government policies lead to sustainable development in these times at least, especially when it pertains to the environment, but this has been the case of Rwanda, an African country that has it fair share of strife.
Recognized for this achievement as winner of the Gold Future Policy Award for 2011, Rwanda has succeeded to increase its forest by 37%. Days before the acclaimed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai died from cancer Wangari observed that:
“Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionise its stances on women’s rights and creating a healthy environment.”
The prize is administered by the German-based World Future Council, who seek to inspire good leadership.
Rwanda won hands down, not even a slim margin was present to contest the claim of a country that despite growing pressure from a growing population, Rwanda’s massive reforestation program focused on planting indigenous species by means of the local population. A campaign of forestry awareness, and management was undertaken, bringing many benefits from improved and better water supply, reduced land erosion, improved standard of living, and a better quality of life. What more could anyone ask for when it comes down to what is really important and essential to life. This included land tenure reforms, which gave Rwandan women the equal right to inherit land.
Rwanda is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan African which was not an artificial creation of colonialism. It is home to 97 species of mammals, 665 species of birds, 31 amphibians, 206 reptiles, and to date 2,288 species of plants. The country of a thousand hills, and stunning beauty was fighting for survival. Difficult choices are to be made when one’s population growth starts cutting into one’s arable land. With a 90% population involved in agriculture, the population growth was outstripping one’s ability to provide food. The saving grace in this dilemma was not having the resources to import food on a large scale as in the case of Egypt which imports 50% of its demand for wheat undermining its own food security and making it prone to global prices. As a land-locked country, the only source of food is the land, and the air. Even hilly areas were intensively cultivated, which is quite desperate given the angle of the slopes are at a 50 degree angle. Then there is increasing soil erosion as a result of farming on the hilly slopes at high elevations, deforestation due to use of wood for fuel, and the flooding of Rwanda’s wetlands.
Farmers compensated for lack of needed land by growing more than one crop on the same land, but using short cycles in order to create speedy harvests, but the result was increasing land infertility due to lack of natural fertilizers. Inevitably, with time, the land was conceiving less food due to exhausted soil. Added to this was the growing conversion of pasture land into cropland.
The U.N’s Food, and Agricultural Organization, FAO classified Rwanda’s forests as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. The forests regulates local climates, control diseases, and ensures water quality all the way to the Atlantic.
The only areas to not be subjected to this onslaught was the Nyabarngo Valley, and the Akagera Park along with the natural forests Nyungwe, Gishwati and the Mukara which once constituted 30% of the country, but was reduced to 7%. The delicate biodiversity was being imbalanced, for instance increasing loss of wildlife, and the absorbing and at the same time slow release of rainwater by the Gishwati Forest, which also acted as a filter, producing organic material enough to enrich the soil, and preventing loss of topsoil that in turn prevents dangerous landslides.
There are few leaders in the world who have the kind of fortitude to state the following:
“We are creating a ‘forest of hope’ that transcends the restoration of biodiversity – it is about the people of Gishwati and improving their lives in harmony with nature. We are determined to reverse the history of human-induced environmental abuse in the Gishwati area, and this program is an opportunity for members of the global community to build partnerships with Rwanda and address these important challenges.”
That was said by President Paul Kagame.
“Without a sustainable environment we cannot develop. That is the reality,” said the minister of land and environment Stanislas Kamanzi
A National Forest Policy, was enacted in 2004, and a 2008 law relating to the prohibition of the manufacture, import, use and sale of polythene bags. Illegal logging was monitored by the World Wildlife Foundation, which also subsidized the manufacture of energy efficient ovens that use 30% less fuel than the ovens that were in circulation. Forest rangers were trained along with a vigorous replanting of indigenous species with the participation of the Rwandan people.
Potential for exploitation though still exists, but not from within. As external forces eye Rwanda’s forests as a valuable source of biomass, a threat lingers as WWF aim to link up with NASA to ‘measure’ the size of the forests with data provided by LIDAR. If Rwanda has been successful in reversing the process of deforestation, how will the World Resources Institute benefit Rwanda further by looking for effective strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, REDD, when those who need to measure are the developed countries themselves, as well as their effect on developing countries. Why would Rwanda want to earn carbon credits by engaging in green carbon sequestering, which is another term for biomass! They aim to divide the Congo Basin which Rwanda is a part of up into zones, zones, that are protected, and zones that can be used by man, which can also be interpreted as zones that can be used for biomass without being seen/blamed as a major cause of deforestation!
The Silver Award was won by the Gambian Community Forest Policy
Beck. B. B. “Forests and Rwanda’s Future.” http://www.greatapetrust.org/media-center/news-releases/forests-and-rwanda-s-future
Leahy, S. “Rwanda Wins Gold for Forest Conservation Blueprint.” http://www.ips.org/africa/2011/09/rwanda-wins-gold-for-forest-conservation-blueprint/