The communities surrounding Gishwati-Mukura National Park and Biosphere Reserve, say their survival no longer depends on activities leading to its destruction thanks to the support from Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) through Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and conservation (LAFREC) project.
The World Bank-funded project through REMA, LAFREC aims at conservation and restoration of the Gishwati-Mukura National Park which was being damaged by locals due to illegal mining, livestock farming among others.
According to Vivine Amariza, the acting sector specialist of LAFREC project, the project has contributed to the improvement of the livelihoods of people surrounding the Gishwati-Mukura landscape where efforts have been made to restore the deforested area, to protect the riverbanks in the park in the districts of Rutsiro, Ngororero, Nyabihu and Rubavu, since December 2014.
In particular, the communities were supported to improve livelihoods through potato farming by supplying quality seeds, pig breeding, planting new forests and replacing old ones to break the habit of destroying park trees and making terraces on their lands to increase productivity.
These activities have enabled beneficiaries to meet their basic needs in daily life thus their minds are changing and they are determined to take part in maintaining the park instead of damaging it.
Evariste Ntimenyerwa, a resident of Bwira Sector, Ngororero District, one of the beneficiaries said: “We used to go to the park because of hunger as there are minerals. We were given pigs from which we are getting money to afford what we need. Moreover, our terraced fields make them more productive. We can’t go back to the park. »
Bazingerero Evariste, the leader of the pig breeding group in Gashubi Cell, also says the LAFREC activities have helped them get out of poverty.
“We were given 17 pigs, now we have more than 100 pigs. We have given some of them to group members. Before this project started, people here used to go to the park for survival reasons but now we are fed on what we produce.” He said.
Hakuzimana Chrysologue, a resident of Nyange Sector in Ngororero District, one of the beneficiaries of the forest planting program, said it will help them avoid park intrusion where they were looking for trees and pasture.
“We have been lucky to have a national park here in the Western Province, it is an added opportunity for tourism in our region. We need to protect it from any harm and I hope none will go in the park to cut trees, as we have got our own forests. »
An area of 18.42 hectares which has been damaged by illegal mining in Gishwati-Mukura Park is to be rehabilitated, particularly in Ngororero District. Four hectares were left empty after residents cut down all tree cover.
At least 131 hectares of land have been afforested during LAFREC project activities. There are about 9,000 beneficiaries in Ngororero district and 580 in Nyabihu district.
Overall, the project’s activities have been instrumental in transforming people’s lives, according to Rutsiro District Mayor Ayinkamiye Emerence.
“We thank REMA for bringing the LAFREC project to our district. The project has contributed to the socio-economic development of communities out there. We will do our best to ensure the sustainability of the project activities.” She said.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Patrick Karera, congratulated people surrounding Gishwati-Mukura forest for their contribution to the LAFREC project and the conservation of the park’s biodiversity.
The LAFREC project, which started in December 2014, was due to be completed in December this year but due to the effects of covid19 pandemic, it has been extended for nine months to ensure its full completion.
By Kanamugire Emmanuel