May 21, 2024

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WED: Meet Charles Karangwa of IUCN to learn more about Forest Landscape Restoration Program for Rwanda and the region

Charles Karangwa, an experienced environmentalist who has dedicated his life to nature conservation.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Rwanda) has joined Rwanda and the rest of the World to celebrate World Environment Day (WED) on June 5, under the theme “Ecosystem Restoration”.

IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 18,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

The fact that IUCN has large network makes possible for it to have presence in many countries globally where it focuses on biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem management, water conservation, forest landscape restoration among many others.

In Eastern and Southern Africa regional, IUCN has presence in more than 21 countries which include Rwanda hosting the Forest Landscapes and Livelihood programme (FLL).

In 2011, Rwanda joined “the Bonn Challenge”, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. As part of this initiative, Rwanda pledged to achieve a countrywide reversal of natural resources degradation with 2 million hectares to be restored by year 2030.

According to policy brief FLR investment Rwanda, achieving the forest landscape restoration will generate an estimated US$ 628 million per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products, and will sequester up to 0.19 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.

Successful restoration generates a wide range of benefits–not only forest quantity but also enhancing food security, improved air and water quality, climate change resilience, job creations

A study conducted by Ministry of Environment in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) on forest landscape restoration opportunity assessment in Rwanda concluded that at least 1.5 million ha are available for new restoration initiatives across the country through a number of activities ranging from agroforestry and silviculture to the establishment of protective forests on steep ridgetops and riparian/wetlands buffer zones as well as restoration of degraded areas within Protected Areas (PAs) and their buffer zones

In an effort to understand more about forest landscape restoration (FLR) TOPAFRICANEWS spoke to Charles Karangwa, an experienced environmentalist who has dedicated his life to nature conservation.  

Charles Karangwa works for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, as Regional Lead – Forests, Landscapes and Livelihoods Programme, but also as Country Representative for IUCN in Rwanda

What do we mean when we say “Forests and Landscape restoration”?

Forest landscape restoration is the continuing process of regaining ecological functionality as well as enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes. It is not about planting the trees. It is restoring all the functionalities and the ecosystem services that nature could provide, such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, water quality and other ecological systems.

Rwanda is one of the countries that are proud of their investments in caring and protecting the environment, especially in afforestation. Are Rwanda’s programs in the FLR helpful to the IUCN when preparing similar projects in other countries? How?

Of course! We are learning from what we are doing. The programs in Rwanda inform programs in other countries. That’s why actually we are part of this bigger program, for example we are scaling up from learning from what we have been doing in Rwanda to build the program in Malawi, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, in Tanzania and all is building on exactly what has been done in Rwanda.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable areas where deforestation and misuse of land is an issue of concern, how does the IUCN, as an organization with experience in this sector, help countries better understand the strategies to deal with such an issue mentioned above? Can you give us some examples where applied?

Of course! IUCN does not teach countries because countries know probably better than IUCN. But what we are doing is supporting countries by providing our technical support and as you should know landscape restoration requires some technical underpinning conditions, understanding the biophysical conditions, understanding the ecological conditions, understanding the biodiversity within the landscapes and of course understanding the social economic factors that influence land degradation.

So, one thing IUCN is doing in different countries supporting for example, after a country has made a commitment, let’s say in Zambia just made a commitment of restoring 2 million hectares, what we do is supporting Zambia to do a detailed studies to understand what does the two million hectares mean, where is that land, what type of restoration is needed, so that’s all technical packaging.

Then the second, once you know that, you help the country to mobilise resources. We are very much invested in mobilising financial resources to implement the landscape restoration. And then finally, we are doing quite a lot of monitoring of landscape restoration activities.

We have developed the tools together with other partners through the initiative called “Restoration Barometer” that helps countries to actually track progress of their commitments. And of course we also deploy quite technical advisory services to countries to be able to implement their commitments.

When you look at the efforts that IUCN is putting into Forests and Landscape Restoration programs, especially in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region, how much of that effort? Can we sit and say this is enough?

It is never enough, it will never be enough, the demand is always huge than the supply especially when it comes to landscape restoration. So, What IUCN is doing is of course to prioritise, we always learn what we call prioritisation matrix depending on where the needs are most. But I think the other thing we need to do is to call for other technical partners as well to support countries where IUCN is not present.

What is your comment about the recent IUCN Report, which focused on the role of conflicts in nature and environment destruction?

Yeah of course, I think conflicts play a very big role in environmental degradation and damage, we have too many examples in the region when you hear all the conflicts that happen in the protected areas, they damage nature. They are all related to issues around poaching, there are always issues related to illegal mining, and conflicts actually accelerate natural resources degradation. 

What is your message as world marks world Environment Day 2021?

As the world marks World Environment Day, let us join our efforts in restoring our landscapes, along with other vulnerable natural resources, but also recognizing the role of local communities. They know much about lands and nature by extension. We should listen to them, plan with them and assist them technically in implementing forest landscape restoration activities.

With funds from Embassy of Kingdom of Netherlands in Rwanda, IUCN, RWB, SNV and RWARRI are restoring degraded lands in western party of Rwanda. So far, over 2,400 ha are under restoration.
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