While the Sebeya Project, which has been operating for four years in the Western province of Rwanda, is coming to an end in June this year, many find that the project’s activities should continue because it is clear that the project has produced better results compared to the previous situation.
In order to hear from the implementing partners of this project, we talked to Albert Schenk, IUCN Rwanda Program Manager, who explains how he sees the Sebeya project and what he thinks about the future of the Sebeya Catchment in general.
Mr. Albert provided this overview on January 18, 2023 while he was speaking to the media after visiting some of the activities of the Sebeya Project in Rubavu District.
My name is Albert Schenk. I’m the program manager for IUCN Rwanda. But I’m also the project lead specifically for the Sebeya project.
How do you see the progress for this project and the result?
The progress is excellent. In the beginning, when the project started in May 2019, we were hit by the Corona pandemic, as you know, the project was somehow delayed. But because of the importance of this project, the government of Rwanda allowed the project to continue even during the corona pandemic. So in the beginning, it started a bit slow because of the COVID 19. But we have picked up the pace tremendously. And we are very much on track to achieve what we wanted to achieve on the project. When it comes to the impact, I think you’ve heard from the different beneficiaries, district representatives, community representatives from the testimonies that are all very positive and happy about the impacts of the project. So that was very encouraging and we hope, of course, to continue this project, maybe even beyond the official end time of this project, that might be an extension, because the benefits and achievements of the project are so great that really well requires continuation, or at least scaling up this project approach to other parts of Rwanda.
Any challenge so far or any gap?
Well, the main challenge is basically the success of the project. And in the sense that, of course, when you design a project like that, there is a certain amount of money that you can get to implement the project. You try to do as much as possible as you can. But you can’t do the whole thing in this case of the Sebeya Catchment. So the feedback that we get from the beneficiaries, from the districts, from the government of Rwanda are so positive, and there’s always that request and that wish to scale up the project even further. But of course, we are limited in resources. So I think in the last phase of this project, it is very important for all the stakeholders, the government of Rwanda, the district authorities, but also the communities to emphasize the positive impact of this project and see whether we can scale up and scale out this project, beyond the lifetime of the Sebeya project.
What was the role of IUCN in this project, and the rest of the SNV Team?
The project is designed in a way that the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rwanda is the funding partner. So it’s providing the funds that allow Rwanda Water Resources Board as the government leads on this project to support the implementation of the project. IUCN together with SNV, which is the Dutch development organization and RWARRI, we were approached to provide technical assistance for this project. And then specifically IUCN has a lot of experience in forest landscape restoration and also integrated water resource management, SNV has a lot of experience with livelihood interventions, Value chains, etc. So that’s why we brought in SNV and RWARRI, as the local NGO really supported us in engaging the communities and the district authorities under this project.
So to which extent do you think people are safe from the Sebeya river?
I can’t look into the future but I’ve heard from people here in the Sebeya region that in the past, every year, there were tremendous floods, and landslides were really killing people, livestock and destroying all kinds of infrastructures. And last year, I was with the mayor of Rubavu and he said that the year before, basically that the rainy season 2021-2022 was the first year in a long time that there were no human casualties. So I think that is already proof that the project is really achieving what we aim to achieve.
So any recommendations to local authorities or local residents?
Yes, I can give a general recommendation. What really makes this project unique is the participatory community approach that is being applied. In the past, such landscape restoration project was implemented in a different way which was not always very successful because the implementers went to the community to say this is what we come to do for you. Often this project didn’t work out very well. So what we said together with the government of Rwanda and the donor, we said we have to use a different approach under this project. And that is the participatory community approach, which means you go into the communities and say, What are your challenges? What are your specific issues relating to water management, and landscape restoration? And then the communities they sit together and say, these are the challenges specifically in our project? And this is what we as a community want to recommend to address the challenges. So you get much better information from the ground on what the issues are, how they could be addressed? And then together with the communities you actually implement those interventions that the communities themselves have proposed, and therefore you also get much more ownership within the communities of the interventions that you do.
Is it possible to have this river Clean?
Well that’s a very interesting question, because I’m sure that this project will over the years definitely contribute to reducing the turbidity of the Sebeya river. But of course, once you establish all these terraces, radical and progressive terraces, it takes a number of years for the terraces to settle. And then you’ll really start seeing the positive impact on the water in the Sebeya River. However, by only doing that, you might not get the clean water that you really want. Because one of the challenges that is not specifically addressed under this project is the mining that is going on in the Sebeya Catchment. There is mining for sand and for stones, and maybe minerals, et cetera. And that mining also contributes a lot to the brownness of the water in Sebeya. So one of the things that we are already discussing within the project and with the government that in addition to all this landscape restorations, and integrated water resource management interventions, which are crucial to getting the water clean again, the government also really has to look in how to improve mining practices in Sebeya catchment, but also in other catchments to really get the water clean so that it’s very safe for people and for livestock to drink,
Another measure that can be enforced for the future of this River?
Well, one of the other things that is really more related to landscape Restoration is of course, that the law of Rwanda prescribes that you should not build your houses and do agriculture too close to the river. And I think that is important because we have the floods. So I think the legal system is already in place, the laws are already in place, the policies are already in place. So I would really encourage the district authorities to also look into that then go into the dialogue with the communities to say stay a bit away from the rivers and from the tributaries, to make sure that the water stays clean and safe. And if there is a flood that your crop or your house is not washed away.