May 21, 2024

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Exploring AREECA’s Project: Exemplary Practices in Community-Centered Approach

Joint Team visit to the AREECA Project area

By Kanamugire Emmanuel

In Rwanda’s Eastern Province, which is prone to long-lasting droughts and landscape degradation, a transformative initiative is reshaping the landscape through AREECA’s Project, especially in Kirehe and Nyagatare Districts.

Deforestation and land degradation, aggravated by climate change and unsustainable land use practices, pose an added threat to ecosystem functions, land productivity, food, and water security in the two districts. The project aims to restore twenty-five thousand (25,000) hectares of degraded lands in Kirehe and Nyagatare districts to increase socio-economic growth, improve ecological functions, and provide several other climate-related benefits.

Rwanda’s Eastern Province is prone to long-lasting droughts and landscape degradation

Implemented through a community-centric model, the project allows local communities to identify landscape and livelihood challenges and implement intervention measures. Using this model, land users and farmers in the two districts have taken the lead in establishing tree nurseries, planting trees, and monitoring progress with technical support from the Ministry of Environment, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA) and RWARRI.

Currently, the AREECA project has achieved afforestation on over 3000 hectares of land, implemented agroforestry on 2000 hectares, and established 60 kilometers of roadside and buffer zones under protective forest in both districts. As part of efforts to improve nutrition and increase economic opportunities among farmers, the program has distributed and facilitated the planting of over 3000 fruit tree seedlings, predominantly avocadoes.

In the past year alone, local communities, with technical guidance from RFA, IUCN and RWARRI have produced and planted a total of 1,899,612 seedlings in Kirehe district and 1,123,188 seedlings in Nyagatare district, generating unprecedented socio-economic benefits, including increased income among farmers.

“Many people in this area were not interested in planting trees, and when they did, they used to plant eucalyptus, which degrades the soil further,” said Mukagatare Vivine, a resident of Kigarama sector, Kirehe District.

Mukagatare, who is the President of a Community Group of 82 people in Kirehe district, is a model farmer participating in the project by planting agroforestry trees. She testified that after implementing improved soil stabilization techniques and receiving training on modern agricultural techniques such as improved crop varieties and the use of organic fertilizers, her productivity has significantly increased.

“So far, Mukagatare has earned Rwf 600,000 through cooperative daily jobs in nursery preparation, tree planting, and monitoring.

Uwantege Peninah, a beneficiary from Nyagatare District, said: “This project has improved our livelihoods. Our livestock are getting enough fodder, and grevillea trees provide us with fresh air. We are now experiencing sufficient rain, which we attribute to initiatives like AREECA project.”

More than 5200 green jobs have been created

Mayor of Kirehe, Bruno Rangira, recently thanked the Government of Rwanda and partners, including IUCN, RFA, and GIZ, for selecting Kirehe as the target district for the project. He urged beneficiaries to take care of planted trees and other project activities.

Agroforestry species are planted as part of transforming Eastern Province into Green Landscape

“We are very happy to have this project in our district. It contributes to combating desertification, climate change, improving agricultural productivity, and consequently, livelihoods,” he said.

“Through tree-based restoration and improved land use management, the project is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Improved ecosystems are expected to build resilience for climate change adaptation. The project has created more than 5200 green jobs for households in Kirehe and Nyagatare,” he added.

” We appreciate this restoration project that creates jobs and educates us about tree nursery management and how trees can enhance climate resilience,” said Philip Nsabuwera, a community member involved in tree nurseries.

Unique Opportunity for the local community

Local community members are organized into 10 groups committed to maintaining and sustaining project activities even after the project phases out.

Mutamba Jessica, another AREECA beneficiary, started planting trees two years ago, inspired by the profit she heard was possible from selling trees. She learned about grevillea trees and realized that by planting them, she could achieve the financial benefits she hoped for and increase her crop productivity.

“It was somewhat challenging for my family to afford health insurance, but from working in the nursery, I managed to pay insurance for all my family members, and I’ve started saving to buy a cow,” she added.

In his testimony, Mupenzi Thacien, a project beneficiary from Nyagatare District, expressed surprise at seeing AREECA project providing seedlings for free on their farms.

“Today, when we receive all the trees we needed, including agroforestry trees that we usually didn’t easily get on our farms, it makes us very happy. I hope to plant 11 hectares of land,” he said.

“When planted alongside crops, most tree varieties contribute significantly to soil health by controlling erosion, improving water absorption, maintaining high organic matter levels, and fixing nitrogen. Trees also play a crucial role in enhancing biodiversity,” said Mbonigaba Jean, Forestry Officer at Nyagatare District.

The AREECA project, funded by the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and implemented by the Rwanda Forestry Authority, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), RWARRI, World Resources Institute, World Bank, AUDA-NEPAD, FAO, and GIZ, is expected to scale up and out beyond the two districts, accelerating restoration efforts sustainably in the country.

The BMU supports target to restore over 100,000 hectares of degraded forest landscapes in four countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, and Cameroon by 2025 by engaging governments and local communities in restoring degraded lands and conserving biodiversity.

This involves interventions ranging from on-ground actions to improved policy and institutional coordination.

AREECA distributes improved cook stoves that effectively decrease the amount of firewood utilized for cooking.

In an effort to reduce dependency on wood fuel and minimize deforestation, the project aims to distribute 2000 cooking stoves to households in the two districts. So far, 1000 cooking stoves have already been distributed and are in use in the two districts.

The use of an improved cooking stove received from AREECA has reduced firewood usage by 70 percent, according to the users.

Rwanda has exceeded its 30.4% forest cover target through Vision 2020. However, there is a need to scale up restoration efforts to achieve sustainable development goals and other national targets.

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