July 15, 2024

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Rugezi Wetland: From Conservation to Eco-Tourism Adventure

The Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) has announced its intention to turn the Rugezi wetland into an eco-tourism national park to expand tourism in this area.

The announcement came on Monday, May 27, 2024, in the Butaro sector on the first day of a 5-day tour, “Environment and Restoration at 30 Years,” organized to showcase Rwanda’s achievements in land restoration and sustainable agriculture.

The tour, starting at the Rugezi wetlands and Ramsar convention site, brought together students from universities, media, and civil society to explore restored landscapes. This initiative aligns with National Environment Week ahead of World Environmental Day, which will be celebrated on June 5 under the theme “Land Restoration, Desertification, and Drought Resilience.”.

Rugezi wetland is a peatland located in the Burera and Gicumbi districts in Northern Province, near Rwanda’s border with Uganda, covering about 6,735 hectares and lying at an altitude of approximately 2,050 meters.

It has been classified by BirdLife International as one of seven important bird areas that accommodate 43 species of birds, including endangered birds such as Bradypterus graueri (songbird species), grey-crowned cranes, and other endemic bird species such as Calamonastides gracilirostris.

Rugezi wetland is one of Rwanda’s strategic water resources and is critical in regulating and filtering water flow into Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo, which feed two of the country’s largest hydropower plants, Ntaruka and Mukungwa.

Théogène Ngaboyamahina, focal point of the Ramsar convention in Rwanda, at the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), announced that there is a plan to continue restoring the Rugezi wetland so that it can be turned into an eco-tourism park, so Butaro residents and other neighboring sectors will start earning money.

He said, “We intend to make Rugezi wetland an eco-tourism destination, as has been done in other places like the Nyandungu wetland, which has been upgraded.”

He added, “We urge investors to collaborate to create an eco-tourism park on Rugezi wetland. This should be an international tourism site. We are mobilizing all needed resources and partners to create the eco-park in the next five years.”

He continued reminding the community that maintaining the Rugezi wetland is everyone’s responsibility because it is of great importance to them and the country as a whole. He urged the community around it to keep playing their role in conserving the wetland and fighting encroaching and polluting activities.

“Some people know how the wetland once dried up due to human activities, which disrupted the water supply for hydropower generation, leading to a nationwide power outage,” Ngaboyamahina said.

He revealed that the country was spending over Rwf65 million on buying fuel to power diesel power plants, but after the wetland was restored, water reappeared and electricity was generated again.”

“The wetland has increased the tourism activities that are still being carried out, making it capable of storing water that feeds the Burera and Ruhondo lakes, and it also has a river that has been built for a 2.20 MW power plant.”

Jean Baptiste Uwiringiyimana, a local conservation ranger in Rugezi wetland at the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), highlighted hunting, agricultural activities, grass-cutting for traditional sleeping mats, fishing, and waste disposal as the main polluting activities in Rugezi wetland.

He stated that the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association also intervened because encroaching and polluting activities were still being detected. They monitor the wetland daily to prevent pollution.

Rugezi marshland has a critical importance for crane population growth as its grasses act as a vital nesting material and are one of the results of more efforts put into the conservation of the environment.

Uwiringiyimana said once the community cuts the grass down, the crane population leaves and does not breed as their natural habitat is disturbed.

According to local officials, the crane population increased from 80 to 273 in 2023 as a result of different governmental actions against those attempting to catch and keep them domestically.

Japhet Nsengiyumva, a resident of Burera district, Butaro sector, near the Rugezi wetland, stated that some villagers also contribute by reporting those who continue to encroach on the wetland.

“The wetland was a mess because it was not maintained; they were also cultivating sweet potatoes. Then the swamp dried up, and the government came to maintain it again and stopped the farmers because the water had started to dry up. Many people still seek to cut grass to make traditional sleeping mats, but we report them to the officials,” he said.

By the year 2000, this wetland had been severely degraded, so that 48.5% of its surface had been destroyed by illegal activities in the wetland, including agriculture and ranching, which reduced the water level of the wetland.

Rugezi wetland was designated as a Ramsar site in 2006, meaning it is of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetland Conservation.

In 2008, the Government of Rwanda began to restore this wetland, and the country was awarded the Green Globe Award in 2010.

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