Leading environmental activists lauded today the Rwandan Government’s plan to restore all of the steadily recovering Central African nation’s lost forest lands and boost national development as a far-sighted move that should be replicated by other Governments.
“This really is a good news story,” said Stewart Maginnis, Director of Environment and Development of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), during a Headquarters press conference held in connection with the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, under way until 4 February. “For the first time, we’re actually seeing a country recognize that part and parcel of its economic development trajectory has to be rooted in natural resources.”
In the 1990s, poor forest management, damaging land use practices and conflict had caused the country’s forest cover to shrink rapidly. Today, despite brisk economic growth in the past five years, 85 per cent of the population still made a living from subsistence farming of degraded lands, he said.
But Rwanda’s new Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative aimed to reverse by 2035 the current degradation of the entire country’s soil, water, land and forest resources, Mr. Maginnis said. It would also focus on safeguarding the nation’s rich wildlife, such as the critically endangered mountain gorilla.
To implement it, Rwandan officials would work with IUCN, the United Nations Forum on Forests and the private sector to restore the ecosystem of the forest landscape, while spurring agricultural production, low-carbon economic growth, and new income-generating opportunities for poor, rural people, he said.
Last year, during the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Governments worldwide had committed to restoring 15 per cent of their degraded ecosystems by 2020, he said. “What’s particularly exciting is that Rwanda is now ahead of the game and probably will actually exceed that target.”
Mr. Maginnis added that for too long forests had been undervalued. Some 1.6 billion people worldwide depended on forests for their livelihood and subsistence. The $130 billion in wood and other substances removed from them was equivalent to what industrialized countries spent annually on official development assistance (ODA). One billion hectares of degraded forest land and 500 million hectares of degraded crop land were suitable for forestry landscape restoration.
Joining the press conference was Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwandan Minister of Land and Environment, who said that interest among development partners in his country’s initiative, launched a couple of months ago, was growing. The plan, soon to take effect, aimed to ensure Rwanda’s part in safeguarding the planet for current and future generations and re-establishing the balance between human livelihoods and the environment they lived in.
Jan McAlpine, Director, Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, was also on hand. She said the Rwanda initiative embodies many of the Forum’s policy recommendations.
“The approach to integrating the economic, social and environmental actions related to forests is at the heart of the concept of managing forests sustainably, but it hasn’t been implemented very much in practice,” Ms. Alpine said. “For the United Nations Forum on Forests, this action by this country and this leadership at this time is absolutely the most important message of today. It is acting, not just talking. It is considering thoughtfully the relationships, and then making a difference.”
The Global Environment Facility, which issues grants for environmental improvement projects, Canada, a leader in the international forest model network process, and other partners had already expressed their interest to support the Rwandan initiative, she said.
Asked about the state of Rwanda’s forests prior to the launch of the initiative and progress towards sustainable forestry management, Mr. Kamanzi said the nation’s overall environment was degraded due to poor policymaking and the bloody 1994 conflict. He cited the poorly managed hydraulic systems that caused frequent power outages in the marshlands and how the 1994 genocide had devastated a mountainous forest in the north-west, causing land slides and intensive flooding.
But with the introduction of better management policies, the hydraulic plants were up and running at full speed, and the mountainous areas were in the process of being reforested, he said. The aim now was to expand those local projects to a national scale.