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Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda has suffered from widespread deforestation. However, in recent years the Rwandan government has taken steps to reverse this trend and in the past few days, Stanislas Kamanzi (Minister of Natural Resources) announced an ambitious new plan to achieve 30 percent forest cover by 2020.

This is a target that stands a good chance of being met. The current figure now stands at 22 percent cover having rebounded from 10 percent in 2009 after widespread deforestation had decimated Rwandan forest cover.

Outside of larger population centres, Rwandans rely on forests for firewood and construction materials. Large areas of land are also cleared for agriculture. This problem intensified between 1990 and 2005 as Rwandans displaced by the genocide returned and settled in rural areas. During this period, the population swelled by 3 million and the use of wood for fuel rose by 60 percent.

Government response

Towards the end of the last decade, the Rwandan government began an aggressive programme to halt and reverse the level of deforestation in the country. To achieve this aim, the government has taken a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. In addition to cracking down on people who illegally cut down trees for timber or firewood (including jailing those caught), the government has rolled out a countrywide programme of agroforestry. Since 2009, the Rwandan government has dispatched agriculture experts to the local level all around the country, to train farmers on how to improve their land-use practices with a government seedling and afforestation programme.

The reaction

Despite the success of this approach in tackling deforestation, this programme is not without it’s critics. Some believe that as well as enforcing the law, the government needs to pay an equal amount of attention to fostering a sense of ownership over the newly planted trees so that farmers do not revert to old habits.

The programme has also failed to completely halt the gradual disappearance of areas of old forest such as the Gishwati Forest in the northwest which has become the home to those displaced during the conflict.

A renewed effort

With the governments recent announcement that the Forest Conservation Project will be intensified, it would appear that they are determined to address these issues. In this intensification programme, 67 million seedlings will be cultivated and planted in the next two years. Areas such as the Gishwati Forest will also be replenished with wild species with at least 3020 hectares of land replanted in this Forest alone. In addition, tree planting activities across the country will be championed countrywide helping to create a sense of pride in the project.

Further afield

Only time will tell if Rwanda achieves it’s ambitious aims but the country appears to be making great progress. On a wider scale though, there are a large number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are facing the same hurdles as Rwanada. You can help to promote the same principals of tree stewardship, seen recently in Rwanda, by supporting ITF’s work in these countries.  With your help we can support projects that help to train and educate forest communities so that they can use forests in a sustainable manner and protect their livelihoods for years to come.