Feb 4

The Rwandan government announced plans this week to restore the country’s lost forest lands and boost national development.

One of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, Rwanda’s forest cover rapidly diminished during the 1990s as a result of poor forest management and land use conflict.

The new country-wide reforestation initiative, which was launched this week at the United Nations Forum on Forests, aims to deal with ecosystem degradation and its impact of the rural poor.

Currently, 85% of Rwanda’s population makes their living from subsistence farming of degraded lands.

Typical mountain gorilla habitat

Typical Rwandan forest habitat, the home of the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla

The IUCN commends the Rwandan government’s plans.

Rwanda’s announcement is the biggest commitment a country can make to restoring degraded landscapes – investing in nature and lifting people out of poverty,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “If other countries follow Rwanda’s leading example, we could be witnessing the beginning of the largest natural restoration initiative the world has ever seen, bringing us a step closer to realizing our vision of a greener world economy.”

The aim of Rwanda’s Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative is to achieve a country-wide reversal of the current degradation of soil, water, land and forest resources by 2035, developing functioning ecosystems which will provide numerous services and new employment opportunities.

The future

Over the next few decades, the Rwandan government, IUCN, the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests and others will work together to restore the degraded Rwandan forests. They aim to achieve sustainable agricultural production, low carbon economic development, adequate water and energy supplies, and new opportunities for rural livelihoods.

Protecting the nation’s rich wildlife, such as the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla, will also be central to the initiative.

Photo of mountain gorilla silverback

The mountain gorilla is found in the Virunga Volcanoes region, situated on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-western Uganda.

Urging other countries to follow suite

The IUCN wants other countries to recognize the potential of healthy forests for sustainable economic growth.

Recent data indicates that Africa and Asia hold particular promise for forest landscape restoration, in areas where forest restoration could be carried out without impacting agricultural activities. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are approximately 1.5 billion hectares which would be suitable areas for similar initiatives.

According to the IUCN, large scale restoration of the world’s forests will result in huge benefits worldwide, such as removing CO2 from the atmosphere, helping lift people out of poverty and safeguarding biodiversity.

Urging other countries to follow in Rwanda’s footsteps, the IUCN highlights that “What makes Rwanda exceptional is the country’s willpower to rebuild people’s lives, restore their land and show the world that restoring damaged ecosystems is possible.”

Photo portrait of L'Hoests monkey

The little known L’Hoest’s monkey occurs in Rwanda’s forests

Explore Rwandan species on ARKive.

Read the IUCN Press Release

Read the statement by the Rwanda Minister of Environment and Lands to the UN Forum on Forests.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author