Rwanda's stunning green hills and fertile soil have given the country the nickname "land of a thousand hills." With a thriving agricultural sector, efficient natural resources management will play a key role in ensuring the country'seconomic growth and prosperity for future generations.
Rwanda is a small, land-locked country in East Africa with a famous green, mountainous landscape has earned it the name “land of a thousand hills.” The small country covers an area of only 26,338 square kilometers and a population around 11 million. On the mend from a violent civil war, Rwanda has had a successful comeback both economically and socially and has been working hard to establish itself as a food self-sufficient country. It has strengthened its agriculture sector but still faces various development challenges. Rwanda’s dense population and its rapid growth rate have put pressures on its natural resources. A majority of the population makes the most of the country’s fertile soil by farming small hillside plots which leaves much of the population vulnerable to environmental changes. To ensure long-lasting progress that improves the lives of all, Rwanda will have to focus on green economic growth and sustainable development.
Rwanda sits over 914 meters above sea level with the central and western part of the country dominated by the Albertine Rift Mountains. Within these mountains are forests, savannas, plains and swamps moving eastward. Rwanda is blessed with many lakes and bodies of water, with Lake Kivu being the largest and making up Rwanda’s entire western border. About 6% of Rwanda’s land is protected, including the Kagera National Park and Volcano National Park, famous for its gorillas and other primates. The nation’s protected areas have been threatened by illegal poaching and the increasing pressures of agriculture. Forested areas are being deforested as population growth, agriculture expansion and fuelwood needs become more acute. As agriculture has expanded in Rwanda, soil erosion, nutrient loss, and other environmental issues due to overuse of the land have deterred the nation’s ability to become food self-sufficient. With proper management of land Rwanda can farm more efficient and increase its output of important cash crops, such as coffee.
Payment for Ecosystem Services
In the face of a growing population Rwanda faces two challenges, reducing poverty, especially in rural areas, and protecting the ecosystems on which the poor depend. Most of Rwanda’s population is small-holder farmers, with agriculture employing up to 90% of the workforce, who depend on ecosystem services for agriculture, drinking water and forest products. Subsistence farmers participate only minimally in the formal cash economy and therefore cannot substitute their local, declining resources for imported food, water or fuel. By linking the rural poor to payment for ecosystem services (PES), Rwanda can realize its goals for reducing poverty and protecting ecosystems. Through the implementation of PES in Rwanda, protected ecosystem services do more than just generate income but also protect Rwanda’s endemic or endangered wildlife. Only about 18% of Rwanda’s land is still forested, leaving much of the wildlife in fragmented or degraded habitats. Rwanda has already seen success in implementing PES and hopes to continue to do so with the support of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa.
Rwanda’s economy has been recovering from events of 1994 which decimated the economy by temporarily stalling its ability to attract foreign investment and impoverishing much of the population. Since then Rwanda has made progress with an average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7-8%. Poverty has been reducing in the country, from 57% of the population in 2006, but still remains at a high 45%. A majority of the nation’s population, especially the rural poor, are employed by the agriculture sector. Agriculture makes up 33% of GDP, with services at 52% and industry at 14%. Key industries include coffee, tea, pyrethrum, livestock and cement, all of which are linked to the nation’s natural capital. Rwanda relies on the environment, its natural resources and ecosystem services as the backbone for much of its economy.
Rwanda and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa
With the support of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa’s Secretariat, Rwanda will strive to meet the goals and objectives of the Declaration by working off its already established national sustainable development planning. Rwanda will continue its work in natural capital accounting which was started by the World Bank WAVES program, with a focus on water, land and mineral sectors. Rwanda will also aim to implement more PES and REDD+ initiatives. Underlining these initiatives is the understood importance of natural capital to Rwanda’s sustainable growth. As Rwanda fulfills its commitments to the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa it will be able to protect this important natural capital.
National Strategies and Poverty Alleviation
Since 2006 by law the Rwanda Environment Management Authority has had to regularly publish the Rwanda State of the Environment and Outlook to take stock of and supervise natural resources. The most recent analysis of the environment revealed that while Rwanda is heavily dependent on its natural resources for livelihoods and economic development, these resources are under significant pressure. In response to this pressure the Government of Rwanda has put in place the Rwanda Five Year Environment and Natural Resources Strategic Plan (ENRSP). This plan’s overall objective will be to ensure that economic growth and poverty reduction is realized in a manner that is environmentally and economically sustainable. The ENRSP will tackle poverty alleviation by changing the natural resource paradigm in environmental policy interventions so it is supportive of sustainable economic productivity. Rwanda’s participation in the Convention on Biological Diversity also has target areas which relate to poverty eradication and economic development by integrating the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into national planning, providing incentives for ecosystem conservation and encouraging partnerships between public and private sectors.
Natural Capital Accounting
Rwanda has had some previous experience in natural capital accounting in which it can build upon. The country agreed to the Rio+20 Communique on Natural Capital Accounting which has laid the ground work for natural capital accounting in the country. Rwanda is also a partner in the World Bank’s Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystems Services (WAVES) program which provides technical assistance to build local capacity in natural capital accounting. Now Rwanda is in the process of developing a comprehensive natural capital accounting system and has put in place a committee to oversee implementation. The country has earmarked terrestrial ecosystems (forests, land and wetlands) and water resources (lakes and rivers) as the primary focus. The framework for execution is still under development.
Private Sector Partnerships
Tourism has been important to the rebound of Rwanda’s economy and contributes to about 2% of GDP. Because much of Rwanda’s tourism industry is natural resource dependent, for example gorilla tourism, the tourism industry has taken an interest in preserving the environment and collaborating with other sectors. Partnerships have also been established under the UNDP-UNEP Poverty and Environment Initiative (PEI) which supports business owners in development opportunities in renewable energy and carbon financing. Through Rwanda’s participation with the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa more public-private partnerships will be fostered.
Image credits, top to bottom: © Benjamin Drummond; © Benjamin Drummond; © Conservation International/photo by John Martin
Rwanda Quick Facts
About 6% of Rwanda's land is protected, including the famed Kagera and Volcano National Parks.
Although fallen from a high of 57% in 2006, poverty in Rwanda remains high at 45%.
Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa Focal Point for Rwanda