Rwanda has enjoyed relatively strong economic growth recently but it still remains one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries with 320 people per square kilometre. Of these 85% make their living from subsistence farming of degraded lands. Rwanda’s forest cover diminished rapidly in the 1990s due in part to poor forest management and land use conflict. Functioning ecosystems, which provide numerous services and new employment opportunities, are at the heart of the country-wide reforestation initiative, launched today at the United Nations Forum on Forests.
“Rwanda’s announcement today 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. The Rwandan government, IUCN, the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests and others will work together towards delivering forest restoration at the landscape level designed to achieve sustainable agricultural production, low carbon economic development, adequate water and energy supplies, and new opportunities for rural livelihoods. Safeguarding the nation’s rich wildlife, such as the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla, is also part of the commitment.
“Past actions can have a profound effect on lives and the environment, as we can witness all over the world,” says Jan McAlpine, UNFF Director. “But 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.”
Recently released data indicates that there are approximately 1.5 billion hectares offering opportunities for forest landscape restoration with Asia and Africa holding the largest promise - each with about 500 Million hectares available for restoration and without impacting agricultural activities.
“We want to make sure that our environment can sustain all the economic activities identified as main drivers of the national economy,” says Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwandan Minister of Land and Environment. “We need expert advice, which, strengthened by local knowledge, will enable the development of landscape strategies and will translate existing political commitment into real and rapid action on the ground.”
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, according to IUCN.