The Forests in Rwanda have historically played a very significant role in the economy and livelihoods of its population. They provide around 86% of the primary energy source mainly as domestic cooking energy. They hold the base for the country’s tourism opportunities, which in 2013 generated US$ 294 million and are targeted to increase to over US$ 600 million by 2020. They protect watersheds and downstream wetlands, supporting agriculture which accounts more than 33% of the GDP. Forested catchments supply a high proportion of the water for domestic, agricultural, industrial urban and ecological needs in both upstream and downstream areas.
One of the targets of the vision 2020 and EDPRS II is to cover 30% (714,102 ha) of the total National dry land by forests. The current country forest cover is 704,997 ha equivalent to 29.8% of which plantation forests occupies 17.9% and 11.9% for natural forests. The recent National Forest Inventory revealed that the above mentioned forests are extremely degraded with the average productivity of 50 m3 per ha instead of 300 m3 per ha.
Despite a laudable forest-cover (29.8%), Rwanda is still facing a severe imbalance between wood supply and demand due to a very low productivity. Privately planted trees, though comprising a greater proportion of the forests in the country (68%) seldom deliver their full potential due to poor species-user-site matching, limited management and premature cutting.Public plantations have a very narrow range of species, low stocking and stagnated growth due to damage from fire and illegal cutting with limited active management and protection.
An analysis of the wood demand and supply shows that the demand to supply ratio is 2:1 and the shortage is projected to increase until in future unless alternative sources of energy are sought. The consumption of fuelwood for Rwandan households is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes per year and charcoal making accounts for about 50% of total fuelwood used. The Business as Usual scenario on wood supply/demand, estimates the deficit between wood supply and demand to be 4.3 million tonnes (oven dry weight) in 2017, which is projected to increase to 7.5million tonnes by 2026. This is due to a high increase demand for fire wood and wood for charcoal.This must imply over-exploitation of already low stocked forests.
In order to address the highlighted issues related to poor stocking, deforestation and imbalance in wood supply/demand, Rwanda has over the years taken a consistent stance on increasing the forest cover where the Vision 2020 envisages that 30% of the total land area will be covered by forests in 2020. Rwanda made a commitment to the Bonn Challenge, promising to restore a total 2 million hectares of degraded landscape, representing, proportionally, the highest national commitment to the Bonn Challenge to date.
The opportunity assessment for forest landscape restoration in Rwanda by IUCN&WRI revealed that agroforestry on steep and flat slopes offered the greatest opportunity for landscape restoration (1.1 Million ha) in the country. Intensive practice of agroforestry on agricultural land would improve crop production, reduce erosion and reduce pressure on existing natural and planted forests to supply fuel wood and other tree products. Farmers practicing agroforestry will receive an enhanced benefit stream from tree products and improved soil fertility and stability.Developed agroforestry systems in the course of the project will also provide wider downstream benefits through reduced soil loss and siltation, regularized water flows and improved water quality.
Rwanda has also put in place some policy documents that guide the implementation of the forestry sector such as:
Revised National Forestry policy (NFP)
Forestry Sector Strategic Plan (FSSP)
National Tree Seed Strategy (NTSS)
Forest Investment Plan (FIP)
National Forest Research Strategy and Tree Reproductive material guideline