Congo-Nile Divide, Rwanda

Supporting farming communities in Congo-Nile Divide landscape

Our Impact

Since the early 2000s Trillion Trees partner WCS has worked with the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) to support the protection of the Nyungwe National Park and test different methods of habitat restoration. WCS has worked with communities in the surrounding Congo Nile Divide landscape of the Rwandan western highlands to promote sustainable alternatives to the unsustainable (and illegal) use of natural resources and to access to finance to boost income-generating alternatives to encroachment on natural forest.

WCS has helped to protect 100,000 hectares of afro-montane forest and piloted a model for restoration of areas degraded as a result of massive forest fires in the 1990s. Across that landscape, burned areas were rapidly colonised by bracken fern which supressed the regeneration of natural forest trees. By clearing these ferns, the natural seedbed allowed for the regeneration of native tree seedlings. Further north in the landscape, Gishwati-Mukura National Park has not experienced the same scale of fires but around 12,500ha of natural forest were converted to agriculture and pastureland between 1986 and 2006, with landslides, invasive species, and illegal mining degrading the remaining natural forest. This landscape will benefit from assisted natural regeneration wherein invasive species—namely eucalyptus and pine—are removed and native tree seedlings planted.

In addition, WCS has supported nearly 35,000 families across the region with access to finance for income generating activities, energy efficiency cooking stoves, or agroforestry seedlings. We aim to target families around Gishwati-Mukura National Park with this same model.

Our Target

  • Protection of the most vulnerable 5,500 ha of regionally rare afro-montane forest in the highlands dividing the Congo and Nile River basins
  • Restore 500 ha of natural forest in Gishwati-Mukura landscape to protect watersheds in farming areas
  • Employ over 400 community members to restore natural forests
  • Support communities to control invasive species within the landscape
  • Provide 3,000 smallholder farmers and pastoralists with access to finance

How We Work

WCS has invested in a Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) approach with communities living in the park buffer zone. Beneficiaries are those who depend on the park resources for their livelihoods, and who cannot afford other types of financial support. The VSL fund typically provides loans of between $100 and $250 per household, which are paid back over a period of 6 months.

The schemes supported by WCS have made regular small loans to over 1000 farmers each year, and the revolving funds turn over around USD 200,000 each year. Since 2017 WCS has been working with Reseau Interdiocesain de MicroFinance (RIM), a micro-finance institution, to provide financial literacy training to members of the VSL programme, and micro-loans in the event that the farmers should want to grow their business activities.

Why the Congo-Nile Divide landscape?

The Congo Nile Divide landscape in western highlands of Rwanda, contains the country’s only remaining montane forests. These forests are critical for the vital ecosystem services and products they provide for its ~2.5 million inhabitants and for the national economy.

The forests of Congo Nile Divide have a moderating effect on the local climate which is critical for much of Rwanda’s tea production and agriculture in general. In addition, rain falling in the highlands provides the main source of water for hydroelectricity, which delivers most of Rwanda’s power. Congo Nile Divide landscape is also habitat for many globally and near threatened species as well as endemic and range-restricted species such as the endangered eastern chimpanzee in Gishwati-Mukura and Nyungwe National Parks.

Over the past 45 years, the Congo Nile Divide’s forests have been depleted and degraded, primarily through to the encroachment, large-scale cattle ranching projects, cattle grazing within the forests, resettlement of refugees after the genocide against Tutsi, illegal mining, conversion for agriculture and the establishment of non-native plantations, especially in Gishwati-Mukura landscape, diminishing the ecosystem services these forests provide to vulnerable communities.

The high human population density and fragile soils mean that poor agricultural practices lead to continued rapid land degradation from erosion, which in turn causes flooding and siltation of lowland infrastructure. Ongoing and intensified efforts are needed to spread climate smart and resilient agricultural practices, and restore forest cover to sensitive catchments.

Partners and Contributors

Lead Partner: WCS

Rwandan Development Board

The Body Shop

Reseau Interdiocesain de MicroFinance (RIM)