Why Rwanda needs adequate wetlands biodiversity information for its green development plan

Rwanda has set out clear policies, plans and strategies to ensure sustainable development. Vision 2020, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies, National Strategy for Transformation, and Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy are the guiding document to achieve the desired green growth. To achieve the latter, Rwanda focuses on two key elements namely sustainable land-use and natural resources management to enhance food security and preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services and achieving energy security and low carbon energy supply, while avoiding deforestation.

Wetlands constitute the backbone for Rwanda’s green development as they provide various goods and services that millions of Rwandans depend on for their livelihoods and they are crucial to water, energy, and agriculture sectors, which are the three main sectors of the national economy.

Threats such as pollution, biodiversity loss and habitat degradation have led to many of the wetlands in the country to lose their ecological character thus hampering their capacity to continue effectively playing their role.

“We need adequate information and data to guide decision making on the sustainable management of these treasures “wetlands”. I remember, the attention for wetlands started when the degradation of Rugezi wetlands culminated in reduced water flow therefore affecting the electricity production. Since then, this costed Rwanda USD 65,000 every day to buy fuel for power generators, however, the efforts to restore this wetland that followed has reversed the situation.” Said Laetitia Busokeye, Director of Research, Environmental Planning and Development in Rwanda Environment Management Authority.

In 2017, the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network) discussed with Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and concluded to invest joint efforts to establish a baseline on the status of wetlands in Rwanda. The proposal for this study was developed and submitted to JRS Foundation and the latter funded the planning phase for this study. Such a study would aim to collect information: 1) on the state of wetland biodiversity by focusing on species diversity and occurrence data for a representative set of wetlands in Rwanda, 2) on the threats affecting biodiversity and 3) on ongoing efforts to conserve biodiversity in these wetlands. Currently the stakeholders’ consultations are being conducted to frame collaboration mechanism and the develop the methods and approaches for this study. See the project brochure here

We are very grateful for JRS Foundation support to plan this important project to the green development of Rwanda and future livelihoods of Rwandans in general. This exercise will provide information to guide Wetland Management and Decision-Making in Rwanda which is crucial for sustainable development we all aspire,” said Dr Sam Kanyamibwa, Executive Director of ARCOS Network.

Rwanda’s policies and plans are very clear but there is a need also to think twice about how their objectives are impacting each other and take sound decisions especially looking at the backbone of all sectors of development, “wetlands”. For example, the study conducted, under a project on Water Energy and Food Security Nexus implemented by ARCOS Network with funding from Rwanda’s Green Fund (FONERWA), by Stockholm Environment Institute on Policy coherence around energy transition and agricultural transformation in Rwanda, found that several policy objectives seem to be positively and negatively impacting each other. E.g., it was clear that achieving energy transition goals might constrain certain agricultural transformation objectives, particularly if water for hydropower was prioritised over water for irrigation. Similarly, achievement of agricultural transformation objectives could constrain hydropower generation if irrigation water is allocated to upstream fields. All the latter are related to wetlands and it is better to have a deep analysis before the implementation. 

Despite the potential of wetlands for Rwanda’s green development, the baseline information for wetlands biodiversity and ecosystems is still an issue. The work of Rwanda to pursue its green growth is commendable, however, there are some gaps in terms of information to guide decision that need to be filled. There is also a need to strengthen synergy and collaboration between sectors at all levels for sustainable management of key ecosystems. There is also a need for regular monitoring of wetlands biodiversity and ecosystems to inform the decision makers on status and impacts of development activities the latter.