About the Implementing organization
Name: Forest of Hope Association (FHA)
Year of establishment: 2012
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization
Gishwati is home to important biodiversity including chimpanzees, golden monkeys, mountain monkeys and more than 130 bird species. This forest knew the highest rate of deforestation losing more than 98% only in 30 years. It covered an area of 28,000 hectares in 1970 and was reduced to 600 hectares in 2001. From 2008 through 2011, the Great Ape Trust/ Gishwati Area Conservation Program and the government made efforts to reverse the history. As a result, the size of this forest increased from 600 hectares to 1484 hectares. Unfortunately, in 2011, GACP closed its operations because of lack of funding. FHA started working in Gishwati in 2012 when the core forest was at its early stage of regeneration and the added areas were still farmland. FHA used a Community Forest Protection approach to restoring the whole forest land through active forest protection by eco-guards; community education by eco-guards, community committees and eco-clubs; conflicts resolution and community development as described above. This reduced the number of people who enter the core forest in search of timber, firewood, and grass for cows. In newly added areas, assisted natural regeneration was also done mainly using Ficus. Bamboo and native trees such as Hagenia, Carapa and Newtonia grew quickly and colonized the areas that were transformed into ranches. In most cases, flowered and seeds germinated around trees that were not cut. This approach is cheap, builds trust and ensures local ownership.
Forests / Mountains / Wetlands / Rivers / Wildlife
Type of Action
Protection / Restoration
Sustainable Development Element
Jobs and livelihoods / Water security / Disaster risk reduction / Climate action
Google images show a remarkable increase in forest cover between 2006 and 2016. Forest restoration also increased the availability and quality of water in the area, reduced landslides and soil erosion. There is evidence of water sources that had disappeared and now are back. Local people say that agricultural productivity sharply reduced because of erosion of fragile soils that were cultivated after cutting down the forest, thus transforming their agricultural plots on steep slopes into ranches. Today, several ranches are transformed again into crop land especially into tea plantations and potatoes. Also, the number of chimpanzees grew from 13 to 25; the population of golden monkeys is estimated to 160. It is obvious that the number of birds and other wildlife also increased. There are ongoing researches on chimpanzees and golden monkeys and there is a government plan to conduct biodiversity survey to inform the new park management. We hope to get good trends from their reports.
Sustainable Development Impacts
FHA provided jobs to 11 employees for coordination, forest protection, and community engagement. It also supports several community initiatives to improve local livelihoods including beekeeping, handcrafts making and community tourism development. Water in local rivers (Pfunda and Sebeya) is increasing in quantity and quality, thus water security. Sebeya River had huge sediments and with forest restoration siltation reduces over time. The government decided to restore this part of former Gishwati because floods and landslides were killing people and making damages of crops, livestock and infrastructure downstream. Those disasters are decreasing and no life loss or severe damages have been reported during the last two years.
Also, there is evidence that local climate improved. In 2005 and 2006, local people experienced an increase in temperatures in the areas around Gishwati. They started suffering from malaria, a disease they did not know before. Today, there are no mosquitos in the area.
The work of FHA has already a significant impact at the decision-making level. As mentioned above, the Gishwati forest is already upgraded to a national park by a law of 2016 due to FHA work and advocacy. We organized quarterly meetings in which we invited central and local governments and NGOs to discuss why and how to largely protect Gishwati. FHA developed the Gishwati interim management plan that provided all of the information for the new park. Those include biodiversity, possible management arrangements and requirements, tourism development and guidelines for infrastructure development and research. FHA supported other work through the process including showing the boundary of the new park and providing all other necessary information and documents.
FHA has also successfully shared knowledge and innovations with other local and community-based groups, national, regional and international audiences. We use local, national and international media channels to reach a big audience.
There are good lessons learned in Gishwati that can be replicated elsewhere. These include the community forest protection approach that if used to conserve other protected areas in Rwanda and in the region may help to succeed with low costs. This approach ensures local ownership of the work and the protected areas through trust building in terms of transparency in hiring staff, equal participation and support from and to different community groups, and gender inclusion. The approach cuts some costs related to training in local background, knowledge, and behaviors. It also easily helps to improve local livelihoods through jobs creation to local people. Another lesson is about filling the gap. At the closure of Great Ape Trust, no institution or NGO was ready to take over the Gishwati conservation. This is a lesson that other people committed to conservation can learn from. We volunteered and used limited funds to ensure that this forest does not disappear. Today, it is a national park.
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