Rwandan women embrace forest conservation policies

BY Annonciata BYUKUSENGE

Since 2015, some women in Bugesera district in Rwanda have been engaged in the conservation of forests. Their activities and role in the Conservation of forests have attracted other women in the district raising the number from seventeen that started the project to one hundred and fifteen today.

Since March 2020 when COVID 19 broke out in the country, activities of these women for the conservation of forests have been greatly hampered given the need to respect COVID 19 barrier measures with the banning of mass gatherings. Only 5 women were added to the group in 2020.

According to Emmanuel Mukunzi, Bugesera District Environmental Officer, women’s; contribution in Bugesera through their annual plantings of trees has increased exponentially.   In 2019, women planted 8,874 trees. Beside this, their campaigns and sensitization have led to a reduction in the number of damaged wood used as firewood.

Uwamariya Cecile, a woman and member of ‘Friends of the Environment’s a group involved in the Conservation of forests urges  others to conserve the environment especially forests and to encourage their fellow women to reduce forest fires and use natural fuels including gas. “Before I became an environmental friend, I did not understand the importance of forest conservation, but since I stopped burning firewood, I have come to realize that forests are important and I am now urging my colleagues to stop deforestation,” she said.

Eric Rurangwa, has 35-year-old man is a member of the environmental club in Ntarama Sector in Bugesera District. The club consists of 25 members, including 21 women and 4 men. “It has been almost 10 years since this club of us started to unite and campaign for environmental protection. The vast majority is women and we are proud to see women interested in environmental conservation, especially forests,” says Rurangwa.

Renatha Uwambajemariya, a woman has 35 years old. An interview with Rwandanews24, despite living in an area where there is no “Friends of Environment” club,   she was going to decide to start an environmental awareness campaign, in the Ntarama Sector where she lived there were no environmental clubs.

After receiving training on environmental conservation, she immediately realized that forest conservation was necessary for human health and the biodiversity network. She immediately decided to find other women and started campaigning. Now, she looks forward to changing the narrative in her area and reducing the process of cutting down trees for wood.

Joining environmental clubs has changed their lives

Uwambajimana said: “There is not much development in this area because it is a rural area. Women grow firewood in the forest or send children there. But it has changed as it seems to have not yet disappeared, as we do our best to sensitize our fellow women to use greenhouse gases such as gas, bio-gas or fuel-burning fuels and not pollute the air even though most have limited access to it. »

She added that during this journey, the government has been helping them to achieve this and to find sponsors to help them with some of the advocacy activities in the community and encourage them to conserve the environment, especially the forests.

“Because the authorities have seen our productive campaigns, they are looking for different donors, for example, the Red Cross Rwanda, which is helping us to plant and plant tree seedlings to replenish forests, because in our area, we are more prone to deforestation,” she said. »

Uwambajimana says that being in the environmental protection clubs has many benefits, as the government is now looking for a partner to help them get debt-ridden gas, and pay it off in installments until the debt is settled. This opportunity is only for members of the Friends of the Environment. The support has given members of “Friends of Environment” more confidence and strength in their performance as it helps them to understand the benefits of being involved in the forest conservation movement.

Challenges women face in forest protection campaigns

Campaigns for the conservation of forests have over the years not been a culture in the district. As some women embrace the campaign moving in quarters and to council areas advocating the need to plant trees and stop deforestation, many both men and women mock them for abandoning their household chores to campaign for environmental protection. To those against women engaging in such activities, such campaigns are misconduct by women.

With a global health crisis, their activities have also been disrupted by Covid19 as government initiatives in collaboration with the health sector to prevent the spread of the pandemic include the prohibition of group meetings. To maintain physical distance, visiting People in homes or neighbors to campaign for forest conservation has halted.

Turahirwa Francine is married and a woman of 4 children. To her, her husband has been a major support to her environmental awareness campaign. “I noticed there were no forest conservators in my area so I had to take the challenge”. Turahirwa said: “My husband welcomed it because he was the one who encouraged me to join the environmental group and help me feel that I will have a better understanding of the forest and its importance.”

The support of her husband gives her the power to campaign with confidence, but also keeping in mind that she is a woman with a family to take care of so thus  she schedules she equally sets  time for her family.

Forest Officer in Ntarama Sector in Bugesera District Mr. Ntwari Claude, in an interview with Rwandanews24 said that women have been productive in forest conservation since they started forming groups.

“Women play an important role in forest conservation because they have helped us to raise awareness and talk to each other so that firewood growers in the forest have decreased,” he said. 22.663 trees have been planted by women from 2015 to 2020

Emile Mukunzi is an environmental officer in Bugesera district. He acknowledged that these environmental groups are of great importance to them because they help them to campaign for the betterment of the environment, especially forests. But as a government, they also have something to do with them such as explaining to them the differences between trees planted in the forest and ‘trees mixed with crops (agroforestry and forestry).

According to Bugesera district report/IMIHIGO published in 2020, the agroforestry planted in Bugesera district from 2016 to 2020 are planted on 653.04ha, forestry are planted on 791.29ha and damaged forests in Bugesera district from 2016 to 2020 were planted on 83ha.

As a result of a forestation and conservation in Iburasirazuba (Eastern Province), Bugesera district, trees are planted on an area of ​​500 Hectares per year.

According to the world forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch (GFW), in 2010 Iburasirazuba had 73.0kha of natural forest extending over 8.3% of its land area. In 2019 it lost 62.3ha of natural forest, equivalent to 8.46kt of CO2 emissions.

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