RWANDA, WHERE THEY WALK THE TALK ON FOREST CONSERVATION
(NASA Earth Observatory Picture, showing Gishwati Forest and its location in relation to Lake Kivu)
When I hear suggestions why dont you just move there from nit picking members of the envy crowd here in Kampala, I know they mean Rwanda, a country which has won my heart on so many levels. Small but oh la la always comes to my mind when I report about tourism product innovations, newly introduced features and events from the presently three national parks. I am therefore happy to draw some more fire from those chaps and go on reporting about the arguably next, fourth Rwandan national park, one in the making for sure, by the name of Gishwati Forest. During the week did the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources Stanislas Kamanzi visit the Gishwati area to inspect progress on re-forestation of up to 3.000 hectares of previously degraded forest land, from where two years ago several hundred families were evicted after encroaching the forest and cutting trees to create land for cultivation. With those families successfully resettled, planting of trees, indigenous hardwood but also bamboo, went ahead and the entire 3.000 hectares are expected to be replanted by late in 2012.
With this major forest restoration then complete, the scene is set for yet greater use of the forest for tourism, and it is understood that trails are being mapped out already to show the fascinating sights of the forest and its landscapes to tourists, willing to pay premium rates to experience the literally untouched wilderness areas deep inside the forest valleys. The forest is also home to primates, legions of birds, butterflies, orchids and rare medicinal shrubs and trees, where research has not even scratch the surface of its unlimited potential yet. There is even speculation that in a private public partnership a second forest canopy walk may in fact be created in Gishwati, similar to the hugely popular and financially successful canopy walk in the enchanted forest, aka Nyungwe, which has drawn growing numbers of visitors to the park where they are able to see into the treetops and beyond from as much as 200 feet up. More visitors means more entrance fees, more discretionary spending on site and more hospitality facilities needed which provide both primary and secondary jobs, evidence that tourism has the potential, and is exploited towards that end in Rwanda, to be a lead sector in East Africas economies.
Yet, across the various borders things in the forestry sectors are not well at all, with Uganda recording massive shrinkage of her forests, Kenya diddling on the issue of one of the countrys key water towers, the Mau Forest and in Tanzania having the UNESCO application for recognition of a World Heritage Site withdrawn last year upon a directive by President Kikwete of the Eastern Arc Mountains, where logging companies are now licking their fingers to get their concessions and turn forest heritage into short lived cash.
Again, Rwanda stands firm and stands out in her commitment towards promoting biodiversity and protecting her environment, all the more commendable as it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, if not THE most densely populated country. But smart thinkers in top echelons of government see more clearly where their future lies and how they can ensure long term economic prosperity. Tourism, nature tourism and in particular the highly rated forest tourism is a key to that prosperity.
Gishwati is very much on this correspondents visiting programme for Rwanda in 2012, as is a return to the enchanted forest, aka Nyungwe to personally assess once again how forests can be turned into tourism assets while at the same time improving the micro climate and serving as crucial water towers. Watch this space.