Rwanda’s Revenue Sharing approach bolstering conservation around Parks
Written by: John Mugisha
Monday, September 2nd, 2019, 7:31
Communities surrounding Rwanda’s national parks are playing a crucial role in the country’s conservation efforts, an official from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) said ahead of an annual gorilla naming ceremony next week called Kwita Izina.
Since 2005, the government adopted a policy where 10 percent of all park revenues is given back to communities. This is done through the funding of community based projects which help rally communities behind conservation. Most of these communities were poachers and encroachers.
As a result, for the past 14 years, a total of over Rwf 5.2 billion (about $5.6 million) in tourism revenue has been used to fund 647 of these projects, according to the tourism department at the Development Board.
Accordingly, in 2018 Rwanda Development Board-RDB said it has allocated 1.4 billion Rwandan Francs (about $1.5 million) to the revenue sharing program, up from 741 million Rwandan Francs (around $806,000) in 2017.
Overall park revenues in 2018 reached over $21.1million, with permits sold to tourists for tracking gorillas bringing in US$19.2 million, the figures show.
Through these revenues, the communities have been able to access clean drinking water, health centers, classrooms and housing to communities living adjacent to Akagera National Park in Eastern Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park in the west and Volcanoes National Park in the north.
“Before we used to encroach on parks to survive because we did have anything to generate income from,” said Jean Pierre Mbonabuceye adding that things have changed now that they have projects where they reap a living from. The fund he says has helped them develop interest in conservation- We have seen a bigger benefit in it, he says.
For example, due to these conservation efforts, the population of the endangered mountain gorilla in the Virunga Massif rose to 604 in 2016 from 480 in 2010, according to a recent report by the Development Board.
Accordingly, the Virunga Massif comprises the Mikeno sector of Virunga National Park in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Before these efforts, the Mountain gorilla numbers in the region slipped to 242 in 1981, a backdrop that put to an end the existence of the endangered species. Currently, with these efforts the species mint more revenues for Rwanda’s economy, putting tourism ahead of other sectors in foreign exchange generation.
“The increasing number of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is proof of the strides made in gorilla conservation. This couldn’t have happened without the support and collaboration of our conservation partners as well as the cooperation of the members of the community surrounding the park,” said RDB Chief Tourism Officer Belise Kariza.
Gearing up for gorilla naming ceremony
In line with the tourism revenue sharing program, RDB recently donated 729 cows to communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park in Burera, Nyabihu, Musanze and Rubavu districts as part of activities leading up to this year’s gorilla naming ceremony slated for Sept. 6.
Such projects provided under the tourism sharing scheme are critical in bettering the lives of communities living near the parks, said Claudine Mujyawamariya.
The revenue sharing program was initiated by the Rwandan government to guide investment in areas surrounding the country’s national parks.
Held under the theme ‘Conservation is Life’, this year’s gorilla naming ceremony will take place in Kinigi at the foothill of Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.
A total of 25 infant mountain gorillas will be named this year, according to development Board.
Kwita Izina is unique to Rwanda, introduced in 2005 to create awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorillas.
A number of activities are lined up as part of this year’s naming ceremony.
They include a conservation exhibition focused on conservation trends and practices and the first ever Business of Conservation Conference.
The conference will attract global conservation leaders, providing a unique platform linking conservation with sustainable tourism by embracing all layers of the value chain, according to RDB officials.
Initiatives such as the gorilla naming ceremony play a major role in conserving gorillas, said Kariza.
She said that due to conservation efforts, Rwanda has been able to improve the gorilla trekking experience for visitors and also increase the amount of support given to local communities through the revenue sharing program.
“Rwanda’s tourism strategy has always focused on two important areas: sustainability through responsible tourism and conservation and community involvement,” she said.
“It has always been about protecting our natural heritage, providing world class experiences that highlight the diverse natural beauty of Rwanda while ensuring that Rwandans benefit from this tourism and conservation. No one has been left behind.”
In 2018, Rwanda hosted 1.711 million visitors, with arrivals up 8% from 2017, RDB figures show.