Africa leads the way in Sustainable Forest Management

At the end of September 2011, the National Forest Policy of Rwanda won first place at the annual awards for policies aimed at creating better living conditions for future generations, an award backed by the United Nations. As 2011 was declared year of the forests by the UN, that was the topic of this year’s awards sponsored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The runners-up were the United States and, another African country, the Gambia, with its Community Forest Policy. As African countries are taking home the gold and silver medals for forestry, the question that logically arises is what the rest of the world can learn from two of its poorest nations in terms of sustainable forestry management and forestry investments.
The Republic of Rwanda is an African country, which suffered 65% forest loss between the 1960s and 1990s. The situation was further complicated by the 1994 genocide, which also negatively affected the environment and forests in the country with the increasing demand of wood needed for the reconstruction that followed. The overall degradation of soil, water, land and forestry resources presented enormous challenges to the future of the nation’s survival. However, despite the existing land and population pressure, Rwanda has managed to reverse the declining forest cover. The concept underlying the adoption of environment and forest restoration measures was that taking care of the environment would help reduce poverty and secure the survival of the population that was expected to double over the course of the next 30 years.
The award-winning policy of Rwanda was introduced in 2004 to promote massive reforestation, as the country ratified the Kyoto protocol the same year. The local population was involved in planting activities that promoted species indigenous to the area. Measures also included agro-forestry as well as education about forest management. Forestry investments and sustainable development resulted in a multitude of ecological, social and economic benefits. What the national forest policy managed to accomplish was an increase of 37% in Rwanda’s forest cover between 1990 and 2010. Furthermore, Rwanda became a pioneer in the banning of plastic bags by adopting a law in 2008 against the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags.