In a move to boost the forestry sector and promote sustainable management practices, the government has authorized the allocation of 7,716 hectares of state forests to private investors for responsible harvesting and oversight.
The decision, approved by the cabinet, aims to enhance the country’s forest management while driving economic growth through strategic partnerships with selected companies.
The four companies chosen for the management and harvesting responsibilities are Ecopen Ituze Ltd, Kayonza Distributors Company, Ekaterra Tea Rwanda Ltd, and Ikizere Silviculture Limited.
The ambitious target set by the government is to privatize the management of 80 percent of state forests by 2024, amounting to 49,188 hectares. Notably, progress has been made, with 63 percent already achieved, a significant increase from 38 percent recorded last year.
There are currently ongoing negotiations covering an additional 15,198 hectares with potential investors awaiting cabinet approval. The negotiation process includes field visits, vetting, due diligence, and assessment of technical proposals before finalizing agreements under the supervision of the Prime Minister.
World Nature Conservation Day, celebrated on July 28, served as a backdrop to unveil the developments in state forests’ management privatization. This annual event seeks to raise awareness about the crucial need to preserve the environment and natural resources for the betterment of the world.
Forestry sector revenues have seen remarkable growth, surging from Rwf 164 billion in 2007 to Rwf 649 billion in 2021. With the privatization of all state-owned forests, the estimated annual revenue is projected to surpass Rwf 200 billion.
Rwanda currently possesses approximately 27 percent of the nation’s total forests, equivalent to 61,485 hectares, excluding national parks. The total forest cover across the country stands at 30.4 percent, encompassing 724,662 hectares. These forests are primarily 53 percent plantations, 21 percent wooded savannas in the east, 19 percent natural mountain rainforests, and 6.2 percent shrubs.
The Forest Sector Strategic Plan, executed between 2018 and 2024, has been a significant investment for Rwanda, amounting to Rwf 82.2 billion. Private investors have been required to engage in reforestation efforts following the harvesting of mature trees. To bolster the wood industry and ensure long-term sustainability, the Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA) has designated five tree species with high economic value for reforestation purposes.
These species include Pinus spp, Eucalyptus spp, Podocarpus falcatus (Umufu), Cedrela odorata, and Entandrophragma excelsum (Umuyove or Libuyu). Notably, Umuyove was chosen due to its status as the only premium timber that naturally grows in Rwanda, making it highly sought-after in the local timber market.
As Rwanda continues to promote reforestation and sustainable forest management practices, there is a strong focus on native tree species to preserve the ecological balance. The timber industry has already contributed to the livelihoods of over 75,000 individuals, primarily in rural areas, with employment opportunities stemming from charcoal production, wood production, distribution, and selling.
A recent study revealed a substantial increase in employment within the wood processing and trade sector, growing from 12,000 jobs in 2017 to 23,000 jobs in 2019.
The trade of Rwandan forest timber is estimated to range from 215,000 to 235,000 cubic meters per year, with an approximate total value of $76 million annually.