Rwanda is endowed with rich biological diversity comprised of a great diversity of plants, animals and habitats which make the country unique.
Rwanda has diverse habitats and ecosystems that range from humid montane forests to savannahs, lakes, rivers and wetlands which support a wide range of biodiversity. However, the Country’s biodiversity faces various threats which has led to loss of species, shrinkage in population sizes and ecosystem degradation. Rwanda’s development agenda recognizes the important and central role that biodiversity and natural resources play in terms of supporting the country’s economic growth, livelihoods as well as in the provision of critical ecosystem services such as water, soil erosion and flood control as well as climate change mitigation. Therefore, conservation of the environment and natural resources has been well integrated in country’s development blueprints such as Vision 2020 Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II); Vision 2050; and the National Strategy for Transformation (NSTI 2018-2024).
In 1995, Rwanda ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the act which provided the formal framework for the implementation of the provisions of the Convention especially its three objectives namely: (i) the conservation of biological diversity; (ii) the sustainable use of its components; and (iii) the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
By 2020, the country increased the forest cover to 30% of the total land area with the forest of 724, 695 ha (30.4%) in according to 2019 forest cover mapping report. The population of the Mountain Gorilla continue to increase and Rwanda hosts half of the existing global population (estimated at 1,004 individuals by Hickey et al. 2018). In 2021, 30 White Rhinos have been introduced in Akagera National Park after where 23 Black Rhinos in 2017 & 2019; and 11 lions have been re-introduced after 10-year absence. There is a tremendous increase in populations of other species such as Eastern Chimpanzee, Golden Monkeys, and the Grey Crowned Cranes. And the tourism continues to grow with significant part of it being nature based.
The government recognizes the need for sensitization and capacity building of its citizens on environmental matters including biodiversity issues; especially those communities that live adjacent to key ecosystems such as parks and other protected areas (NBSAP, 2016). The livelihoods of these communities are dependent on exploitation of natural resources which they tend to over exploit. This degrades the natural resource base. By raising awareness on the importance and value of biodiversity resources, the government hopes to endear these protected areas to the communities and rally them to conserve them.
Three components of biodiversity are ecosystem, species and genetic diversity:
Rwanda is in the highlands of the Albertine Rift, an important ecological structure in the region of eastern and central Africa, a generally mountainous region heavily dissected by a complex network of rivers, lakes, and wetlands; thus, the name “the land of a thousand hills”. The highest peak is Karisimbi (4,507m), one of 8 major volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. Rwanda’s landscapes and natural forests in particular are very rich in biodiversity including numerous species that are endemic. Rwanda has diverse ecosystems that range from humid montane and planted forests to savannahs, water resources and wetlands. The country has the largest mountain rainforests in Africa, which is home to closed-canopy forests, bamboo thickets and open flower-filled marshes.
Rwanda is home for 402 mammals (which accounts for 40 percent of the entire continent’s mammalian species); 1,061 bird species, 293 reptile and amphibian species and 5,793 higher plant species. Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are a very important species in Rwanda because they generate tourism revenue and are found in only two other countries. The Chimpanzee (Pan troglodyte ), another critically endangered species, has about 500 individuals. There are many There are many other primates including endemic species that have made Rwanda to be referred to as a primatologist’s paradise (RoR, 2020b).
Genetic material is any material of plant, animal, microbial, bacteria or other origin used for research or product development. In order to know and understand the diversity present in the country, an inventory of plant, animal and aquatic genetic resources must be carried out. The latest stock taking exercise was taken in 2016 by FAO (FAO, 2016). In Rwanda, there is a rich history of traditional knowledge related to medicinal plants, agriculture, animal husbandry, food storage, natural resource management, ecological systems and wildlife. Most of this knowledge is oral and passed from generation to generation usually within families.
With a growing market needs for ‘nature based’ cosmetics, medicines, pesticides, there is a constant search for new plants, microbes, animal parts (Genetic Resources) that can be commercialized or purely researched and knowledge of local communities on how to utilize or maintain these genetic resources (associated Traditional Knowledge) are helpful ‘strings’ for identifying claims. REMA has conducted national inventory of traditional knowledge which includes biodiversity knowledge and has developed an excellent guideline and a toolkit for accessing and sharing of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources for providers, users, and regulatory institutions (REMA, 2019a). In addition, Rwanda is part of the East African Bioeconomy initiative which is working on validation of genetic resources for the bioeconomy.
The National Gene Bank of Rwanda is carrying out ex situ conservation for orthodox seeds (maize, wheat, rice, bean etc.) and ex situ conservation of field gene bank for vegetatively propagated plants, non-orthodox seed producing plants and plants that require a long-life cycle to generate breeding/planting materials. In future, Rwanda National Gene bank will collect and conserve beneficial microbial genetic resources (mushroom mycelium, rhizobia); conserve small stock animal genetic resources (goats, pigs, chicken, sheep), and conserve forestry genetic resources starting with endangered species. The gene bank will continue to enrich its existing plant genetic resources accessions through collection and conservation of different plant genetic resources (RAB, 2021).
Access and benefit-sharing (ABS) which refers to the utilization and access of genetic resources and promotion of equitable benefits between users and providers, is a key element of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Rwanda has been a Party to the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biodiversity since October 2014 and has made efforts to develop an enabling legal and institutional framework for the implementation of the Protocol. Some of the legal instruments relating to the management of the country’s biodiversity include a draft Ministerial Order governing access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use; the Law n°48/2018 of 13/08/2018 on environment, which determines the modalities of protection, conservation, and promotion of the environment; Law No. 70/2013 of 02/09/2013, which governs biodiversity; and Law No. 31/2009 of 26/10/2009, which enforces protection of intellectual property rights. Rwanda developed its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) (2016) in 2003 and adopted a Biodiversity Policy in 2011 and a Biodiversity Law in 2013. In 2019, REMA and UNDP with University of Rwanda developed “Guideline and Toolkit for Access and Benefit Sharing of Traditional Knowledge Associated with Genetic Resources in Rwanda”
This was adopted in Montreal, Canada in May 2000. Rwanda signed the Protocol in 2002. The Protocol, among others, spells out the transboundary movement of GMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources, and the adoption of the appropriate procedure for Advance Informed Agreement (AIA). In order to fulfill Rwanda’s commitments under the CPB, the Government of Rwanda (GoR) has formulated a draft Biosafety law. Recognizing the complexity of the requirements of safe transfer, movement, handling and use of biotechnology in Rwanda, a national strategy for implementation of biosafety framework was prepared in 2020 to be used by the GoR and other stakeholders as referral guidance (REMA, 2021). 80
Rwanda has following two UNESCO Biosphere reserves: -
Volcans Biosphere Reserve designed in 1983 is located in northwestern of Rwanda on the border between Rwanda, DRC and Uganda and is composed by five volcanoes including Kalisimbi, Muhabura, Bisoke, Sabyinyo and Gahinga. The Volcans Biosphere Reserve is part of the Albertine Rift, an especially important ecological structure in the region of eastern and central Africa. It has a surface area of 160,000 ha covered by rainforest and bamboo. It is home to 30 percent of global population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). It has 115 mammals’ species, 187 bird species, 27 reptile
Nineteen national targets for biodiversity conservation were defined in line with the Biodiversity Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020: 6 Rwanda - Fifth National Report to the CBD
Target 1: By 2020, at the latest, Rwandan people are aware of the values of biodiversity and ecosystems services as well as apprehend the steps for use and conserve them sustainably.
Target 2: By 2020, the values of biodiversity and ecosystems’ services have been integrated into planning processes, poverty reduction strategy and into national economy.
Target 3: By 2020, at the latest, positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainability towards local communities’ development are boosted and applied. Harmful incentives are eliminated.
Target 4: By 2020, public and private sectors and civil society have promoted and implemented plans that consider ecosystem carrying capacity.
Target 5: By 2020, natural ecosystems, especially identified “Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)” sites are safeguarded, their degradation and fragmentation reduced.
Target 6: By 2020, fishing and aquaculture, agriculture and forestry are managed sustainably, legally and taking into consideration ecosystem specificities to ensure biodiversity conservation.
Target 7: By 2020, environmental pollutants including those from excess nutrients are controlled and their harm has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.
Target 8: By 2020, invasive alien species, their pathways, spatial distribution are identified. Harmful species are controlled or eradicated, and related mitigation measures are put in place.
Target 9: By 2020, at least 10.3 per cent of land area is protected to maintain biological diversity.
Target 10: By 2020, the extinction of threatened species are prevented and their conservation status improved, particularly for those that are most endangered of extinction.
Target 11: By 2020, the genetic diversity of local animal breeds and landraces as well as their wild relatives are conserved, thus in order to minimize genetic erosion.
Target 12: By 2020, the potential risks resulting from biotechnology use and placement on the market of its products have been minimized and/or eliminated.
Target 13: By 2020, all ecosystems that provide essential services to human well-being and contribute to health as well as livelihoods are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of local communities especially the vulnerable groups.
Target 14: By 2020, 30% of the country is covered by forests hence increasing carbon stocks and contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Target 15: By 2017, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is integrated into national legislation and administrative practices and enforced.
Target 16: By 2016, Rwanda has developed, adopted as a policy instrument, and has commenced implementing an effective, participatory and updated National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP).
Target 17: By 2020, values of traditional knowledge, cultural heritage and practices of local communities relevant for sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity are enhanced, fully integrated into national policy and legal framework and reflected in the implementation of the NBSAP.
Target 18: By 2020, knowledge in biodiversity status, values, causes and consequences of biodiversity loss, is enhanced, shared across the country and reflected in the implementation of the NBSAP.
Target No 19: By 2020, at the latest, the mobilization of financial resources for an effective implementation of NBSAP from all potential sources, and in accordance with agreed process in the strategy for resource mobilization, is reinforced and reach an appreciable level.