IWD 2023: Rethinking biodiversity conservation in Rwanda

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AWF is an Africa-based global conservation organization protecting wildlife and their habitats as essential parts of a modern and prosperous Africa. More

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2023 and throughout the month, African Wildlife Foundation is spotlighting the achievements of our women leaders overseeing AWF’s country programs in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Kenya and celebrating the commitment of women in conservation across the continent.

Starting off the series is Belise Kariza, AWF Country Director, Rwanda, sharing how the organization’s continuous support for mountain gorillas and community-based conservation is reshaping the economic outlook of the country.

In partnership with the Government of Rwanda, AWF is deepening its decades-long conservation agenda in the country with the historic expansion of Volcanoes National Park. The innovative project creates an opportunity to deliver on increasing habitat for Rwanda’s mountain gorillas while developing a globally significant resource for climate science and catalyzing economic development in line with the government’s national vision. Success would impact the mountain gorillas and the Virunga mountains and can influence government, financial institutions, and partners in the global community to consider a similar model for economic and biodiversity benefits.

The Resettlement Action Plan currently under development will inform how to carry out, monitor, and ensure human rights and Free, Prior Informed Consent. From September 7, 2022, AWF, Musanze District, and the Rwanda Development Board conducted the first stakeholder engagement in the district by consultation with local authorities. This engagement revolved around discussions with the affected community on detailed project activities and participatory identification of any adverse effects and how they can be avoided or mitigated in compliance with international standards. Finally, the community members elected one man and one woman to represent them in all pilot project activities associated with the Volcanoes National Park expansion.

Following the successful first stakeholder engagement, AWF, Musanze District, and RDB launched the second phase of the community engagement campaign in October 2022, to facilitate the land acquisition process for which communities were supported to register their land titles and understand grievance redress mechanisms. Additionally, AWF and partners facilitated a study tour for community representatives to learn from similar projects implemented in other landscapes.

Signifying AWF’s commitment to conserving mountain gorillas, CEO Kaddu Sebunya was among the namers at the 18th Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s gorilla naming ceremony, in September 2022. For three decades before the first official gorilla naming ceremony in 2005, an homage to a time-honored tradition for Rwandan families to name newborn babies, park rangers and researchers christened Rwanda’s baby mountain gorillas as part of the ongoing work to monitor and ensure the wellbeing of each individual gorilla in their family and habitat.

Kwita Izina was also introduced to create greater awareness of the importance of conservation and appreciate the role of communities for their ongoing and invaluable support to conservation. It has become one of the most important annual conservation events on Rwanda’s calendar and is attended by over 30,000 community members and thousands of international, regional, and local guests each year.

Prior to organizing the inaugural Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, AWF participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in June 2022 as the only conservation organization and associate partner to the Government of Rwanda. AWF’s side event during the Commonwealth Business Forum titled ‘Redefining the Role of Private Finance in Conservation’ convened key stakeholders and shifted their understanding of the benefits of natural resources beyond manufacturing and industry.

AWF seeks to develop partnerships that exemplify how supply and value chains advance conservation outcomes and mitigate biodiversity loss and climate-related shocks. Advocating for impact investing for nature conservation, AWF’s engagements at CHOGM and the Commonwealth Business Forum highlighted how to mobilize resources within the continent to finance conservation efforts as more than 1,000 businesses around the world are calling on governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade.

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