Overlooking residential homes in Nasho Cell, Mpanga Sector in Kirehe District is Ibanda-Makera-a 169-hectare natural forest-which is home to several types of wild animals. It also constitutes of a marshland connected to River Akagera.
Since the early 2000s, the little known forest, said to be made up of at least 124 tree varieties, has been undergoing restoration and preservation. In two decades, it had been severely degraded, losing 80 per cent of its original size.
Ibanda-Makera forest is made of savanna trees and bushes, swamps and gigantic trees through which Makera stream flows.
And with animal species like monkeys, snakes, chimpanzees, wild pigs, antelopes, leopards and birds the area is said to the potential to transform surrounding communities through tourism revenues.
"I know the forest; it is a short distance from my home. Many animals in there," says Francois Mbabariye, a resident of Nasho Cell.
"It is one of the tourism potentials of Kirehe District... what we have started doing is bringing it back to its standard, by preventing exploitation, fencing it, adding more acacia trees, nile tulip and ficus trees," said Octavien Ngirabakunzi, an Environment Officer at Kirehe District.
This is part of the long-term plan to rehabilitate parts of the forest that were damaged by human activities.
"While it is not as big as Nyungwe or Gishwati forests, it could still be a touristic place, and "due to the varieties of animals, it needs to be preserved," he stated.
Damascène Gashumba, the Director of Rural Environment Development Organisation (REDO), disclosed that with six savanna forests, the forest cover in this area used to be 10,000 hectares.
Three of the forests have already disappeared, and Ibanda-Makera is one of the surviving ones.
"If tourism is promoted in this forest, at least 10 per cent of Akagera Park visitors will visit this place too," Gashumba says.
Last year, Akagera Park attracted 49,000 visitors, meaning at least 4,900 of them would have visited Ibanda-Makera forest, attracting revenues and improving the livelihood of the surrounding communities.
Gashumba said that a 30-year business plan (from 2020 to 2025) to transform the area into a tourism venue has been submitted to the ministry of environment.
However, the forest still faces challenges of human encroachment, especially cutting trees for charcoal-the main source of cooking fuel in the area.
One of the organisations supporting efforts to protect the forest is REDO. The organisation has donated 5,000 cooking stoves to households in the area in a bid to reduce tree cutting.
The farmers are also encouraged to engage in agroforestry to restore degraded land.
"We go to the marshland and pick dry grass, or go to other people's livestock farms and pick the little dry branches of trees. But cooking fuel is still a big issue," says Callixte Murengerantwari Nasho Cell.
Rwanda Agricultural Board has been conducting research on the tree varieties suitable for the area, and has also introduced measures that restrict trespass in the forest.
In addition, plans are underway to facilitate communities to engage in professional bee keeping activities in the forest.