Rwanda: Revenue-Sharing Scheme Inspires Communities to Protect Akagera National Park

30 January 2023

Poacher turned welder, Olivier Niyonzima is one of the now so many beneficiaries of the Rwanda Development Board's revenue-sharing programme that is now supporting numerous development projects in Kayonza district.

Instead of poaching, he now spends most of his time in a welding workshop just outside Akagera National park, along with other 30 men and 35 women. According to Niyonzima, there is an improvement in their socio-economic welfare, thanks largely to the revenue-sharing strategy that brought working opportunities to his community in Kabare sector.

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He said: "The past was marred by friction between the authorities tasked to protect the park and members of our community because we would go hunting to kill the wild animals that preyed on our livestock and destroyed our crops. That is no more.

"We have a stake, as the community. It is our role to protect the park. This workshop has helped us increase incomes and feed our families. None of us goes hunting anymore, and we realised the importance of protecting the wildlife."

Niyonzima was talking about a conservation strategy that started in 2005, when Rwanda Development Board (RDB) established an innovative scheme whereby, lately, 10 percent of all tourism revenues goes back to the communities surrounding parks.

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This revenue-sharing scheme seeks to reduce illegal activities in the park as well as improve the living conditions of the surrounding communities by providing viable options for livelihood and compensation to farmers for the loss of productivity due to crop raiding by wildlife. The action of wild animals damaging standing crops by feeding on or trampling on them is a major form of human-wildlife interaction that, in the past, threatened human lives.

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The revenue-sharing programme also benefits residents of other sectors including Mwili, Ndego, and Rwinkwavu.

Kayonza District mayor, John Bosco Nyemazi, told The New Times that ever since the introduction of the programme, Rwf2.5 billion has been invested in different infrastructure projects to benefit Akagera National Park's neighbouring communities.

He said: "Revenue-sharing has helped our neighbouring communities to develop; different infrastructure has been built including schools, mini markets, technical workshops and more. Last year, a slaughterhouse was constructed in Nyankora, and there is a community centre jointly having 34 cooperatives in both honey processing activities and handcrafts.

"All this shows how revenue-sharing is improving communities socio-economically. In this financial year, we received more than Rwf300 million from it."

A few miles from Kabare sector is a busy centre called Kageyo, also located on the outskirts of the park.

Here, customers come to buy vegetables from a mini market built a few months ago.

Janet Mugorewera, a mother of three, is one of the women who makes a living from selling fruits in the mini market.

She said: "I am a widow. Taking care of three children without a steady income has been distressing. With this mini market, I earn some money, thanks to RDB. We are living a better life."

The youth in the area are also involved in sports tournaments with campaigns such as the one dubbed "Lions Trophy," aiming at mobilising communities to protect the park.

Mwili sector's executive secretary, John Ntambara, said they have cooperatives in charge of ensuring that the fishing activities in waters located in the park are not harmful to the environment.

He said: "With this inclusiveness, communities feel obliged to protect the source of their livelihood, and we are seeing the impact. There is little to no trespassing in the national park."

Other districts including Gatsibo in Eastern Province also benefit.

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"Given the importance of the park to our community, we are convinced the animals are our investment. I will protect them by all means," said Jean de Dieu Simugomwa, another beneficiary.

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