By Daniel Sabiiti
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) will officially take over the management of Gishwati-Mukura park conservation as a touristic entity by next year 2017.
Once handed over, the new national park will become the forth in the country adding to Nyungwe, Virunga, Akagera parks.
Over several decades, Gishwati Forest became nearly completely depleted due to large scale cattle ranching and refugee resettlement. By 2001, only 1500 acres of the original 250,000 remained.
The park has been under the Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) and covers 28 per cent of the country’s surface area.
The project has been behind the idea of transforming the forest reserve into a national park which is home to over 60 species of trees, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo conserved since 2007.
Research oversights indicate that Mukura Forest resources and its ecosystem services are worth more than $1m per year, while the Gishwati forest was estimated to be worth $3m a year.
Patrick Nsabimana, the coordinator of LAFREC, says that conservation activities will be complete by 2017 making the park a potential tourist attraction which will increase tourism revenues.
“Illegal mining activities still pose a threat to the new park, but involving surrounding communities in conservation efforts will be primary, Nsabimana said.
So far 2500 residents have been employed in the implementation of conservation and will support 125 community projects to improve their living conditions.
With accomplished conservation activities, the park will give tourists an opportunity to experience a range of fauna and flora found in the forest.
Tourism is the country’s top income earner bringing in $315 million (over Rwf250 billion) in 2015 and its potential continues to grow with more initiatives being put in place at 25percent increase each year according to annual government targets
The law establishing Gishwati-Mukura Park was adopted in September 2015, and signed by the president and gazatted in February 2016.
By 2020 Gishwati-Mukura, located in the western province of Rwanda along the Congo Nil stretch, is expected to be on the list of internationally recognized conservation reserves.