Preserving biodiversity, protecting livelihoods in Burundi


Located in northeastern Burundi, the Ruvubu National Park is the country’s largest protected ecosystem.  Spread over more than 50 000 hectares, it is home to rare species of plants and animals such as buffaloes. However, this unique ecosystem is threatened by poaching, bush fires, woodcutting, and by the demographic pressure of those living close to the park – 90 per cent of whom earn a living from agriculture.
“The loss of agricultural land has prompted people to illegally exploit small portions of the park”, explains Alexis Nikiza - a biologist belonging to the Association for the Protection of Natural Resources (APRN in French) and working with those living in the villages near to the park.
To raise awareness and involve local communities in the management of the country’s natural resources, since 2011 the Government of Burundi, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UNDP have co-financed a biodiversity conservation project. Spanning a four-year period and with initial funding totaling 3,159,000 USD, the project is aimed at enhancing the protection and sustainable management of national parks that represent around 65 per cent of the country’s protected areas.
Over 100 participatory management support committees for the protection of national parks have been established since then. Public awareness workshops against the evils of bushfires and poaching were organized for the benefit of the thousands of residents living near to the park; and villagers patrol the park every day in collaboration with park rangers to fight poaching.  In addition, anti-erosion methods such as contour farming have been introduced in the agricultural land surrounding the park.
With support from UNDP, the APRN finances micro-projects benefiting residents living near the park. Close to 200 households on the adjacent Rabiro hill have been equipped with more efficient cooking stoves, which help reduce consumption of firewood: “the amount of wood I used to collect for the traditional stove lasted three days; now the same amount lasts six days or more. I hardly ever go to the park to look for wood now”, explains Domine Ntahomvukiye, a villager.
Another project aims at training the villagers in tree production and planting techniques for reforestation purposes. Almost 200,000 plant species - including some endangered species - have been replanted. “Everyone benefits from the project. We don’t see treeless, arid land anymore - we only see lush greenery now”, says Pascal Munambo, another resident of Rabiro hill.
This new awareness is supported by the government’s desire to implement the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and involve all stakeholders in the drafting of an action plan and national strategy.
The project also supports the development of various valuation systems in order to pay for ecosystem services as well as to devise an alternative income generation strategy for neighboring communities.
Source - * This article is based on contributions of communication students at the Université Lumière of Bujumbura as part of a UNDP initiative with support from the GEF.