Building resilience of communities through an ecosystem-based adaptation approach.

BY Lucille Palazy ON 05 May 2015

Rwanda is a small country with the greatest population density in Africa. Rural populations are largely dependent on subsistence agriculture and have few alternative livelihood options. Rwanda's dense population coupled with its dependence on agriculture has resulted in prolific rural poverty and ecosystem degradation. Unsustainable activities such as clearing vegetation for agriculture, overgrazing with livestock and exploiting woodfuel are resulting in deforestation in hilly forest, savanna and wetland ecosystems. These unsustainable activities result in different outcomes in each of these ecosystems.

  • Hilly forests are exposed to increased soil erosion, landslides and flooding.
  • Savannas experience soil erosion, desertification and drought.
  • Wetlands are increasingly flooded and/or have reduced water quality and quantities.

Figure 1. Demand for fuelwood and mining encroaching on one of the last natural remnant forests in Rwanda, Sanza. Alternative sources of energy to woodfuel, sustainable livelihoods based on indigenous tree species and awareness-raising campaigns on the role of natural ecosystems for communities' resilience to climate change will be promoted by the project to reduce pressure on the natural resources.

As Rwanda's ecosystems are subjected to these negative effects, so local communities become more vulnerable to landslides, floods and droughts. This vulnerability is exacerbated as Rwanda's dense population results in the need for people to settle in high-risk areas such as wetlands and steep hillslopes. Thus, the damage of landslides, floods and droughts to local community livelihoods perpetuates a negative cycle of rural poverty and ecosystem degradation.

The negative cycle in Rwanda of rural poverty, ecosystem degradation and damaged livelihoods will be exacerbated by climate change, specifically by an increase in the frequency and severity of landslides, floods and drought. For example, climate models project that the frequency of extreme rainfall events will increase by up to 30% in the short rainy season (September–November) and 50% in the long rainy season (March–May). Furthermore, a prolonged seasonal drought is predicted to occur every two or three years across Rwanda, which will be interspersed with discrete drought events in the southern and eastern regions.

Figure 2. Erosion caused by intense rainfalls in the Muhororo sector, Ngororero district, Western Province. Current and future effects of climate change include increased frequency of intense rainfall which is expected to exacerbate soil erosion.

How is Rwanda to overcome these considerable problems? The first objective is to restore and protect ecological infrastructure in the country. Once restored, ecosystems will provide a range of services that will lessen or prevent the negative effects of climate change. For example, the root systems of restored forests on hilly slopes reduce soil erosion and landslides. This approach – known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) – offers multiple additional benefits to local communities for alleviating poverty such as providing alternative livelihoods that are resilient to climate change.

To support the restoration and protection of Rwanda's ecological infrastructure, C4 EcoSolutions designed a Project Document, financed by the GEF-LDCF. The project is comprised of three components:

  • Component 1 will increase the technical capacity of national and local authorities in the country by increasing the scientific knowledge base for EbA and complementary green technologies and improving the availability of this knowledge nationally. Local authorities will receive technical training on EbA and complementary green technologies and local communities will be exposed to an EbA awareness campaign.
  • Component 2 will promote the inclusion of EbA in national strategies and plans, environmental assessment criteria and local-level development planning. These interventions will reduce institutional barriers by strengthening the policy, planning and legislation context to promote EbA nationally.
  • Component 3 will implement on-the-ground EbA interventions in Rwanda's three most dominant ecosystems, namely: forests, savannas and wetlands. These interventions will provide examples of the benefits of the EbA approach to local communities and policymakers. The interventions under this component include ecosystem restoration and the introduction of complementary green technologies to alleviate anthropogenic pressure on Rwanda's ecosystems. To enhance the climate resilience of local communities further, alternative livelihoods, such as ecotourism and beekeeping will be introduced.

This project will decrease the vulnerability of local communities living in Rwanda and promote the upscaling of the EbA interventions nationally. Through this work, C4 EcoSolutions continues to shape how the world adapts to climate change.

Figure 3. REMA team in an agricultural landscape fully cleared of natural forest. Climate-resilient, income-generating activities including agroforestry will be developed to create incentives for increasing vegetation cover and thereby conserving soils.

Figure 4. Terracing to enable agricultural production on steep hill slopes. This technique will be promoted by the project in Ngororero district to enhance agriculture productivity under the increasing occurrence of intense rainfall