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Story Publication logo May 4, 2023

How Charcoal and Firewood Devour Forests in Rwanda


A person sweeps the floor using a broom. In the front, there is a pile of charcoal.

The population pressure in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda is putting a strain on the forests due to the...

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Charcoal seller Gasabo District city of Kigali. Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

In the districts of Musanze and Gasabo, in the North Province, Rwandans are destroying protected areas, including Nkotsi and Bikara by cutting down trees to burn charcoal in the forests and find firewood.

Augustin Bizimana, one of the residents of Musanze District, Northern Province of Rwanda , claims that due to the lack of firewood, they steal wood from the public forest of Nkotsi and Bikara, protected areas known as the name of “Gihondohondo,” name given in reference to the species of trees which predominates there, Dracaena steudneri.

To cope with this shortage of cooking energy, we play the clever game, Augustin specifies: “One of us is going to deceive the forest rangers during the night by chatting with them while others steal wood in the protected area of ​​Nkotsi."

As compensation, we give him a bundle of wood, he added. The fact that there is population growth around these protected areas is one of the major causes of the slow disappearance of these forests, notes our informant. “For us, energy for cooking is a problem, recognizes Augustin.”

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Charcoal vendors Musanze District. Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

Emelyne Kamariza suggests that the government should make efforts in finding energy for alternative cooking, otherwise the shortage of firewood will continue to fuel conflicts between the population between her and the population and the government. She unfolds it in these terms: “Do you know that if an owner catches you in his forest, he can have you imprisoned, which will cause family conflicts.”

The officer of the RDB (Rwanda Development Board) who is in charge of protecting the forest of Gihondohondo, Muhinzi Alphonse says that they often face those who come to steal wood: “The forest is threatened by those who cut the trees with search for wood for cooking and traditional medicines."

Among those who are caught, there are those who are fined, others brought to justice depending on the seriousness of the offense committed, Muhinzi said.

He indicates for example that there are those who cut the trees in Nkotsi and make charcoal from them for commercial purposes. 

The RDB (Rwanda Development Board) officer responsible for protecting the Gihondohondo forest, Muhinzi Alphonse. Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda demonstrates that the population using firewood for cooking increased from 86.3% between 2010 and 2011 to 79.9% between 2016 and 2017, which shows that the population using firewood is constantly decreasing.

For the moment, the bag of charcoal has reached twenty thousand Rwandan francs, or 20 dollars. You understand that making wood into charcoal is a lucrative business. hammered Muhinzi.

The fact that Gihondohondo is threatened by people trespassing there in search of firewood is confirmed by Nkotsi Sector Executive Secretary Canision Kabera who says people caught in this forest are handed over to security agencies.

He explains it in these words: “It is true that here when people run out of firewood, they go to the public forests, especially Gihondohondo. Moreover, in one week, we catch no less than three people." For him, some people cut down trees to make charcoal at home.

Chart by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

Deforestation due to fuel shortage is also observed in the Jali forest, located in the Gasabo district. The local community cuts trees to burn charcoal. The administration is aware of this.

The secretary for projects in this sector Mr. Bucyana Alexis deplores this behavior and says that they have already arrested more than 20 people in this forest. Bucyana Alexis did not fail to recall that the Jali forest is beneficial for the world in general and Rwanda in particular.

The felling of forests is governed by independent laws, recalls Bucyana. To cut down a tree, one should first seek permission from local authorities and forest managers to verify that the forest is mature to such an extent that it could be harvested and therefore plant other tree seedlings. as a replacement, says Alexis. However, those who do are counted at the fingertips.

Chart by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

In the forest of Jali, many trees have been cut down. Moreover, deforestation continues. However, it is difficult to know the area of ​​the deforested area, he regrets.

Apart from the community bordering the forest of Jali, there are also people from the district of Rulindo, northern province who come to look for firewood there, continues Bucyana.

Deforestation causes food insecurity

Engineer Musoni Protais who is in charge of the environment in Musanze district reveals that the destruction of forests is likely to cause irregular rains. Consequently, food insecurity: “You know that Rwandans depend on rainfall to produce. If they become scarce, production will suffer, which will put pressure on food security. On the other hand, if the forests are well maintained," says Musoni Protais. Rainfall will be regular, agricultural production will be good and certain respiratory and malnutrition-related diseases will decrease. Nsengimana Egide, one of the inhabitants of the Jali sector says this: “The destruction of the Jali forest exposes us to incessant flooding. During the rainy season, all the water from this mountain enters our homes."

Sipdio Nshimiyimana the Acting Director General of the Rwanda Forestry Agency (RFA). Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

The head of the Coalition of non-governmental organizations that care for the environment Rwanda Climate Change Development (RCCD in acronym), Vuningoma Faustin winks at those who damage the environment that the latter is the heart of life daily.

For him, it is difficult to stop people from looking for firewood just to protect biodiversity. But he asks them to plant more trees in order to maintain the forest cover.

It should be noted that Global Forest Watch indicates that the loss of forest cover in Rwanda has evolved unevenly. It fell from 24 hectares in 2010 to 9 hectares in 2015 before rising to 113 hectares in 2020.

Chart by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

Vuningoma Faustin asks the government to lower the prices of alternative energies to charcoal and firewood. For example, gas, electricity, biogas, etc. which can be used for cooking.

According to the director general of the Rwanda Forestry Agency (RFA), Spidio Nshimiyimana, the government is aware of the lack of wood for cooking. However, he assures that the government is doing everything to find a solution to this challenge.

In the meantime, he calls on Rwandans to sacrifice themselves to restore the forests and the hills. In addition, the Rwandan government has initiated the “Canarumwe” project which allows the citizen to save firewood, according to Spidio Nshimiyimana.

Spidio said the Rwandan government plans to reduce the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking by 2024 to 42% and 20% in 2030.

Charcoal seller Gasabo District city of Kigali. Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.

Today, Rwanda can claim to have promoted the use of gas. While in the report made between 2010 and 2011 the use of gas and biogas for cooking does not even exist, in the report published between 2016 and 2017 the use of gas for cooking amounted to 1 .1%.

Rwanda plans to reach 30% of the protected areas of the territory by 2030. Will it achieve its goal? Let’s wait and see.

The Rondeza method which allows citizens to save firewood. Image by The Forefront Magazine. Rwanda, 2022.