Rwanda’s National Forest Policy

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy


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Despite continuing population and land pressures, Rwanda is achieving a major reversal in the trend of declining forest cover. A National Forest Policy, with the ambition of making forestry one of the bedrocks of the economy and ensure a national ecological balance with sustainable benefits for all segments of society, was implemented in 2004 and most recently updated in 2018. In 2011, Rwanda’s National Forest Policy was recognised as the world’s most inspiring and innovative forest policy with a Gold Future Policy Award.

Wangari Maathai
“Rwanda has sought not only to make its forests a national priority, but has also used them as a platform to revolutionise its stances on women’s rights and creating a healthy environment”

Wangari Maathai
Honorary World Future Councillor, Founder of the
Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, (1940-2011).

At a Glance
  • As the population in Rwanda grows, so does the demand for nutrition and energy, resulting in increased pressure on natural resources such as land and water.
  • The National Forest Policy acknowledges the crucial role forests play for the livelihood of Rwandese people and governs a process of restoring degraded landscapes and protecting natural forests.
  • Key governance areas of the Forest Policy include strong institutions, sustainable forest management, private sector participation, woody biomass energy, forest ecosystem conservation, participatory forest management, agroforestry and trees outside forest development.
  • In 2019, Rwanda reached its goal of increasing forest cover to 30% of total land area one year ahead of plan despite continuing population and land pressures and is now aiming to fulfil its Bonn Challenge commitment of bringing 2 Mha under restoration by 2030.
  • The Rwandese people benefit from the restored forests through improved food security and poverty alleviation. This is due to the role that forests play in the prevention of land degradation and protection of watershed.

Last Update: 2020

Policy Reference

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy (initiated in 2004, updated in 2010 and most recently updated in 2018).

Connected Policies

Forest Sector Strategic Plan 2018 – 2020

National Strategy for Transformation (NST 1)

Vision 2020

Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy

National Environment and Climate Change Policy

Law Nº 47bis/2013 of 28/06/2013 Determining the Management and Utilisation of Forests in Rwanda.

Law N° 17/2008 of 20/06/2008 Establishing the National Forest Authority (NAFA) and determining its Organisation, Functioning and Responsibilities.

Law N° 04/2005 of 08/04/2005 Organic Law determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of environment in Rwanda.

Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda.

Bonn Challenge

Selection as a Future-Just Policy

In Rwanda in particular, the population’s well-being is very closely linked to the state of the country’s ecosystems. This policy aims to make forestry a bedrock of the economy, and of the national ecological balance, by providing a comprehensive legal framework. It focuses on an increase of forest cover and a provision of environmental services for the population: Improving the management of existing woodlots in conjunction with restoring forests reduces pressure to collect fuel wood from natural and protective forests and improves energy security. Using agroforestry on existing agricultural land improves crop production, reduces erosion (thereby increasing access to clean water), and reduces pressure on natural forests to supply fuel wood. By taking a landscape approach to restoration, the productivity of degraded landscapes can be recovered in the fullest possible way.

Alongside the Vision 2020 initiative, this policy set the goal of ensuring that Rwanda’s forest cover is well-managed and increased to 30 % of the country’s total land area by 2020. This goal was reached in 2019. The forest cover is now 30.4%. Also, beyond 2020 Rwanda aims at improving forest productivity, further increasing forest cover and scaling up agroforestry. Since the very beginning Rwanda is part of the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

The policy has achieved a significant national increase in forest cover, despite a rising population, and Rwanda is one of very few countries in Africa with net forest growth. Research interviewees highlighted that the policy had shown input from many different stakeholders including NGOs and other civil society members during its development.

Future-Just Policy Scorecard

Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.

   Sustainable use of natural resources

  • This policy plays a crucial role in increasing forest cover and in maintaining an ecological balance as key a foundation of sustainable development.
  • By increasing forest cover, the Forest Policy contributes to the mitigation of climate change and assists in climate regulation.
  • Attention is paid to the maintenance of natural forest cover and the preservation of some regional species such as medicinal plants.
  • Rwanda possesses a comprehensive institute (Agoratum) which conserves more than 205 species.

   Equity and poverty eradication

  • More than 94% of the Rwandan population depends on wood as a source of energy. Improved management of forests through afforestation and reforestation helps to diversify income-generating activities.
  • Climate moderation (through moisture regulation, reduction of soil erosion and fertility losses and mitigation against climate change), leading to a reduction in the frequency of droughts, is likely to improve agricultural productivity.
  • Increased forest cover reduces the extent of silt build-up and contributes to increased water access. Community members who plant trees in fragile ecosystems are paid for planting and managing the seedlings.
  • Article 3 of the Constitution says that every citizen has the right to live in a safe environment. Article 7 focuses on environmental protection and Article 2 on the sustainability of the environment to underline inter-generational equity.
  • Social justice is promoted, as those who plant, and therefore own, the trees are able to sell the wood at market, use it as charcoal for firewood and for construction. These activities generate income which benefit local communities and promotes poverty eradication.
  • More than 50 % of the Members of Parliament are female. Women are mainstreamed in budgetary processes, education and environmental policies.

   Precautionary approach

  • The National Forestry Policy is harmonised with and implements the principles of the Environmental Policy of 2003 which includes, among others, the principles of precaution, sustainability, information dissemination and community cooperation.
  • An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for all projects to assess any negative impacts and put mitigation measures in place if necessary. The responsible institution is the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) which oversees all projects that are implemented at a national level including public and private projects.
  • According to the EIA procedure, a project will not be granted permission without supportive scientific evidence. But in any event, if people are negatively impacted, compensation is required by the Constitution and environmental law.

   Public participation, access to information and justice

  • Article 7 of the Environmental Law contains the provision that every person has the right to take part in the decision-making strategies aimed at protecting the environment. There are public hearings, as stipulated by Article 9 of the guidelines for the EIAs.
  • There are local planning forums for project planning, implementation and oversight which apply equally to local forestry management.
  • Information sharing constitutes the modus operandi for policy formulation and validation to ensure public participation is attained prior to cabinet approval.
  • Public consultation guidelines include avenues for redress for all stakeholders.

    Good governance and human security

  • The National Forestry Authority (NAFA) was established in 2008 to promote transparent, prompt and effective implementation of the forestry policy provisions. NAFA has a board of directors who report to the ministry and as such provide additional measures for enhanced transparency in the implementation of the policy provisions.
  • There are many stakeholders involved in implementation at different levels. District levels are divided into sectors again divided into cells. Forest officers work at the district level and cells have to prepare tree nurseries for their areas. The community itself is also involved at these lower levels.
  • Forest owners don’t have a right to degrade their forests. There are approved traditional approaches of solving a conflict for people engaged in disputes using local leadership structures. If a conflict cannot be resolved through these structures, then the dispute is referred to the justice system. These procedures are clearly stipulated in the forestry law.
  • The anticorruption law provides penalties for corruption and the code of conduct has zero tolerance for corruption. If forest officers who operate at the local level are found violating existing policy guidelines, the applicable law is invoked and the cases are referred to the justice system.

   Integration and interrelationship

  • In terms of integrating social justice, the aim was to develop in a way that deliberately avoided discrimination and promoted equitable distribution of resources to promote social justice. A poverty strategy was put in place for four years and had the target of mainstreaming environmental protection into economic development and, as a sub-programme, sustainable management of natural resources for income generation.
  • Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) must be conducted for all projects and some projects with potential negative consequences have been cancelled (for example, a hotel project in the wetlands).
  • The policy seeks to improve the management of forests in a way that promotes sustainability and environmental protection. For example, the policy stipulates a reduction in eucalyptus use, as it is not ecologically sound, and promotes the use of indigenous tree species instead.
  • Healthy forests prevent land degradation which is important for agriculture and thus for combating poverty. Moreover, local people are the first to receive the income from their own forest, as they are allowed to sell forest and non-forest products.

   Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • The policy was subject to broad stakeholder validation in a participatory manner as a prerequisite for its adoption.
  • Local initiatives promote forest planting and are increasingly using adaptive species particularly targeting agroforestry to improve nutrition and income generation for local communities.
  • Indigenous species are promoted. The invasion of exotic species such as pine and eucalyptus is regarded as responsible for ecosystem degradation.
  • At the Volcano national park, revenues gained from tourism are shared by the communities around the park.

Rwanda lies at the heart of the Albertine Rift eco-region which is one of Africa’s most biologically diverse regions, home to some 10.3% of the earth’s mammal species and 40% of the continent’s mammal species (402 species). Rwanda has four national parks: the Akagera National Park, the Nyungwe National Park and the Volcanoes National Park, all of them being transboundary. Recently, the Gishwati Mukura natural forests have been gazetted as a National Park.

The natural forest cover in Rwanda dramatically declined by 65% in the 40 years after 1960. This decrease was partially fuelled by the genocide, state collapse and breakdown of law and order in 1994 which led to a sky-rocketing demand for wood to reconstruct the country. The general population in Rwanda heavily depends on forest services, as forests help prevent land degradation and provide watershed protection, thus making agriculture viable. A majority of the Rwandan population work in agriculture and over 96 % of them use wood as a major source of domestic energy.

High population density and growth rates have led to over-harvesting, triggering land degradation and as a result food insecurity, aggravation of poverty as well as loss of wildlife habitat and plant species. This situation had worsened because of an insufficient number of forest technicians, infrequent forest projects and an increased population which led to the new national forestry policy in 2004.


The overall goal is to make forestry a bedrock of the economy and of the national ecological balance. Furthermore, the National Forest Policy from 2018 identifies 7 main policy areas and associated objectives:

  1. Institutional Capacity: The capacity of forest institution and actors will be enhanced to match the requirements for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).
  2. Sustainable Forest Management: Ensure SFM through the establishment and implementation of integrated forest management plans at all levels.
  3. Private Sector Participation: Private sector will be encouraged to increase their investment in forestry sector.
  4. Woody Biomass Energy: Appropriate regulatory instruments will be developed and implemented to ensure sustainable and efficient biomass supply.
  5. Forest Ecosystem Conservation: Biodiversity and ecosystems services and values will be enhanced in accordance with national and international agenda.
  6. Participatory Forest Management: Active participation of stakeholders in Sustainable Forest Management to ensure ownership and proper benefit sharing.
  7. Agroforestry and Trees Outside Forest (TOFo) Development: The adoption of Agroforestry and TOFo techniques will be enhanced to contribute to overall forest resources and agriculture productivity.

Rwanda´s political will is also reflected in its national Green Growth and Climate-Resilient Strategy (GGCRS), the framework for the country to become a developed, climate-resilient, low-carbon economy by 2050.

Methods of Implementation

The policy turns to a variety of implementation means including:

  • Afforestation programmes for all susceptible free land (which includes fragile zones, ravines, mountain tops, human settlement areas, cities and towns etc.) involving local citizens.
  • Developing agroforestry by the identification of appropriate and valuable species for agroforestry/afforestation according to ecological zones and research and to facilitate the access to forestry and agroforestry seedlings for the population.
  • Assessing national forest resources including both available and consumed resources and needs.
  • Strengthening laws and regulation related to forest management.
  • Building capacity of forestry institutions by the recruitment of additional staff and a review of forestry financing mechanisms.
  • Ensuring good management of the National Forest Fund and strengthening District Forest Funds and capacities of Districts in forest management.
  • Setting-up strategies for the sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFP) by the use of modern technology.
  • Setting-up mechanisms for collaboration between the State and the private sector in forest management
  • Educating the population on forest management and agroforestry by courses related to forest management in the school curricula and public campaigns.
  • Saving wood by the dissemination of alternative sources of energy and wood-saving techniques while devising strategies to prevent the harvest of pole size trees.
  • Strengthening sub-regional and international cooperation in forestry by the development of common strategies for trans-boundary forests, the handling of common disasters (e.g. diseases, wildfires, etc) and participation in international meetings related to forests to establish mechanisms for cooperation and information exchange as well as a joint team for research and management of forest disasters.
  • Identifying constraints which are likely to prevent women from participating in forest-related activities by collaboration with women organisations.

In addition to the strategies listed above, guiding principles are stated, including:

  • A reduction of the negative ecological impacts of manmade forests to a minimum.
  • The development of agroforestry to be emphasised.
  • Research on fragile ecological zones to receive particular attention.
  • Stakeholders involved in the decision-making process including public institutions, civil society, private operators and youth and women’s associations.
  • The current system of ‘public forest management contracts’ with private entrepreneurs will continue to gradually delegate power for the management of public forests to private managers.
  • Any forest, regardless of the ownership, shall always be considered of common interest.
  • Indigenous plant species which are on the verge of extinction require protection. This is especially the case for plant species used as raw material for local traditional medicines.

An important institutional arrangement was made in 2008 with the establishment of the National Forest Authority. Whereas the implementation of the 2004 Forestry Policy was monitored by Provincial Commissions on forests, the responsibility shifted to the National Forestry Authority, which is now in charge of monitoring and evaluation, as well as necessary reporting, alongside local government. The National Forest Authority has a Board of Directors as its supreme organ which is responsible for making decisions.

The government has also taken action to streamline and improve the management of afforestation and restoration, including agroforestry initiatives. One of the major steps taken was the transfer of the national tree seed centre and oversight of agroforestry to the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, instead of continuing the joint ownership structure with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Since its establishment in 2015, a cross- sectoral task force, which includes members representing agriculture, education, forestry, land administration, livestock management and mining, has worked to integrate a restoration agenda and its multiple benefits to nature into national planning processes.


Whereas Rwanda’s forest area has been experiencing a dramatic decline before 2000, there was a net increase in forest cover of approximately 13 % between 2005 and 2010 from 385,228 ha to 435,228 ha. This equates to forest cover of 18 % of the total land area in 2010. Compared to 1990 levels the net increase in forest cover was an even greater 37 %.

In 2019, Rwanda reached its goal of increasing forest cover to 30% of total land area one year ahead of plan. Currently, Rwanda has 708.629 ha forest under restoration. 17% of the restored forest landscapes are found within protected areas.

Budget increases in the forest fund from US $ 1.368.163 in 2004 to US $ 4.000.000 in 2019 were spent on an afforestation / reforestation programme. Its positive impacts include the greening of the Bugesera Region, the afforestation of Umutara in Eastern province and the recovery of more than 600ha of forest in the Gishwati zone which was replanted with indigenous species. The Gishwati- Mukura natural forests are now gazetted as a National Park.

There have been other notable localised achievements for forests and biodiversity. For example, the Gishwati Area Conservation Programme (GACP) which began in September 2007 has increased its forest reserve by 67 % (from 886 ha in 2008 to 1.484 ha in 2012) and with it the chimpanzee population. Every extra hectare increases their chances of survival by providing food and habitat.

The conservation of the national parks has direct economic benefits, as the tourism industry, primarily based on visits to national parks, makes the largest contribution to GDP of all the sectors in the economy. The afforestation of wetland areas has also had economic benefits, as it increases water availability and allows for increased electricity generation from hydropower.

These and many of the projects in the forest sector are taking steps in the right direction to enable Rwanda achieve its development goals. To strengthen these efforts, more integrated approaches are needed because the challenges facing forest resources in Rwanda cut across multiple pillars and institutions and also impact diverse groups of stakeholders. Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is an integrated approach for addressing environmental, social, and economic challenges that involve multiple institutions and stakeholders. By taking a landscape perspective, FLR brings stakeholders and institutions together to overcome challenges by designing more efficient land-use plans. This approach is particularly relevant in Rwanda where landscapes are used for many different purposes, are governed by many different institutions, and have many different stakeholder groups.

Private financial institutions, such as banks, have made commitments to restore degraded lands, for example, the Bank of Kigali has made a commitment to restore 100 hectares by 2020, while the National Police has made a commitment to restore 22.000 hectares by 2025.

In spite of these positive developments, however, it occurs that woody biomass energy aspects deserve further attention: 80% of Rwanda’s population still uses woody biomass for cooking which puts enormous pressure on forests. 

Potential as a Transferable Model

Rwanda´s National Forestry Policy serves as a good model for other African countries. Although Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa and demand for space is high, it is the most afforested country on the continent. The Forest Policy could also be a model for countries with special topographic or climatic conditions as Rwanda has adapted its legislation to include different ecological zones, covering high mountains as well as semi-arid zones using different trees which are adapted to varying conditions.

Aditional Resources
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