Rwanda’s National Forest Policy

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy

Despite continuing population and land pressures, Rwanda is one of only three countries in Central and Western Africa to achieve 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  updated in 2010. 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

  • Improving the management of existing woodlots in conjunction with restoring forests would reduce pressure to collect fuel wood from natural and protective forests and improve energy security.[1]
  • 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.[2]
  • By taking a landscape approach to restoration, the productivity of degraded landscapes can be recovered in the fullest possible way.[3]
  • Restoring degraded land using a combination of natural forests and protective forests would contribute directly towards meeting the country’s goals of increasing forest cover to 30% and providing 100% access to clean water by reducing erosion and increasing the water filtration services of forests.[4]
  • Rwanda reached its goal of increasing forest cover to 30% of total land area by 2020 despite continuing population and land pressures. In 2017 already 29.6% were covered. The 30 per cent goal was met by 2019, 1 years ahead of the deadline.
  • 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.
  • The conservation of national parks has direct economic benefits, as tourism makes the largest contribution to GDP of all sectors in the economy.
  • The Challenge now is 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.[5]
  • Furthermore, private sector involvement in public forest management has increased. Thirty percent of public forests are now managed by private operators and the government will continue to work with relevant stakeholders to increase this to 80 percent by 2024. [6]

[1]  ß auch als PDF auf die Webseite






Last Update: 2019

Policy Reference

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy (initiated in 2004, updated 2010).

Connected Policies

Rwanda National Forestry Policy 2018

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.

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 ecosystem. 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. Alongside the Vision 2020 initiative and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper of 2002, 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%.

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, such policies contribute to the mitigation of climate change and assist 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 impact, 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 agro-forestry 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 three national parks; the Akagera National Park, the Nyungwe National Park and the Volcanoes National Park, all of them being transboundary.

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 with it 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.

Key goals and elements of the revised version include:

  • Sustainable Forest Management (SFM): All forest and tree resources in Rwanda shall be managed to yield sustainable streams of social, economic and ecological goods and services to enable the sector to meet the forestry needs of the current generation without compromising the rights of future generations;
  • Commercialisation of Forestry Activities: A forest-based industry will be developed, as the country currently relies on imports for 100% of industrially processed wood products. The forest-based industry has to be efficient, particularly in secondary and tertiary processing, to fully utilise the forest products and reduce excessive waste.
  • Species diversification: Tree farming shall endeavour to use a wide range of species on the basis of species matching.
  • Livelihood enhancement: Improvement of livelihoods and fighting poverty shall be a major goal in all strategies and actions in the forest sector.
  • Establishment, rehabilitation and conservation of watershed protection forests: Mapping of the condition and status of major watersheds in Rwanda, rehabilitating degraded forests in the watershed, developing regulations and guidelines for the management of lakeshore and riverbank forests, support bordering communities in developing community management.
  • Conservation and wise use of forest biodiversity: Promoting and supporting innovative financing mechanisms such as eco-taxes, service licenses and payment for environmental services to ensure sustainable sources of operational funds, implementing integrated conservation and development programmes among local communities.


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.[1]

Since its establishment in 2015, the 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. [2]

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 Natural Resources, instead of continuing the joint ownership structure with the Ministry of Agriculture (One of the major challenges facing afforestation and restoration was the ownership of the national tree seed centre, which was formerly under the Ministry of Agriculture, while the forests were managed by a different ministry. As a result of government action, an agreement was signed between the two ministries which transferred ownership of the national tree seed centre to the Ministry of Natural Resources.). [3]

There is a new Forest Sector Strategic Plan (FSSP) 2018-2021 which specific objectives eventually lead to tangible outcomes contributing to achieve the objectives of the NFP. The following are the FSSP’s objectives:

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

[1] Dave, R., Saint-Laurent, C., Moraes, M., Simonit, S., Raes, L., Karangwa, C. (2017) Bonn Challenge Barometer of Progress: Spotlight Report 2017. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 36pp

[2] Dave, R., Saint-Laurent, C., Moraes, M., Simonit, S., Raes, L., Karangwa, C. (2017) Bonn Challenge Barometer of Progress: Spotlight Report 2017. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 36pp

[3] Dave, R., Saint-Laurent, C., Moraes, M., Simonit, S., Raes, L., Karangwa, C. (2017) Bonn Challenge Barometer of Progress: Spotlight Report 2017. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 36pp

[4] Forest Sector Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022 (2018), Ministery of lands and forestry, Republic of Rwanda.


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.

Whereas the implementation of the 2004 Forestry Policy was monitored by Provincial Commissions on forests, the responsibility shifted in the new 2010 Forest Policy to improve monitoring and implementation. The National Forestry Authority, established in 2008, 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.


Whereas Rwanda’s forest area had previously been experiencing a dramatic decline, 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 2011, Rwanda possessed 7,000 hectares of primary forests, 55,000 ha of naturally regenerated forests and 373,000 ha of planted forests corresponding to 86 % of the forest area in 2010. Approximately 10 % of Rwanda´s territory is protected area.

By now the total land area is 2,467,000 hectares, the area of forest 19.5% of land area and of agriculture 74.7% of land area.[1]

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 Parc.

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 today) 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 hydro-power.

In spite of these positive developments, however, the 2004 national forest policy did not perform as well as expected, too heavily influenced by the old forestry law of 1988. The gap between wood demand and supply steadily widened from a wood deficit of 7 million cubic meters in 2002 to 12 million cubic meters in 2009, partly due to an increasing population. Thus Rwanda is still a net importer of timber. A new National Forestry Policy was enacted in 2010 to revise the National Forestry Policy of 2004.

The midterm Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS)22 has been designed to pave the way towards the vision 2020. Now it is in its second phase, the Rwanda‘s EDPRS2 2013-2018 retains forestry as a main concern in recognition of its prime contribution to the GDP.

This will be achieved through increased job creation in forestry from 0.3% to 0.5% by 2017, and reduction in the use of biomass energy through the use of improved stoves and improved kilns to produce 75% of charcoal by year 2017.

EDPRS2 2013- 2018 supports the previous target of increasing forest cover to 23.5% by 2012 in EPRS1 and reset a new indicator to reach 30% by 2018. In addition, EDPRS2 2013-2018 recommends for sustainable management of forest biodiversity and natural ecosystems through protection and maintenance of 10% of the existing country land covered by Natural Forests and Savanah forests, and reduction of wood energy consumption from 86.3 % to 50% by 2020 as reflected in the 2020 Vision targets23.

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.[2]


[2]Dave, R., Saint-Laurent, C., Moraes, M., Simonit, S., Raes, L., Karangwa, C. (2017) Bonn Challenge Barometer of Progress: Spotlight Report 2017. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 36pp; Forestry ministry, Police sign MoU on environmental conservation. The New Times. 8 November 2017.

Potential as a Transferable Model

Rwanda´s National Forestry Policy serves as a good model for other African countries. Although Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa and demand for space is high, it is the most afforested country on the continent. These policies 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.

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