To Restore Forests, First Start With a Seed

Emmanuel Nsabimana, a casual labourer at the National Tree Seed Centre, in Huye, in Rwanda’s Southern Province, has worked planting trees for over 40 years. He believes there has been considerable improvements in the seed quality from the centre since the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) became one of the contributors to its restoration. Credit: Emmanuel Hitimana/IPS

Emmanuel Nsabimana, a casual labourer at the National Tree Seed
Centre, in Huye, in Rwanda’s Southern Province, has worked
planting trees for over 40 years. He believes there has been
considerable improvements in the seed quality from the centre since
the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) became
one of the contributors to its restoration. Credit: Emmanuel
Hitimana/IPS

By Emmanuel Hitimana
HUYE, Rwanda, May 20 2020 (IPS)

In 2011, when Rwanda committed to restoring 2 million hectares
of land in a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of
degraded and deforested areas by 2020 — it seemed like a big
ask. 

The densely populated and geographically small African nation
had many limitations which could stand in the way of this as well
as a commitment to achieving forest cover increase of up to 30
percent of total land area by 2030 as part of the Bonn
Challenge
.

Aside from limited land availability — Rwanda’s land area
only
encompasses 2.4 million hectares or 24,000 square
kilometres
 â€” the country’s terrain did little to support
the efforts. The country’s topography includes steep slopes, and
it is the country with the highest mean soil
erosion rate, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of
the United Nations (FAO)
.

There were other factors too:

But by 2018, Rwanda, along with South Korea, Costa Rica,
Pakistan and China, was considered one of
the lead countries in the world with its successful restoration
programme
.

How did the country manage to restore more than 800,000 hectares
— almost half of its original pledge — in less than a
decade? 

Part of the answer lies in the restructuring and strengthening
of the country’s National Tree Seed Centre, located in Huye, in
Rwanda’s Southern Province, some 133 kilometres from the
country’s capital.

The centre is tasked with centralising the supply of tree seeds
across the country, including establishing new seed sources,
improving trees with growth deficiencies, and collecting and
certifying seed.

Until 2014, the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources
Development Board (RAB) managed the centre. But farmers complained
that they were unable to grow plants from almost 90 percent of the
seeds from the centre.

Emmanuel Nsabimana, a casual labourer at the National Tree Seed
Centre, has worked planting trees around Huye for over 40
years.

He remembers the attitude of local farmers and communities.

“Farmers were always bitter towards the centre because they
thought that it was incapable of providing them with adequate
seeds,†he recalls.

“Many would return the seeds.â€

But in 2014 the centre shifted from RAB to become a unit of the
Rwanda Forestry
Agency
. In 2016, the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
— one
of the founders and Secretariat of the Bonn Challenge, along with
the German Government — stepped in to become one of the most
significant contributors to the restoration of Rwanda’s National
Tree Seed Centre.   

IUCN also partnered with the Rwandan Government, the Belgian Development Agency
(ENABEL)
and the University of
Rwanda (UR)
to strengthen the centre.

IUCN supported capacity building, including the training of
staff, providing equipment to the centre, upgrading and developing
infrastructure like greenhouses, maintenance of the seed stands
where seeds are collected form, and rehabilitation of seed store
where seeds are kept before they are distributed, Jean Pierre
Maniriho, Forest Landscape Restoration Officer at IUCN, tells
IPS.

“Before partners came in, many things were not going well. For
example, we did not have a cold room, which was bad for seeds. We
were only two staff, and the stock was also old. But we have
steadily improved until now,†Floribert Manayabagabo, the
production officer at the National Tree Seed Centre, says. His job
is to make sure the seeds harvested at the centre are ready for
market.

Manayabagabo thinks that the centre’s success story is thanks
to a combination of great partnerships that ensured the centre now
has good infrastructure that includes nurseries, a laboratory, a
modern cold room and five full-time staff.

Maniriho says seed quality and quantity are essential to ensure
sustainability and to meet demand.

Currently, 30 percent of the seeds come from the nearby
90-year-old, 200-hectare Arboretum of Ruhande, which surrounds the
University of Rwanda.

The seeds from the arboretum include 207 exotic and indigenous
species, explains Emmanuel Niyigena, a field officer at the
centre. 

The remaining 70 percent come from the outside of the centre,
with a significant amount of seeds sourced from nine agro
forestry-related cooperatives within Rwanda, and the remaining seed
being imported from Kenya.

One of many nurseries at Rwanda’s National Tree Seed Centre. The centre is tasked with centralising the supply of tree seeds across the country, including establishing new seed sources, improving trees with growth deficiencies, and collecting and certifying seed. Credit: Emmanuel Hitimana/IPS

One of many nurseries at Rwanda’s National Tree Seed Centre.
The centre is tasked with centralising the supply of tree seeds
across the country, including establishing new seed sources,
improving trees with growth deficiencies, and collecting and
certifying seed. Credit: Emmanuel Hitimana/IPS

It’s Eric Kazubwenge’s job to make sure that the seeds from
the centre never disappoint. He is in charge of seed inspection and
regulation at the centre.

“We normally do a physical inspection to make sure that they
are not damaged. Then we proceed with laboratory testing before we
conduct other testing in the nursery where seeds are conserved to
make sure they will not resist soil plantation.â€

He adds that multiple tests are continually carried out to
ascertain how long a seed can grow in a nursery or how
much moisture they need to survive.

Kazubwenge learnt many of these skills in Kenya, where he was
trained through an IUCN partnership.

While Kazubwenge’s training was highly technical, members of
cooperatives involved in seed supply chain also received
training.

Kazubwenge tells IPS that previously it was very difficult for
the cooperatives to supply to the centre the good seeds as they
couldn’t distinguish good from bad quality seeds. The Tree Seed
Centre was also unable to test and prove the quality of seeds due
to lack of equipment (seed laboratory was not well equipped). This
combination of limitations meant only a handful of seeds provided
to the forest growers before 2014 had been fruitful.

“Our stock is (now) full of good seeds in terms of quality and
quantity, thanks to cooperatives that were trained in seed
collection and selection through IUCN partnership,†Janviere
Muhayimana, who is in charge of the seed stock, tells IPS.

The centre also ensures farmers and the community are given the
necessary information about the planting of the improved seeds.

Nsabimana concurs: “There are no more complaints (from
farmers) as the seeds respond well to the soil.â€

The researchers are optimistic about the future.

Kazubwenge’s vision for the centre’s future involves
advanced technologies that will allow him to “carry out genetic
assessment and analysis because it gives us deep knowledge about
the compatibility of seeds according to their originsâ€.

Maniriho sees Rwanda on a good path to become a regional seed
hub.

“Deforestation is a global challenge. What we have in Rwanda
is what exactly is happening in Burundi or Malawi. We are importing
seeds from Kenya today, but tomorrow others may be importing from
us. We can make those connections that can encourage and strengthen
the reciprocal partnership in seed supply and keep us from sending
money overseas to only import seeds that we are sometimes capable
of producing.â€

Rwanda’s successful steps towards meeting its reforestation
pledge proves a powerful example of how nature conservation can
support livelihoods ahead of the IUCN World Conservation
Congress
, which will be held in France in January 2021. Held
every four years, the Congress is a meeting of conservation experts
and custodians, government and business representatives, indigenous
peoples, scientists, as well as other professional stakeholders,
who have an interest in nature and the sustainable and just use of
natural resources. One of the major issues addressed will be the
managing of landscapes for nature and people.

** Writing with Nalisha Adams in Bonn.

The post
To Restore Forests, First Start With a Seed
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

How did Rwanda manage to restore more than 800,000
hectares — almost half of its original pledge — in less than a
decade? 

The post
To Restore Forests, First Start With a Seed
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
To Restore Forests, First Start With a Seed