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Musanze: Inside expansion of Viruga park

Janvier Kwizera, the in charge of community relations at Volcanoes national park says the expansion of the park will not only benefit the mountain gorillas but also improve the lives of the communities living around the park and make visiting the gorillas an even more life-changing experience.

“The Volcanoes National Park is a fragile ecosystem and currently relatively small as it covers 160 square kilometers, that is why, it is set to be expanded by a quarter of its current size,” Kwizera says.

Kweizera says the park, which is currently 160km squared, was previously 340sqkm “this a very small space which sees gorilla families fighting for territory with some young ones are killed,”

The 10-year program to expand the park will begin with a pilot study in Kinigi sector and is expected to be expanded by about 23%. The project which is in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation will cost more than 260billion francs over a 10-year period.

Janvier Kwizera, the in charge of community relations at Volcanoes national park

The park expansion that will result in the acquisition of 450 ha, a green village to host relocated 560 households and ensure livelihood improvement that will see 22 ha allocated to smart agriculture production and other income-generating activities for the community.

These will be complemented by the support of different off-farm business plans developed by the community. A smart green village will be constructed and will have different components.

They include land productivity whereby 1000 sqm per household will be used for agriculture production. In order to manage space, it disclosed that houses in such villages will be constructed in a 4 in 1 design. This means that one house will accommodate four families.

Other components are infrastructure development consisting of nursery school, health center, Mini market or selling point, village internal roads, supply of electricity and clean water and financial service infrastructures.

Studies are underway on ecological impact, social economic factors like compensations of the expansion. According to locals who are mainly into farming said they had heard about the planned expansion but had little information.

“We are worried about the possible relocation and loss of fertile agricultural land we don’t believe there is any other land in Rwanda we hear we can grow potatoes like we did here.”  Bizimana the head of one the cooperative of potato growers said.

He added that the expansion if not handled will lead to of Irish potato scarcity of which the country is already facing.

“The current scarcity of Irish potatoes is likely to get out hand if the park expansion is not well handled. Already as fertile as this land is we have been struggling to produce enough Irish potatoes due to only cultivating two seasons due to lack of seeds,” he said. Volcanoes national park is in two Rwandan provinces of Western and Northern, with territory in up to 12 sectors.

It has several programs which are Law enforcement with armed guards, Research and monitoring which follow flora and fauna, gorilla life and observes changes, Veterinary unit, life medical and autopsy, The tourism program, Community partnership and conservation with education and awareness.

Also, there is the Trans-boundary cooperation as the park is part of the great Virunga trans-boundary collaboration which includes the parks of Virunga in DR Congo, Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda. Currently, regionally coordinated patrols are suspended because of insecurity caused by presence of rebel groups like M23, FDLR in Eastern Congo.

The writer at the entrance of Volcano national park headquarters

By, Charls Ndushabandi

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