Although Rwanda is a small country, it has a remarkable variety of ecosystems,Â flora and fauna. Its location at the heart of the Albertine Rift eco-region in the western arm of the Africa’s Rift Valley is a contributory factor. This region is one of Africa’s most biologically diverse regions. It is home to some 40 per cent of the continent’s mammal species (402 species), a huge diversity of birds (1,061 species), reptiles and amphibians (293 species) and higher plants (5,793 species) (Chemonics International Inc. 2003, MINITERE 2005).Being at the heart of the Albertine Rift, Rwandas habitats are equally varied, ranging from afro-montane ecosystems in the northern and western regions to lowland forests, savannah woodlands and savannah grasslands in the southern and eastern regions. There are other habitats around volcanic hot springs and old lava flows, especially in the northern and western part of the country. Rwanda also has several lakes and wetlands which are rich in different species. Though not yet well surveyed, all these ecosystems host a rich variety of fauna and flora and micro-organisms.This rich biodiversity is mainly conserved in protected areas (three national parks, natural forests and wetlands). These cover almost 10 percent of the national territory while the rest of the country is densely populated (416 people per square kilometre in 2012).There are a multitude of anthropocentric benefits from biodiversity in the areas of agriculture, science and medicine, industrial materials, ecological services, in leisure, and in cultural, aesthetic and intellectual value. There are many benefits that are obtained from natural ecosystem processes. Some ecosystem services that benefit society are air quality, climate moderation (global, regional and local CO2 sequestration), water purification, disease control, biological pest control, pollination and prevention of erosion. Along with those come non-material benefits that are accrued from ecosystems: spiritual and aesthetic values, knowledge systems and the value of education that we obtain today.
With the highest population density in Africa, coupled with its dependence on agriculture, the major threats to the biodiversity and genetic resources in Rwanda are mainly linked to population pressure and the problem of land scarcity. Other threats to the biodiversity are linked to human activities such as loss of habitat by conversion of natural habitats, mining, agriculture and the introduction of alien species.
The high population density has resulted in a sustained conversion of ecosystems and habitat that is threatening biodiversity in Rwanda. For instance, the total surface area of national parks in the country, have been continuously reduced since the 1960s in search for land for cultivation and settlements.
The intensification of agriculture and husbandry affects the natural habitats of species. Threats to the natural genetic resources (which are more resistant to the local conditions) also arise from breeding with improved and high productive varieties. This phenomenon if not addressed will mainly affect the cattle, where natural cattle varieties are running the risk of genetic erosion.
In the last few years, uncontrolled introduction of plants has been taking place. In some instances they are propagated without undertaking enough studies on their ecology. Such plants include Macadamia, Moringa, Neem, mulberry-trees, and recently Jatropha for bio-fuels. These introductions are made without meeting the phytosanitary and confinement requirements in RAB field trials. This may lead to the introduction of invasive species or other pathogens in Rwanda.
Tree cutting, as well as mining is a threat to the biodiversity.