Tree planting in Rwanda

People’s perception on success and underlying factors


One set target of Vision 2020 is a 30% forest cover in Rwanda. A package of strategies to reach this goal has been put in place. These include the institution of the national day of tree planting, the diversification of planting sites and the mobilization of a wide range of stakeholders. But still the rate of increase of forest cover is far behind. Because of that the government of Rwanda started a research to find issues affecting tree planting and tree survival adversely. The research was conducted by RECOR and ARECO in partnership with the Centre for Environment, Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development (CEESD) of the National University of Rwanda and was completed in November 2011. 645 heads of households or their representatives in nine districts of Rwanda had been polled to capture all the variations that exist. USAID supported the study financially.


One major issue affecting tree planting is land shortage. As it has been reported in many studies, the average land size per household was hardly 0.5 ha, though there were variations among districts with relatively greater land sizes in the districts of the Eastern Province. 45.8% of the households in Burera district rely on tiny pieces of land below 0.5 ha. Agriculture is the main profession and the major source of income while forestry is only an insignificant contribution to household income. In Karongi, for example, 93.1% of the population practices farming and in total 95% of Rwandans derive their living from agriculture. Due to the facts of small land sizes and dependency on agriculture, forestry is a poor competitor when it comes to land allocation and investment.


The highest number of people without forest was in Nyagatare (Eastern Province) while the smallest number was observed in Karongi (Western Province). Future forestation programs should focus on the Eastern Province because it is loosely populated with relatively large pieces of land available per household.
Eucalyptus is the mostly planted species as a source of energy. Eucalyptus degrades sites through excessive uptake of nutrients and water though there are differences between species. They may accelerate erosion by suppressing undergrowth especially on steep slopes. There is a need to raise farmers’ awareness on suitable planting sites for different tree species.


The percentage of the agriculture budget spent on forestry increased from 2% in year 2000 (30 Million Rwf) to 13% in 2010/2011 (5.9 Billion Rwf). But the problem is that the mortality of planted trees is very high. Only 19.3% of respondents estimated that trees survived in the range of 80% and above after field planting. The most important causes of poor survival were damage of animals or people, climate, lack of monitoring, poor selection of seeds, poor timing of planting and poor planting techniques.
Sometimes farmers may deliberately kill young trees if they are competitive to their crops to achieve a proper yield. Species choice, spacing and the location of woodlots or public forests in relations to famers’ fields need to be considered appropriately and only high value trees which fit in the existing farming system should be introduced in the communities. There is a need to create a sense of ownership in local people and to sensitize them on the value of forests and reasons which can cause plantation failure. Anyway, a large number of famers claimed to care for seedlings after field planting. Post planting activities to enhance seedlings survival were for example weeding, beating up or piling soil at the base of stem but very often there was no intervention at all. Every other year should be devoted to tending trees planted the previous year.


Furthermore statistics released on tree planted annually may be misleading because they base on targeted number of seedlings stated in the performance contracts rather than those surviving at least two years after field planting. So tree statistics should be based upon actual tree population two years after planting.