Fodder for conservation - a win-win situation in rural Rwanda

Community members receiving Napier grass planting material. © Olivier Ngabonziza

With funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the International Crane Foundation (ICF) works with local farmers to reduce the pressure on Rugezi Marsh, an Eastern Afromontane Key Biodiversity Area in Rwanda.

Feeding cattle

With a total area of 26,338 km2 and a human population of over 12 million, Rwanda’s suitable land for growing crops is highly fragmented. Most households own small plots of land that are under crop farming. To increase household income and protein consumption, the government of Rwanda introduced a zero grazing system policy, where one cow is donated to every household. However, most households, especially in the fringes of Rugezi Marsh in Burera District, do not have sufficient fodder to feed the cattle. They rely on vegetation that is illegally harvested from the Marsh to feed the cattle and other livestock. The harvesting of this vegetation is not only time consuming, but also threatens biodiversity and interferes with the ecological processes of the Marsh.

Growing grass

To help solve this problem, ICF embarked on a mission to promote Napier grass production as an alternative livelihood to vegetation harvesting for fodder. ICF started by raising community awareness about Napier grass production in all seven sectors neighbouring Rugezi Marsh, with a combined population of over 200,000 people. The communities were taught about the benefits of producing fodder on their plots, especially on terrace bands as opposed to spending long hours harvesting vegetation from the Marsh. The negative impacts of vegetation harvesting and human presence on the Marsh and its biodiversity was also highlighted. The communities welcomed this message and agreed to substitute vegetation harvesting from Rugezi Marsh with Napier grass growing. The number of households growing Napier grass has increased from 429 in July 2018 to the current 529. ICF also established a nursery of Napier grass in the project area. This will guarantee a sustainable source of fodder seedlings beyond the life of the project.

Farmers visiting one of the project Beneficiary’s Napier field in Ruhunde Sector. © Munana Daniel

Ngendahimana Dative, a project beneficiary, said: “My children and I no longer move long distances to harvest grass from Rugezi Marsh. We are able to feed our animals using home grown fodder and they are healthy. They are giving more milk, some of which we sell."

Nyambere Celine, a female farmer, added: “My family is no longer in conflict with neighbours and local leaders. In the past we used to illegally harvest grass for Rugezi and the local leaders would run after us. At times our hungry animals would escape into our neighbours gardens. All this used to generate conflict, but now we are free and my animals feed well. The whole community has benefited because we are giving planting materials to other community members. Some people come to visit our gardens to learn how to grow Napier."

Impacts on biodiversity

Removal of vegetation from the Rugezi Marsh exposed the nests and chicks of the Vulnerable Grey Crowned Crane, while humans and cattle have been trampling on crane eggs. This was negatively affecting crane breeding success. Using the 'conservation agreements' approach, ICF distributed Napier grass seedlings to community members who in turn committed to stop vegetation harvesting from the Marsh and to sensitize others about the negative impacts of such harvesting. Since then, the number of people harvesting vegetation has reduced, and cranes have returned to areas of the Marsh which they had previously abandoned.


The latest (third) Grey Crowned Crane census, by the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (also a CEPF grantee, working in the same area), counted 748 Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda - an increase compared to the two previous counts of 459 and 487!) Watch this space for more news about this in a future article.....

BirdLife International runs the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot (2012 -2019). See the interactive map of all projects implemented under the CEPF Eastern Afromontane Hotspot programme here.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on the CEPF can be found at