Understanding stakeholder’s perspectives on sustainable financing mechanisms for conservation in Rusizi-Kivu
In addition to its biodiversity values, protected forests in Kivu-Rusizi Climate Resilient Altitudinal Gradient (CRAG) landscape are highly important for the well-being of its surrounding human population. They provide vital ecological services which largely fall into four broad categories: habitat preservation, erosion control and sediment control, water filtration/purification, and seasonal flow regulation. For instance, Nyungwe National Park (NNP) acts as the water catchment for about 70% of Rwanda and together with Kibira supply water to a major hydroelectric power plant that produce 90% of electricity consumed in Burundi.
Landlessness, decreasing agriculture productivity as a result of land degradation outside the park, and lack of alternative economic opportunities are significantly and negatively affecting the management of the park. Illegal mining, poaching, and encroachment for agricultural land are affecting the integrity of the park and its ecosystem services. An additional challenge is that the current park’s management budget is insufficient to meet the needs identified in its Management Plan. As a result, ecosystem conservation efforts and the possibility of offering alternative sustainable economic activities to local communities are currently inadequate. This creates a long-term risk in maintaining the biodiversity of the national park, and in the supply of good quality water for people living around the park who are dependent on this important resource.
Market- or finance-based interventions designed to achieve conservation and sustainable use of nature’s goods and services, including mechanisms such as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), have become widespread alternatives to more traditional regulatory or protection-based environmental approaches, especially in developing countries. These approaches may represent the vanguard in conserving critically endangered species, curtailing tropical deforestation, mitigating climate change, and pursuing other critical environmental objectives. PES can potentially act as a big incentive to improve watershed management and to direct land use practices which might otherwise damage overall health of the ecosystem.
Gaining the recognition of the value of, and understanding stakeholders’ perspectives on market or finances based mechanisms to achieve conservation objectives are the first key steps in the process of PES design and implementation. The Wildlife Conservation Society - Rwanda (WCS), Birdlife International and other partners are exploring the application of sustainable financing mechanisms like PES as a means to protect and enhance the services and values provided by critical catchments of Rusizi River and Lake Kivu while securing benefits to the adjacent communities. WCS initiated formal discussions with key stakeholders from key industries (tea, hydropower, water treatment plants, hotels, etc.) to assess industries that might engage in a PES scheme, and to assess both their dependency as well as their impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The findings from these discussions suggest that there may be an opportunity to initiate a PES scheme in the Lake Kivu and Rusizi River CRAG. Tea companies and hydropower stations appear to hold the greatest potential to serve as ecosystem buyers. Both are incurring high costs associated with soil erosion and sediment control, which those businesses rightfully perceive to be the result of poor upstream land management practices.
In addition, climate regulation, natural hazard mitigation, and erosion control were the three ecosystem services that businesses rely on, both widely and to a high degree. Every industry identified freshwater as a critical input for business operations, but only 9 out of the 25 stakeholders interviewed actually pay for this critical input. However, a small number of stakeholders expressed a willingness to pay for the water, they currently use for free. Also, the assessment revealed that businesses had an incomplete understanding of their own negative impacts on ecosystems.
Furthermore, while most industries recognize the connection between upstream sustainable land management practices and downstream water quality, many had a hard time fully identifying and quantifying their dependence on ecosystem services. Although 9 out of 25 business surveyed pay for access to water, most don’t monitor the volume of water used in their operations. Many are less clear about their impacts on the environment and future threats to the resources they rely upon. While businesses are familiar with the concept of climate change, there seems to be a lack of urgency among industries regarding its potential negative impacts. Without a sense of urgency, it is unlikely that many businesses will be interested in voluntarily paying into a PES scheme. Hence these discussions stressed the pressing need to strengthen the partnership between governments, NGOS and private sector to fill these information gaps through stakeholder education.