A best practice of community involvement in the sustainable conservation of the Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve in Rwanda
The Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve (VBR) is located in the northwest of Rwanda at the border with D.R. Congo and Uganda in an area renowned as a habitat for mountain gorillas. The reserve was established in 1983 around the Volcanoes National Park, which forms the protected core area, while adjacent areas are designated as buffer zones and transition areas.
As a part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), the VBR is subject to a periodic review process that documents its development and actions taken. The first progress report of the VBR was presented at a workshop in Musanze (8–10 May 2017) organized by the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme. Among the invited participants were stakeholders and partners of the reserve and expert specialist Noeline Raondry Rakotoarisoa, Chief of Section for Biosphere Networks and Capacity Building at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
During the workshop the participants were given an opportunity to conduct a field visit to the transition area where local communities are implementing best practices to assess how they contribute to the sustainable conservation and development of the VBR.
The Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association (SACOLA) is a local NGOs very active in the VBR. It started as a simple community trust with few members but has grown to become a non-governmental organization overseeing development activities in the transition area of the VBR.
With financial support from the government and international partners, SACOLA has constructed a luxury hotel with six bungalows located on separate hills in forestland typical of the natural environment of VBR, not far from VNP Headquarters. Here, tourists can rest before and after taking part in Mountain Gorilla treks.
The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was founded in 2007 as a community-owned enterprise, owned by SACOLA and operated by Governors’ Camp, a Kenyan registered company specializing in managing upmarket tourism establishments in the region.
This collaboration has enabled SACOLA to build a success story based on public-private partnership that ensures international standards of hospitality and tourism, secures community land ownership and protects critical biodiversity while enhancing community welfare. SACOLA receives rental and community fees from the lodge, which can reach up to USD 48,000 per month in high season. These drive socio-economic and conservation activities in communities adjacent to the core area of the VBR.
After consulting with the community, the Executive Committee of SACOLA allocates this money to activities promoting the conservation and development of the VBR and the wellbeing of local populations. The evaluation and selection of projects is made by a technical committee and is based on a bottom-up approach that takes into consideration the needs and priorities of the community. For example, SACOLA has paid school and healthcare fees and built houses for identified vulnerable groups. The NGO has also constructed schools, health centres and roads and provided support for public infrastructure and building.
In addition, an annual meeting is organized between all VBR communities, supporting stakeholders, government partners such as the Rwandan Development Board (RDB), and the local administration and NGOs, including SACOLA, to ensure fair distribution of the funds throughout the whole reserve. This approach ensures that the people living in the communities surrounding the VBR all benefit equally from the natural resources of the reserve.
The presence of the SACOLA Lodge has had a substantial impact on the community, contributing effectively to improvements in wellbeing and poverty reduction through employment, healthcare and education, and by providing a direct market for local farmers’ products. Indeed, the people no longer need to enter the core area of the biosphere reserve to collect water, wood and plants for traditional medicine, or to poach.
As a result, the people and communities of the VBR are now fully aware of the common benefits of biodiversity conservation and are planning to expand the positive experience of SACOLA across all sectors of the VBR transition area.
Albert MUTESA,
Secretary, Rwanda MAB National Committee

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