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Communities surrounding Volcano National Park reap huge benefits from tourism earnings

Since the re-opening of Volcano National Park in 1999, strict rules for habituation and trekking have been enforced. Revival of the park and its emergence as a popular destination is proof that with the right strategy and implementation of appropriate policies, a post-conflict country can successfully focus on high-end tourism and lift its people out of poverty.

In 2005, a decision to invest 5% of all tourism earnings in development projects designed to benefit communities surrounding national parks was made. Ever since, more than Rwf 2.6 billion has been spent on different projects in those communities. This great initiative has helped to build schools, hospitals and community centers. Moreover, tourism has created jobs for inhabitants of these areas. Many are working in the hospitality industry in different capacities, others are park rangers and tour guides while many more are involved in conservation activities.

Frictions between local communities and park authorities are common. Conflicting interests of land ownership and utilisation have been experienced for a long time. Cutting trees for charcoal production in reserved areas and poaching are illegal activities punishable by law. Many villagers have found themselves on the wrong side of the law and in trouble as a result of actions detrimental to conservation of the park. On the other hand, there have been cases of animals damaging crops. In a bid to revert this situation, park management devised a plan to inject a fraction of tourism earnings into development projects in neighbouring communities and improving the livelihoods of the people.

Involvement of local communities in tourism is getting more and more enhanced. At Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, residents of Kinigi are given an opportunity to sell their traditional artifacts to visitors and earn an additional income through performing traditional dances. At the village, foreigners discover important aspects of the Rwandan culture. In addition, the center plays a great role in preserving culture and conveying traditional norms to the new generations.

A visit to Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village will give you a deep insight of the conventional way of life of the people of Rwanda. Visitors also participate in the beer brewing process and preparation of food the Rwandan way. They grind millet and sorghum, shoot arrows and ride wooden bicycles around the village. It’s an action-packed cultural experience.

Outside the cultural village, tourism money has helped to provide clean water to the people and improve their agricultural production. The Sustainable Agricultural Training Project initiated by the Gorilla Organisation in 2001 has transformed agricultural practices among local farmers. Initially, the organisation groomed 110 key trainers who in turn, trained 20 farmers each. Each farmer who successfully completed the programme trained 5 other farmers. The project continues to build capacities on sustainable agricultural practices and creating a huge impact to the development of agriculture in the area.

Dependency on firewood and charcoal has been reduced by 70% as a result of provision of fuel-saving stoves. Indigenous people who lost their land after being evacuated from the park are supported and empowered economically. In partnership with the African Indigenous and Minority Peoples Organisation, the Gorilla Organisation secured land for the affected Batwa communities and equipped them with modern farming methods. The two institutions have played a big role in ensuring a smooth transition from hunting and gathering to sustainable agriculture.

A visit to the park is often complemented with a deviation to neighbouring villages.The ethno-botany tour offers an opportunity to see plants and herbs used by traditional healers. Some visitors opt to explore clay fields and learn the art of laying bricks. In Musanze town, hotels, restaurants, curio shops and many other businesses are benefiting from their close proximity to the national park.

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