From grasslands to green havens: Restoring drylands in Kayovu, Bugesera, Rwanda

Greetings! My name is Kamanzi Claudine, and I’m part of the Forest for Life team working passionately to heal the drylands in the village of Kayovu in Bugesera district, Rwanda. 

Kayovu is located in one of the hottest regions in Rwanda, characterized by a hot climateRwanda.  The area features a dry savanna ecosystem with grasslands as the primary vegetation cover, while scattered trees and shrubs are also found in the village. All of my teammates have been living and exploring this village for the past five years, and we have become growingly attached to it.

Unfortunately, unsustainable agricultural practices have led to deforestation, leading to a decrease in overall tree cover. This is negatively impacting water retention and jeopardizing the health of the soil in the area.

Claudine and her teammate Thadee (ecological specialist) planting trees in Kayovu. Reponse Iradukunda

Witnessing change, inspiring action

My team and I have seen the devastating impact of drought on this area with our own eyes. Water sources are drying up, farm fields are failing to produce crops, and grazing lands are turning to dust.

It has been heartbreaking to watch the lands that sustain our community get increasingly barren every year, but we refuse to let Kayovu turn into a desert wasteland. 

There has been a significant shift in the landscape caused by deforestation, leading to intense droughts, desertification, and longer dry periods. This transformation is not just an ecological concern: it significantly impacts the local community, particularly farmers. As the land dries, the soil becomes unproductive, hindering crop yields and limiting crucial forage for livestock.

Fueled by a deep desire to reverse this trend, my team decided to act, armed with expertise in conservation agriculture and agroforestry.

Drought-affected soil in Kayovu. Kamanzi Claudine.

One of the maize fields in Kayovu whose land has been  degraded. Kamanzi Claudine

Planting seeds of hope

Drawing on our knowledge of sustainable farming and forestry, my team and I created a project to re-green these drylands by planting special trees that can survive the drought.

Over the last three months, we have partnered with more than fifty local small-scale farmers, 60% of which are women and 70% are youth. Our collaborative project also extends to  Kayovu’s secondary school, where we seek to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Our goal with this project is to encourage the planting of indigenous trees, which are crucial for ecosystem restoration, by distributing drought-resistant seedlings of Markhamia lutea and Acacia abyssinia, which are both key species for this purpose. 

We are currently establishing a self-sustaining nursery to produce our own seedlings. While our nursery is still being set up, we will source seedlings from external nurseries for the initial distribution phase due to time constraints.  However, in the second phase of the project, seedlings will be ready from our established nursery, ensuring a long-term supply of high-quality, cost-effective seedlings. 

Farmers will receive both indigenous trees and fruit trees to integrate into their existing agricultural practices, promoting long-term land health and providing additional sources of food and income for the local community.

Local nursery with which we will source tree seedlings in the first phase of our project. Kamanzi Claudine

Community engagement is key

We have already learned that flexibility and open communication are paramount in project implementation. While initially focused solely on indigenous trees, our plan evolved as we listened to the needs of the farmers involved in our project. Recognizing their strong desire for fruit trees, we incorporated them into the project. 

This dual approach not only promotes community-led ecological restoration but also provides a practical incentive for farmers to maintain vital indigenous trees. The support of local leaders has been a priceless gem on this journey. 

With their trust as our guiding light, they have played a pivotal role in nurturing our initiative by graciously providing the land necessary to establish our nursery.

From left to right: Thadee (ecological specialist), Reponse (agroforestry and capacity building officer) and Claudine (project lead) discuss with one of the leaders of Kayovu during a visit to the area where the nursery will be established. Adeline Utetiwabo

Building a greener future

We understand that ecosystem restoration must move beyond tree planting and touch the hearts and souls of local communities to encourage them to continue nurturing their landscapes for future generations. 

With this in mind, we partnered with the local secondary school to integrate environmental education into our project. In partnership with the school, we will establish an environmental restoration club, fostering the spirit of environmental stewardship in younger generations. 

Through workshops and hands-on activities, students will gain knowledge about environmental protection and restoration. Our hope is that these educational activities will help them become responsible stewards of their environment and spread awareness within their communities. 

After having already connected with the school, we have identified suitable planting areas within the school grounds and are actively engaging with students.

Reponse, Thadee and Claudine scout trees at the nursery from which the tree seedlings will be sourced in the first phase of the project. Adeline Utetiwabo.

This is merely the beginning of our journey. As we work alongside the remarkable people of Kayovu, transforming the landscape one seedling at a time, we are filled with a profound sense of purpose and hope for a greener, more resilient future. Stay tuned for further updates on our progress.

Article tags

drylandsGeneration restorationrestoration stewardsYouth

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.