KIBIRA NATIONAL PARK, BURUNDI

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Based on the work of Cyriaque Nzojibwami
Parks for Peace Project, National Institute for Nature Conservation and the Environment, Burundi
This national park contains Burundi’s only montane forest. Village communities participate in its management through a community conservation plan, which is a pledge of partnership among the people, the administration and conservationists. In addition, a new consultative body, the “local park watchdog committee”, set up in each of the communes around the park, appears to be a solution to the question of how to involve the people in managing the park. This management scheme is part of a process under which conservation is incorporated into the consolidation of peace in Burundi.
DESCRIPTION OF THE KIBIRA NATIONAL PARK
The Kibira National Park straddles four provinces in Burundi and has an area of 40 000 ha. It is composed of montane rain forest containing several vegetation strata: Entandrophragma excelsum and Parinari excelsa stands, Parinari excelsa var. holstii and Polyscias fulva stands, Polyscias fulva, Macaranga neomildreadiana and Syzygium parvifolium stands, Hagenia abyssinica and Faurea saligna secondary forest stands, Philippia benguelensis and Protea madiensis high-altitude stands on ridges, Arundinaria alpina (pure bamboo) stands, stands along thalwegs and stands formed by recolonization of previously cultivated and grazed land. It is a zone rich in both animal and plant biodiversity: 644 plant species have been found in the park, as well as about 98 species of mammal (primates, servals, African civets, etc.). Bird life is also rich and varied, with 43 families and more than 200 species identified.
More than three-quarters of the water in the country’s largest dam – providing more than 50 percent of the hydroelectric energy consumed – comes from this forest. Thus the park, situated as it is on the Congo-Nile ridge, plays a fundamental role in regulating the hydrological system and protecting against soil erosion.
THE BURUNDIAN POLITICAL CONTEXT AND THE VARIOUS STAKEHOLDERS
The Forest Code promulgated in 1985 (Law 1/02 of 25 March 1985) provides the basis for the various Burundian laws on forests, notably Law 1/010 of 30 June 2000 containing the environmental code for the country. The Kibira National Park was granted legal status in 2000 with Decree 100/007 of 25 January, establishing the park and four nature reserves.
The Kibira forest at present comes under the Ministry of Regional Development, the Environment and Tourism and the National Institute for Nature Conservation and the Environment (INECN). Management has led to the subdivision of the park into small management units, i.e. four sectors (one sector for each province) and 32 subsectors. It has a park supervisor and four sector heads, while each subsector has a forest warden and an assistant. Lastly, the INECN and the Parks for Peace Project have established watchdog committees elected by the people at various levels – hills (the smallest administrative unit), sectors, zones and communes. The park supervisor supervises all activities in the park, the sector heads implement them in their respective zones, and the watchdog committees closely monitor the way the park is managed. Thus, the INECN, the local administration, the local population and the watchdog committees are the main actors in park management. Nearly 50 000 people from communes adjacent to the park are involved directly or indirectly in management of the park.
MANAGEMENT OF THE KIBIRA NATIONAL PARK
Until 1933, this forest was a hunting reserve of the Kings of Burundi. The local people respected the forest, investing it with a magical power. Rights of use for livestock grazing and the gathering of forest products were recognized. The sacred character of the forest, even prior to the colonial era, helped to conserve it. Between 1933 and 1980 Kibira was classified as the Congo-Nile Ridge Forest Reserve, first under Belgian rule, then after Burundian Independence in July 1962. Only the extraction of high-value timber (Entandrophragma excelsum and Prunus africana) was regulated and controlled. Between Independence and 1980, the right to allocate new land for cultivation within the defined boundary was abolished, although grazing rights were retained.
The Kibira management project dates from 1979, with the objectives of controlling the erosion of slopes, regulating river flows, and promoting ecotourism. At that time Burundi obtained funding from the Aid and Cooperation Fund and the Central Fund (now the French Development Fund). In 1979, 2 000 ha were used to establish planted forests in the park. Between 1980 and 1993 Kibira was officially designated a national park, and management was initiated in 1982, with zoning, development of tourist and educational paths, camping grounds and shelters, preparation of community conservation plans following participatory diagnosis, and establishment of local watchdog committees at various levels. The park’s boundaries were redrawn between 1980 and 1985 and tracks opened within it. In 1993 the political crisis deteriorated into armed conflict. Some of the monitoring staff abandoned their jobs and some of the local inhabitants seized the opportunity to cut timber and clear some areas of the park.
The Kibira National Park management plan has been in existence since 1996. It goes into detail regarding the planted forests that act as buffer zones and the various silvicultural tasks to be carried out until 2023, and also sets out production norms and lists the types of forest product to be harvested. It provides a detailed map of plots for each planting season, a schedule of activities for each hill and plot, and a programme of clearing and harvesting for each year and plot.
A vegetation map was prepared by the SCETAGRI consulting firm from 1984 photographs, and this allowed a census to be made of plantations established prior to the park’s creation. Researchers from the University of Burundi and other institutions have also worked on the vegetation of the park. Different activities were defined according to the particular characteristics of certain zones. Harvesting is carried out on 2 000 ha of plantation (Pinus, Cupressus, Grevillea and Eucalyptus). However, the main purpose of the park is ecotourism, as it is the only montane forest in Burundi. Twenty-five km of tourist trails have thus been opened up and developed on the steep slopes. Three camping areas have been prepared. Tourist activities help to raise the awareness of visitors regarding nature conservation. Scientific activities lead to long-term conservation of distinctive and endemic plant and/or animal wildlife.
Working with the INECN, the Parks for Peace Project is in the process of setting up a new type of consultative body, the “local watchdog committee”, in all the communes around the Kibira park. These committees are already up and running in two communes. The people themselves were worried by certain destructive practices being adopted in the park and asked to participate in denouncing these and in the seizure of products stolen from the park. The INECN and the Parks for Peace Project welcomed this initiative and asked the people to elect representatives, from hill to commune level. Establishment of these committees first entails a participatory diagnosis in which extension workers meet the people at hill level. The people of each hill then elect a committee of ten people, who in turn elect a committee of ten people per sector. These sector committees include both men and women and a representative of the Batwa (the indigenous people). Representatives from the various sectors then elect a committee of ten to represent the zone. A community plan of action is then drawn up on the basis of the five main constraints identified by the zone committees, which draw up a community conservation action plan for the park at commune level. This community conservation action plan is a pledge of partnership among the local people, the administration and conservationists, and is used as the basis for the activities of all those involved in conservation (NGOs, private sector or donors).
Some activities are permitted at park level within reasonable limits (gathering fuelwood and NWFPs). However, regulations seem to be needed to govern harvesting of the most widely used forest products, such as live wood and bamboo. Trees may not be felled in the park without the warden’s authorization. In order to address the problem of fires caused in the process of honey gathering, beekeeper’s groups have carried out trials with a view to reconciling their needs and those of the park. Hunting has been forbidden in Kibira since 1980, but poaching persists.
The formation of ecological-type groups around the Kibira park is encouraged, and the people are starting to join forces to ask for support in improving their living conditions. The INECN and the Parks for Peace Project are sensitizing the various services working around the park so that they give special attention to the local population, for conservation of the park depends on improvement in their living conditions.
In consultation with the elected committees, a warning system has been developed and consideration given to a code of conduct that could be adopted around the Kibira park. A person or a group of people who becomes aware of a violation advises the watchdog committees, who in turn inform the local-level wardens, who can in turn inform the administration and the police to request assistance. The INECN is the centre for all information and finds solutions to the various violations. These decisions must be transmitted down to the lowest level, i.e. the local population. Those committing violations pay fines and the object of the violation is confiscated.
ASSESSMENT AND CONCLUSIONS
The first requirement for preparing the Kibira National Park management plan is a real national political will – and also an international one. Kibira is one of the rare African forests located in a heavily populated region undergoing armed conflict. A return to peace is essential, and the international community has a role to play in resolving conflicts. In a country as overpopulated as Burundi, conservation also entails the consultation and empowerment of all actors.
Donors’ interventions do not always take account of the regional or cross-border character of natural resources. The Kibira National Park borders on the Nyungwe forest in Rwanda, and Rwandans cross into the park to clear land for agriculture or search for gold. The intervention strategies and activities of the various technical services involved in biodiversity conservation therefore need to be coordinated and harmonized at regional level. Similarly, an efficient regional-level coordination service for the management of protected areas is needed.
A system for the exchange of information between countries is also essential. A forest symposium is organized in Burundi every ten years. A programme is needed to improve and update information and knowledge for conservationists at all levels – which would also allow the approaches of different countries to be harmonized. Local NGOs are themselves recent and not yet in a position to foster this type of initiative.
A management plan must respond to the ecological, economic and social concerns of the people living around the park. It has been recognized that sustainable forest resource management cannot succeed without the participation of the local population, and there is no such participation without dialogue and the sharing of information and experience. Identification of partners and good communications are preconditions for conserving the biodiversity of the Kibira National Park. Moreover, a management plan should not be static, but must be revised when necessary. At the park level, new boundaries should be fixed, the INECN’s capacities strengthened to ensure park management, and current initiatives (for example the Parks for Peace Project) supported. Ecotourism infrastructures need rehabilitation. Inventories should be made of species of economic interest that are in danger of disappearing and of the plants most used in traditional medicine. It is also important to record all consumable and usable products and support the programme for the domestication of indigenous species. An inventory of wildlife and a study of its dynamics would also be helpful.
Supervision and monitoring must be carried out by park officers and rangers with at least a minimum of resources (which do not as yet exist). The other partners who could undertake monitoring are the local population through their elected committees. Setting up local watchdog committees thus seems the best way of involving the local population in management of the park.