Nova Complex Market, NM 11 ST, Musanze, Rwanda

Community and Conservation Along the Mpenge River

Mpenge is an urban river located in Musanze district in the Northern Province of Rwanda. With a valuable ecology that hosts much biodiversity and provides many ecosystem services to the community of Musanze City, and beyond, this river is highly threatened by human activity, mainly excessive pollution and agriculture encroachment. Some key species such as the Crowned Crane and Hooded Vultures face migration and local extinction, among other threats to biodiversity. In addition, the community faces risk from landslides along the riverbank and entire river branches running dry.

“The health of the Mpenge River is directly related to the health of the people who live near its waters, and protecting this river is a win-win situation for sustainable development.”

(Volunteers collect data to assess water quality and health)

Nature Rwanda, with financial support from UNDP through Rwanda Governance Board, is dedicated to conserving this river and its surrounding community through the project entitled “Integrated restoration and management of Mpenge River, for improved biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.” Three months down the implementation, the following outcomes were achieved, among others:

  • 5,000 indigenous trees were planted on the Mpenge River buffer zone to restore and protect the river, making it possible for the water to evade pollution and return to its natural quality.
  • A team of 20 local conservation volunteers was established; they monitor project results and coordinate hygiene and sanitation activity in the community at daily basis.
  • Two trash bags per household were distributed among the communities around the river to be used in waste sorting at the household level. This will help the household members separate biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste to be disposed of in the proper ways.
  • Through water quality and health assessment conducted, it was found that the water contains high concentration of Nitrate and Sulphate at 15.2mg/l, which is greater than the recommended 10 mg/l of nitrates in stream waters (WHO standards).
  • Waste in and around Mpenge River has been greatly reduced by 90% in great collaboration with community members.

The community’s engagement in this project has been inspiring and reminds us that protecting the environment also strengthens the people who call it home.

“This project is a life-changing game!” Said Goreth Yankurije. “Nowadays, I am not only able to conserve environment but also to put a meal on table and send children to school. I am a mother to four young boys, I finished high school 15 years ago in tourism studies and didn’t get a job. Voluntarily, I monitored birds in Mpenge river, but due to the river degradation and lack of other support I failed (sadly), one morning I went for birding I found zero nests and no more birds in the wetland. I am grateful to the work done by Nature Rwanda of restoring our river. The job I got from this project of tree planting and uprooting of invasive species improved my livelihoods but more importantly helped me to give my contribution in restoring this threatened river. I have also learned new things, I got skills in manure production which will help to provide cheap manure for my project of soilless vegetables farming at home.”

Nzabonimpa Zebulon and two others plant trees along the Mpenge river

A young man of 30 years old; Nzabonimpa Zebulon said that the protection and restoration of Mpenge river hold many opportunities for youth. He told Nature Rwanda: “In partnership with Nature Rwanda and local authorities, the youth from the communities around the river, we are now organizing ourselves to start a youth cooperative that will coordinate eco-tourism activities at Mpenge river, as a strategic way of job creation and participation in the sustainability of the project achievements.”

Christine Hakizimana speaks to a crowd.

Christine Hakizimana, Executive Secretary of Cyabararika cell (the project site) said: “Mpenge river is one of the touristic sites in Musanze city. We have been worried about the loss of habitat for birds that are the main attractions to local and foreign birders. We appreciate the work that is being done to bring back the socio-ecological values of this rivers and its surroundings. Within these three months, we are experiencing a big improvement in our area. Waste dumping in and around the river has been reduced significantly, which is a good indicator of behavior change and improved hygiene among the communities around the river. We hope that the bird watching activities that were ceased two years ago will resume in the near future as a result of riparian protection and restoration.”