The pilot phase of the Volcanoes National Park Expansion project will kick off in 2024, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) CEO, Francis Gatare, has said.
Gatare made the disclosure while appearing before the plenary sitting of the lower chamber of Parliament to provide answers to issues faced by the hospitality and tourism industry.
The issues include poaching in reserves and parks, as well as the damage caused to residents’ crops by animals leaving the parks, and unresolved disagreements regarding the expansion of the Volcanoes National Park which have led to frustrations among residents who own land in the affected area.
Information from RDB shows that the entire project is expected to cost $255 million (approx. 317 billion at current exchange rates) and it is aimed to ensure a better habitat for the mountain gorillas.
This initiative will expand the park by approximately 23 percent, increasing its size by 37.4 square kilometres (or 3,740 hectares), it added.
Gatare said that a pilot phase for the project implementation is going to be undertaken to help prove the viability of the entire scheme implementation.
This pilot phase concerns 500 households who inhabit more than 450 hectares, adding that the residents have not yet been expropriated from their land until they get the compensations they are owed.
Overall, the implementation of the whole project will see 3,400 households expropriated and resettled, according to RDB.
The agency says this conservation venture will not only benefit the species but also improve the lives of the communities living around the park and make visiting the gorillas an even more life-changing experience.
Gatare agreed with lawmakers that it is a concern that the residents within the park expansion boundaries have not yet been paid compensations, pointing out “we want that the residents to get fair compensation so that we are able to expand the park soon.”
Meanwhile, he said that residents have the right to carry out activities on their land, such as farming. But he pointed out “it would be recklessness if we allow that they set up long-term buildings while it is known that they will be expropriated in the near future.”
“That is why we are expediting the study currently underway, which is expected to be completed in January 2024, and then we will start implementing the park expansion initiative,” he said.
He indicated that various studies were conducted and gave a picture of the park expansion area, and the available means in terms of socio-economic means for the residents in question.
The demarcation of the park was made, factoring in the area to be expanded, and valuation of the residents’ property to determine due compensations, he pointed out.
Currently, he said that the budget to cover residents’ compensations is being mobilised to pave the way for the project execution.
MPs said that the residents who live within the demarcated park expansion area were being inconvenienced by the fact that they cannot freely use their land, indicating that the delay in executing the project was prolonging this situation.
They called for fast-tracking the project implementation to help the affected people.
“Though it is said that residents can do farming on their land, they do not have full right to it such as to be able to use it as collateral to get a bank loan, yet we all know that loans are critical for the development of Rwandans,” MP Jeanne Henriette Mukabikino, said calling for an urgent solution to the issue.
Meanwhile, gorilla tourism, which drives high-end tourism in Rwanda, generated revenues of $113 million, which represents a quarter of $445 million tourism revenues that Rwanda registered in 2022, according to data from RDB’s 2022 annual report.