Once the second-largest indigenous forest in Rwanda, Gishwati extended 100,000 hectares or 250,000 acres in the early 1900s. By the late 1980s, Gishwati was about one-fourth of its original size.
Resettlement by refugees following the 1994 genocide reduced the forest to about 62 km (600 hectares or 1,500 acres). Reforestation efforts during the past several years have increased Gishwati’s forest to approximately 102 km (1,000 hectares or 2,500 acres). Gishwati Forest Reserve in northwestern Rwanda is one of the most severely deforested areas in the country. Exploitation of the forests for commercial products such as charcoal, timber, medicine, and food has been the main driver of this deforestation.
On a positive note, reforestation efforts in parts of the region, using agro-forestry techniques such as radical terracing, progressive terracing, and live mulches, are currently being researched and implemented. Seedlings of species such as Calliandra calothyrsus and Leucaena diversifolia are being planted in several provinces of the country with collaboration from stakeholders and the local community. If such efforts continue and are successful, the Gishwati Forest Reserve may experience considerable regeneration within the next five to ten years.
Great Ape, an international conservation organization is currently working on a combined project with the government of Rwanda to restore natural biodiversity with special emphasis on chimpanzees as a keystone and flagship species. Some 15 chimpanzees are isolated in Rwanda’s Gishwati Forest Reserve and on the brink of extinction. Restoration efforts, supported by Great Ape Trust, would create a 30 mile (50km) forest corridor to connect the apes to Nyungwe National Park.