The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has announced plans to pilot expansion works on Volcanoes National Park, starting in 2024.
The project is expected to cost $255 million (approximately $317 billion at current exchange rates) it is aimed to ensuring a better habitat for the mountain gorillas.
The RDB CEO, Francis Gatare, revealed this when he appeared before the plenary sitting of the lower chamber of Parliament to provide answers to issues faced by the hospitality and tourism industry.
He said the expansion will help conserve fragile high-altitude forests and create a larger safe zone separating wildlife from surrounding communities.
The flagship project will enlarge the park by 23%, increasing its size by 37.4 square kilometres (or 3,740 hectares), eventually increasing protected habitat for critically endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife.
Currently spanning 160 square kilometres along the border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park will grow by over 50 square kilometres under the development scheme.
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 project execution.
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.