Rwanda: Forests – District Officials Train in Hi-Tech Applications

Rwanda: Forests – District Officials Train in Hi-Tech Applications

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18 February 2008, Kigali – The National University of Rwanda’s Centre for Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (CGIS-NUR) has trained district officers on remote sensing and forests management techniques ahead the publication of the country’s forests maps and database.

The two-day training held in Butare last week focused on techniques used in gathering geographical information for forests mapping and management. Forty-five officials from the country’s thirty districts attended the training.

They included those in charge of infrastructure, land, forests and environment. One of the tasks that their daily work requires of them is reforestation in their districts’ areas. But many of these environmentalists have been guessing on providing important data on forests.

As such, the CGIS-NUR showed them how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) devices like Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate forests in the area and ArcGIS software to analyse spatial information on a computer. Evelyn Iyakaremye, an environment officer in Nyamasheke District, Western Province, said that her office has been offering uncertain data on the number and area of forests because they were lacking both skills and equipment to measure and locate them.

“We just use estimations,” she said. For Philippe Mutarambirwa, the Director of Infrastructure in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, the GIS technology will help him minimise the period of work he and his team have been spending in remote sensing. “Today’s time is not for using cords to measure a forest,” he said. “It used to take a whole month to measure a burnt bush.”

CGIS-NUR has been mapping Rwanda’s forests and building capacities in geographical information and remote sensing since 2005. Using GIS spatial analysis, the centre has already finalised making maps of forests on national and district levels. Now, the centre wants district environment officers to keep updating forests’ database and ensure continued enrichment of forests.

“They need to use this information not us,” Dr. Michelle Schilling, who coordinates CGIS-NUR’s forest mapping project, said. Schilling said that the information contained in their report on forest maps will be useful to the Ministry of Lands, Forestry, Environment,
Water and Mines (MINITERE). Environmentalists need this information to carry out reforestation campaigns and update forests’ database. CGIS-NUR’s report on Rwanda’s forest situation to be published soon along with forest maps suggests that the country faces a twenty percent negative balance of forest cover over nineteen years between 1988 and 2007.

And as the government works to meet its target of having 30 percent of the country’s surface covered with forests in the next twenty-two years (in 2030), experts say that recent technology in Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing remains essential to achieve that.

Claudien Habimana, the Director of Forests with MINITERE, said more training on GIS applications will be organised for officials in the field.