Community Development

Through its community development strategy, Akagera National Park is increasingly interwoven into the fabric of its neighbouring communities. Working with the more than 500,000 people living in these areas is critical to the park’s long-term viability. More than ten years of community development and ensuring that the park delivers tangible benefits to the local communities has made Akagera a source of pride and a valued asset in the region.

Community Engagement

© Gael Ruboneka Vande Weghe
Yearly gatherings with the communities ensure good communication and engagement

Akagera plays a key role in communication and engagement, from the government level to village meetings where two-way conversations take place. Over 7,000 community members participate annually in gatherings to discuss conservation and human-wildlife conflict issues, and engagements with cooperatives to assist in business development. Sporting events are regularly hosted by the park – for example, the annual Rhino Velo Bike Race, Lions Football Cup and Rhino Footrace – attracting thousands of spectators, and building goodwill and positive relations.

Education and Environmental Awareness

© Scott Ramsay
Eco-Clubs focus on environmental messaging such as the importance of planting trees.

In addition to building and supporting schools, Akagera educates local schoolchildren on the importance of biodiversity, which is critical to creating a constituency for conservation. Regular Eco-Club teacher training and 40 Eco-Club events help convey strong conservation messages to nearly 2,000 members yearly.

The park hosts regular environmental education awareness sessions each year, with over 2,000 students and 214 teachers visiting in the past year. Each visit includes a safari through the park followed by a learning session at the Savannah Learning Centre, during which the children take a quiz on their conservation and park ecology knowledge. Akagera has begun to invite children from schools outside the neighbouring districts to visit for free. This was trialled in 2023 and 500 schoolchildren came to visit. In this way, more schoolchildren from further afield are able to enjoy and learn from the park.

Sustainable Enterprise Development

© Gaël Ruboneka Vande Weghe
Caption: Gishanda Fish Farm helps to enhance livelihoods and provide an accessible protein source.

Akagera’s income-generating activities enhance the acceleration of economic development, and includes projects such as honey harvesting, a fishing cooperative, and a women’s chicken cooperative with over 1,500 cooperative members taking part so far. 

When African Parks assumed management of Akagera in 2010, the park employed 59 people. Today, over 300 full-time staff are employed – the vast majority from local communities. The injection of funds into local economies via park staff salaries and the purchasing of local materials and services strengthen community ties and ensure the park’s long-term sustainability.

One of Akagera’s mandates is to create sustainable socio-economic enterprises that alleviate poverty and enhance the livelihoods of local communities. Gishanda Fish Farm, launched in 2022 in collaboration with FoodTechAfrica and supported by the Rwandan and Dutch governments, is a flagship project that offers community members an accessible protein source of tilapia, while enhancing sustainable farming methods and providing new skills and jobs. In its first year, Gishanda Fish Farm supplied 248,000 fingerlings to restock the lakes of five cooperatives, as well as training in sustainable harvesting, so that by year-end 11,121 kg of tilapia had been harvested, with one cooperative harvesting 10,033 kg of the total, effectively doubling its pre-restocking off-takes. This particular cooperative operates in an area with a significant hippo population and is an advocate for mitigation measures to avoid human-wildlife conflict and promote coexistence, as it appreciates the contribution hippo make to the health of the waterway and consequent success in its fish off-takes.

Thanks to Gishanda, two villages were electrified; a primary school constructed, which receives clean water from the farm’s boreholes; multiple permanent jobs and regular casual jobs have been created; and a community-run organic vegetable farm, fertilised by the farm’s wastewater, established.

Community Infrastructure Development

© Gael Ruboneka Vande Weghe
Gishanda Fish Farm is a new sustainable socio-economic development project for Akagera and its communities

Infrastructure projects that improve the quality of life for local communities have expanded year on year. Such projects include: constructing schools, health centres and libraries; building water-provision sites; and helping develop local associations and small enterprises. In 2023, Akagera opened a new Community Library, stocked with books from BookAid International. The community team organised groups of school children to visit the library throughout the year. Meanwhile, seedlings of almost 30,000 trees were planted across 21 sites (including two schools, and roadsides).