An Introduction to Subproject 7

Aside from the assessment of already restored sites that forms the main focus of this research unit, subproject 7 will be focussing on live restoration in co-creation with local stakeholders. From 2024 through 2027, a Living Lab will be implemented in Northwestern Rwanda within the four nW districts,(Rutsiro, Nyabihu, Ngororero and Rubavu, a region known as a high risk soil erosion zone with Ngororero being at the top and Rubavu at the third position after Muhanga District). Here we are developing round tables of restoration practitioners to build up a network of key actors and exchange experiences. WhatsApp groups are being used as a starting point for this. The living lab will probably be set up across two to three different cells and villages where one village involves more traditional restoration activities (typically performed by ARCOS), another village involves typical ARCOS activities as well as our own additional actions, and a third village carries out restoration by a bottom-up community approach within a village.

With the aim to create actionable knowledge on how to design and implement restoration activities on the more ambitious side of the restorative continuum in different socio-political contexts, the Living Lab will be used to carry out scientific experiments together with stakeholders, using a transdisciplinary approach, to integrate science and practice towards positive social and ecological outcomes. The Living Lab will help foster local capacity building, empowerment through action, iterative learning, and capitalization on experience in a process-oriented way. Thus, the outcomes of this sub-project will be of direct relevance to sustainability transitions on the ground for a higher reproducibility as generalizable model for up-scaling of restoration practices as well as to boosting the academic understanding of which factors best leverage sustainability transitions.

Impressions from the KickOff in Kigali

Ecosystem restoration is now centre-stage in terms of providing potential options for restoring biodiversity as well as mitigating or adapting to climate change. It is also a global challenge given multiple demands on limited land, particularly in Rwanda, a country that is currently facing serious climatic pressures in a face of economically limited capacity of local communities to build resilience. The German Research Foundation is funding a new research project that is investigating the social and ecological outcomes of ecosystem restoration in Northwestern Rwanda, in in collaboration with many Rwandan stakeholders, including scientists from academic institutions, practitioners from governmental and private organizations, the civil society and representatives from local communities.

During their stay in Rwanda, researchers also had the opportunity to go to the field and further explore the study area. This now proves useful for the research design.

To get the research project off the ground, the consortium organised and led two important kick-off workshops in Kigali-Rwanda at the end of January (30th and 31st January 2024) to explore key concepts in social-ecological restoration to review the past, present and future of restoration science and practice with emphasis, as well as focussing on how the future could be shaped so that ecosystem restoration in western Rwanda could increasingly benefit both human well-being and ecological integrity and biodiversity in the long run. The first workshop focussed on scientific aspects of restoration in Rwanda (and participants were local scientists from Rwanda as well as the German team involving Leuphana University Lüneburg, Humboldt-University Berlin and University of Göttingen) also enabled initial networking to start within the broader collaboration in the context of the project. During the science-focussed kick-off workshop, the research team as well as the research were introduced to the participants at the workshop, and aside from an overview of the Restore Rwanda project, different methods typically applied in social ecological systems science were introduced and discussed in breakout groups and their scope applied to the Rwandan situation.

The second day was under the auspices of restoration practice, and many local and national practitioners, including local and national government officials from Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA), Rwanda Water Board (RWB) and Rutsiro, Rubavu, Ngororero and Nyabihu districts, World Resource Institute (WRI). Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Rwanda Space Agency (RSA), World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) and the Internation Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Here the group used the 3 Horizons method to analyse in smaller groups Horizon 1 (the current situation regarding restoration in Rwanda), Horizon 3 (where do we want to get to in the future) and then came up with key transformational tasks and paths needed to move from Horizon 1 to 3.  The exercise proved very successful, enabling a deep exchange between local and international participants as well as the compilation of a list of key transformation steps. Publications are being prepared based on the two workshops, with coauthors from Rwanda partners as well as the German-based consortium (that includes scientists from Rwanda and Burundi).

The nearly complete team of the research unit at the kick-off workshop – two newly hired members from Rwanda had not yet arrived in Germany, and two other members were sick and therefore could not attend. test

Our KickOff on Dec 14 & 15, 2023

In December 2023, a kick-off workshop took place at Leuphana University Lueneburg, and this marked the official start of the work of our research unit funded by the German Research Foundation which will specifically approach ecosystem restoration from a social-ecological systems perspective. Rwanda was chosen as the study area because of its ambitious efforts in ecosystem restoration over the last decades. The research unit involves 20 core members from four different research institutions in Germany, as well as collaborations with many additional researchers (and other stakeholders) from Rwanda.

An agroforestry landscape in western Rwanda (photo by Dula Wakassa Duguma).

Over the two workshop days, the project team had ample opportunity to get to know each other and set a roadmap for the research process. A presentation of impressions from a recent scoping trip helped to familiarise everyone with the study area and Rwanda’s unique landscapes. Following that, the teams of the various subprojects had the chance to connect and discuss methodological questions. The workshop’s positive and productive atmosphere fostered a lively exchange and will form the basis for future collaboration.

Dula Wakassa Duguma sharing findings and impressions from the field.
The team at dinner.

An ambitious agenda has been set for the following four years, including multiple PhD projects and workshops with government and NGO stakeholders in Rwanda. The next step will be a team visit to Rwanda at the end of January. To learn more about the research unit and to receive regular updates, follow this blog!