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22 September 2019
PLATFORM2013: An urgent rescue intervention is needed to save the Acacia Kirkii tree from extinction in Rwanda Print
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 14:37
NUR Vice Rector

National University of Rwanda (Huye Campus’) article in PLATFORM2013 highlights the threat to the endangered Acacia Kirkii species, found only along the Muvumba River in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

Prof. Umaru Garba Wall | Ag. Dean Faculty of Applied Sciences and Coordinator Water Resources and Environmental Management Programme & Canisius P Mugunga | Lecturer (PhD Research) | Faculty of Applied Agriculture

(Portrait: Vice-Rector in charge of academic affairs, Prof. Manasse Mbonye)

Research in Context
To live up to its mission, the National University of Rwanda (NUR) articulated its 2002– 2023 long-term research objective, to generate scientific knowledge and analytical work that contributes to Rwanda’s development,” said Vice-Rector in charge of academic affairs Prof. Manasse Mbonye when discussing Research Uptake at the National University of Rwanda.Thus, NUR has prioritised the following research themes addressing socio-economic impacts: economic development and good governance; energy; environment, climate change and disaster management; food security; and health and human well-being. Under the thematic area environment, climate change and disaster management, research was carried out to investigate the acacia kirkii, an indigenous tree facing extinction in Rwanda. The aim of this research was to advocate for the conservation of acacia kirkii and the sustainability of the natural ecosystem of which it is a part, and to ensure the tree prevails for the use of future generations. As the tree grows very fast, it can also be considered for commercial plantation for wood and charcoal, which could contribute to poverty alleviation in the areas in which it is able to grow.”

Purpose of research
Acacia kirkii’s ecosystem is shrinking as a result of many anthropogenic factors. Farmlands, predominantly featuring rice cultivation, have taken over from previously indigenous territories. Urbanisation is taking its toll. And environmental resources are being exploited for other competing uses, including the current irrigation development along the Muvumba river – the only natural habitat of acacia kirkii in Rwanda. The aim of this research was to contribute to the conservation of acacias in Rwanda, starting with acacia kirkii, the most vulnerable species. This tree species is localised in a small natural monospecific stand in Nyagatare town on the Muvumba river, and is not found in any other part of the country. It is threatened to extinction at its natural distribution sites.

Benefits of acacia kirkii growth
Thorny, with dense leaves and branches, this tree is well suited for efficiently contributing to the conservation of wetlands. Acacia kirkii can grow in waterlogged areas, and harbours unique and diverse animal and plant species. Furthermore, the species could be used to naturally control erosion and protect riverbanks. Its leaves, twigs and pods contain fairly high concentrations of protein and can be use as fodder for animals, while its presence improves soil fertility through nitrogen fixation. Acacia kirkii grows into one of the biggest trees in the eastern savannah wood- lands of Rwanda. It is a beautiful tree with a yellow-green stem and prolific flowers. It contributes to wild beekeeping and is a natural tourism asset.

Acacia kirkii is also a source of wood for construction and energy. Strategic conservation of the species could cater for human needs, with firewood and charcoal derived from the trees becoming a source of income generation in poor areas. It typically falls to women and children to gather and fetch firewood, and an increase in the density and proximity of acacia kirkii trees could reduce the distance walked and time taken for this task. This time could then be used to engage in empowering educational and other income-generating activities. All the above-mentioned benefits and services could contribute to the alleviation and eradication of poverty, the suffering of the poor, and environmental sustainability, all of which are in line with Millennium Development Goals

The Rwandan Government has shown strong commitment to the conservation of natural resources (organic law No04/2005 of 8/4/2005 determining modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of environment in Rwanda). It is signatory of different international treaties pertaining to the conservation of the environment. It is also an active member in various regional networks aiming at the conservation and sustainable utilisation of plant genetic resources. Additionally, the Rwandan government’s Vision 2020 indicates its commitment to the preservation of a healthy planet. Regardless of all these nice initiatives, environmental degradation has been accelerating and consequences have been compounding. In a very short period, we have witnessed significant loss of ecosystems harbouring rare species – some of which may be endemic. One of the most affected areas is the Eastern Province which, according to our observation, no longer has a single intact forest. Unknown species might be gone forever or might soon disappear if action is not taken. Acacia kirkii trees were observed to be the most affected forest in this area.

Some major findings

•   Acacia kirkiican adapt in all the agro-ecological zones of Rwanda.

•    Acacia kirkiiis fast growing and attained an average root collar diameter of 13.5 cm and total
height of 9m in the first year.

•    Acaciasare sensitive to soil types.

•    Acacia kirkiico-occur with other plants species including trees, shrubs, herbs and grass. Compared to other trees in the region Acacia kirkii trees are the most frequent along the Muvumba River, but shrubs, herbs and grasses are more prolific.

•    Seed germination was about 10% for untreated lots and was improved to 85% when the seed was soaked in hot water for 24 hours.

•    Acacias are sensitive to soil types. Young seedlings performed poorly under the mother tree, which may be attributed to low-soil pH, low soil cation exchange and allelopathic characteristic of acacias


RecommendationsThere is need to advocate for the conservation of this species not only in Rwanda but also in the greater region, where the species naturally occurs. It may be the case that the species is also undergoing extinction in areas outside Rwanda. A trans-boundary joint effort is urgent to ensure this very important species localised in a very small East Central African region prevails perpetually for the use of future generations. We therefore call upon different partners to intervene in this issue without delay.

·        The Acacia kirkii tree performs well in ex-situ stands, which is highly recommended to ensure its sustainability in its natural ecosystem.

·        As it is indigenous planting A. kirkii around wetlands and water bodies where erosion risk is high is recommended.

·        Further research needs to be carried out in order to understand the following: (i) why the young seedlings of the Acacia kirkii tree do not perform well under the mother tree, (ii) what cause the acidification of the soil where Acacia kirkii occur naturally, (iii) is Acacia kirkii allellopathic? (iv) Can Acacia kirkii produce viable seed at new sites?

·        Acacia kirkii should be considered for commercial plantation for wood and charcoal – it is very fast growing.

Join the Research Uptake Conversation

If this piece of evidence-based development research from SSA is of use to you, please continue the Research Uptake Conversation by contacting the National University of Rwanda [Huye Campus].


DRUSSA Research Uptake Leader at National University of Rwanda – Huye Campus
Prof. Manasse Mbonye
Vice-rector in charge of Academic Affairs

DRUSSA Research Uptake Champion at National University of Rwanda – Huye Campus
Prof. Dr Verdiana Grace Masanja
Director Of Research And Full Professor Of Mathematics
Research Directorate

PLATFORM2013 writers / researcher s
Prof. Umaru Garba Wali
Ag. Dean Faculty of Applied Sciences and Coordinator Water Resources and Environmental Management Programme

Canisius P Mugunga
Lecturer (PhD Research)

Faculty of Applied of Agriculture

Read this article on pages 46 and 47 of PLATFORM2013 – a print and digital publication from the DRUSSA Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] – aimed at accessibly communicating evidence-based development research with the goal of deepening its reach and impact in the region. 

Follow the PLATFORM2013 blog campaign daily until 16 January 2014. You’ll find the blog schedule on PLATFORM2013 articles from the DRUSSA Universities here