African Rift Lakes Programme

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Africa General

Africa/Madagascar > East Africa
Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Burundi


The African Rift Lakes (ARL) Programme consolidates and integrates experiences and lessons gained through a number of ongoing and well-established programmes. The new programme consolidates elements of the Albertine Rift Montane Forests Ecoregion Programme, East Africa Freshwater Programme and Species Action Plans for the elephant, rhino and great apes.

The ARL Programme will bring together WWF’s experiences and lessons learned at site level, including in community based natural resource management; at landscape and ecoregional levels in planning and partnerships; and at the policy level in integrated water resources management.

Combining its expertise in montane forests, species conservation and water resources management and stewardship provides WWF with the leverage required to contribute effectively to the ARL region’s most pressing environment and development challenges, while at the same time securing its unique biodiversity.


Spanning eight countries, the African Rift Lakes Region is an area of outstanding biodiversity. It brings together three distinct but interlinked regions, the Albertine Rift to the West, the African Great Lakes, and the Eastern (or Gregorian) Rift. The Region is one of the 35 priority places listed under the WWF Global Programme Framework.

The Albertine Rift is an area of exceptional endemism and contains numerous species threatened with global extinction. The forested catchments drain into a number of Africa’s great lakes, which in turn form part of two of Africa’s major basins, the Congo and Nile. The African Great Lakes include Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Albert, Lake Kivu and Lake Edward. The Great Lakes are renowned for their globally unique populations of cichlid fishes. The Eastern Rift Lakes region consists of freshwater lakes and a string of saline or alkaline lakes hosting unique bird populations. Flagship species in the ARL Region include the great apes, African elephant and African rhinos.

Natural resources are central to the economies of the region and directly support tens of millions of livelihoods. Mainstays of the regional economy include agriculture (including subsistence, horticulture, floriculture and dairy), domestic energy, hydro-power supply, pastoralism, fishing, mining, tourism and timber extraction. The key challenge for the people of the region is to strike a balance between extractive use and sustainable development. Constraints include the relatively weak institutional framework for natural resource management and weak enforcement of legislation.

WWF aims to ensure that the rich tapestry of forests, rivers and lakes of the Africa Rift Lakes Region is effectively managed and conserved to sustain locally and globally important ecosystem services and biodiversity, providing a foundation for sustainable development and secure livelihoods for the people of the region.
In its new strategic plan, WWF-ESARPO has identified 13 direct threats to the habitat and flagship species conservation targets, the most pervasive being forest land conversion for agriculture, climate change, fuelwood and charcoal, oil and gas development, river flow modification and pollution. The root causes and drivers of these threats include poverty, political unrest, weak governance, global and regional markets for natural resource products and demographic pressure.

WWF will contribute to and catalyse achievement of the ARL Programme vision through three approaches, namely: conservation of ecosystems and species in priority landscapes; management of ecological footprint; and promotion of sustainable livelihoods. WWF’s interventions will be focussed in 10 priority landscapes with complementary policy work designed to ensure conservation impact on a regional scale.

The ARL Programme will contribute, through conservation of priority landscapes, to delivery of three WWF Priority Species Action Programmes (Great Apes, Rhinos, and Elephants). The Programme will build links to and will contribute to delivery of ESARPO’s programme on climate and energy, through solutions and tools demonstrated at the landscape level as well as through policy, awareness raising and communications work. There are strong synergies with neighbouring priority places including Miombo Ecoregion, Coastal East Africa, and the Green Heart of Africa, particularly related to policy work and learning.


The programme identifies long-term, medium term and short term objectives.

Habitat Goals:
Long term: By 2050, the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic habitats within ten priority landscapes in the ARL Region is maintained.
Medium term:
a) By 2020, the ecological integrity of terrestrial habitats within ten priority landscapes in the ARL Region is maintained.
b) By 2020, montane and mid to lower catchment forests and forest farmlands in pilot sites are conserved based on equitable payment for environmental service schemes.
c) By 2020, the impact of ecological and water footprint in priority lake and river basins is reduced and/or maintained at 2010 levels.

Flagship Species Goals:
Long term: By 2050, the population of flagship species (elephants, rhino, great apes) in priority landscapes in the ARL Region are stable and or increasing compared to 2010 baseline.
Medium term: By 2020, the populations of African elephants, African rhinos and great apes in priority landscapes in the ARL Region are stable and or increasing compared to 2010 baseline.
Short term objectives: over the next 5 years the plan will address problems caused by:
- Forest habitat conversion for agricultural development and over-reliance on forest and wildlife resources.
- The impacts of oil and gas development.
- Demand for woodfuel from protected areas.
- Diminishing quantity and quality of hydro-flows.
- Illegal logging in priority landscapes.
- Impacts of climate change.
- Illegal poaching, wildlife trade and human wildlife conflicts.


To achieve the set objectives, the following strategies (among others) will be employed following a programmatic approach:
- Undertaking protection, management and restoration activities.
- Advocacy for conservation finance.
- Policy work at national and regional levels to establish appropriate policies, legal and institutional frameworks.
- Civil society strengthening for advocacy and lobbying.
- Development of fuel efficient stoves and energy alternatives for household energy as well as sustainable fuelwood production.
- Undertaking policy and field interventions based on integrated water resources management principles.
- Managing climate vulnerabilities and hazards associated with the impacts of climate variability and change.
- Developing strategic partnerships e.g. for flagship species conservation focusing on protection and biological management.
These activities will contribute to the following outputs:
1. A consolidated strategy for the African Rift Lakes Region priority place finalised and put into operation.
2. Community based gorilla tourism supported to protect gorilla habitats in Buniga forest in Nkuringo, Uganda
3. Control of illegal timber trade and movement from eastern DRC

WWF ESARPO will provide overall management of the project with the African Rift Lakes Programme Leader or a designate as the focal point responsible for its implementation.

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