Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

2017
07.31.2018
Rangers Project
On #WorldRangerDay, we are so proud of the efforts of our rangers, who show dedication and resilience, despite the dangers they face.

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07.22.2018
Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, receives his PhD
Congratulations to Ephrem Balole, Manager of Virunga SARL, who received his PhD from the University of Kinshasa last week! Ephrem has been r...

Explore EPHREM BALOLE, MANAGER OF VIRUNGA SARL, RECEIVES HIS PHD

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06.06.2018
Rangers Project
We are so proud that Jolie, one of Virunga’s female rangers, shared her story of what motivated her to become a ranger at the European Devel...

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06.05.2018
Fallen Rangers Project
Representatives from the Rumangabo Widows sewing workshop attended the European Development Days conference in Brussels, where they showcase...

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05.31.2018
Virunga coffee launches!
One for the coffee fans out there: every purchase of Higher Grounds' Kawa Kanzururu Coffee goes towards supporting the development work of V...

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05.31.2018
Rangers Project
We are so delighted to share the news that the mountain gorilla population has surpassed 1000! Incredible news for Virunga and incredible news for conservation, and testament to the continued work of Virunga's Rangers in ensuring the protection of the species.

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02.13.2018
Fallen Rangers Fund
Children of the fallen Rangers playing in the child care center at the widows workshop! On-site child care reduces the initial stressors tha...

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12.05.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A total of 68 widows and 190 children of fallen Rangers, are now, thanks to the Fallen Rangers Fund, being offered financial support, education, and meaningful employment.

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09.11.2017
Rangers Project
Today, Park Rangers along with the Gorilla Doctors team successfully located the Rugendo group and removed a deadly snare from the arm of yo...

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07.30.2017
Rangers Project
Happy World Ranger Day! We are extremely proud and grateful to all our Rangers. These men and women are deeply committed to Virunga and ensu...

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07.29.2017
Rangers Project
Last week marked the completion of 5 months of incredibly tough training for Virunga's newest Rangers. 6500 applied, 81 made it through.

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01.12.2017
Fallen Rangers Fund
A beautiful selection of napkins made by the widows of fallen Rangers are on sale at Mikeno Lodge.

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Photo Credit: Brent Stirton; Logo Credit: Jib Limited

Photo Credit: Adam Kiefer; Logo Credit: Jib Limited

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: Jib Limited

Virunga

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: Jib Limited

Photo credit: Orlando von Einsiedel

Photo credit: Brent Stirton; Logo credit: Jib Limited

Explore Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse protected area

Unlike anywhere else in the world, Virunga National Park contains some of the greatest national treasures on earth

About Virunga

Learn more

Stability through sustainable development in the eastern Congo

The Virunga Alliance is working to create an alternative economy that enables surrounding communities to benefit from the National Park

Virunga Alliance

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Meet the heroes who risk their lives to protect the Park’s wildlife and local communities

Rangers’ work is critical to the stability of the Park and the safety of the lives that surround it

Rangers Project

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Join our virtual fitness challenge.

Virunga has over 700 men and women who serve as rangers to protect Africa's oldest and most biologically diverse protected area and the communities and livelihoods that depend on it.

Virunga Ranger Challenge

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01

The Virunga Alliance

Born out of the Congolese commitment to protect Virunga National Park and the four million people who live within a day's walk of the Park's borders, the Virunga Alliance aims to foster peace and prosperity through the responsible economic development of natural resources.

What is the Virunga Alliance?

The Virunga Alliance is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) based on the collaboration between civil society, public institutions, and the private sector, working together for the purpose of achieving sustainable development goals in eastern Congo.


It is a community committed to using development as an instrument for bringing peace and prosperity to the region.


The Alliance’s vision is to deliver large-scale opportunities for the local community by reducing poverty rates, stabilizing security, and strengthening local infrastructure.

The Alliance is built on a three-phase approach and identifies three main sectors for development - tourism, sustainable energy and access to credit, and sustainable agriculture and fisheries.


This pioneering development initiative, focussing on unlocking the potential of the Park’s and surrounding areas' natural resources for the benefit of local communities, represents a significant step in conservation and peace-building.


The Alliance's success will position the Park as a major driver of peace and prosperity for the Congolese people, while also offering a template that has the potential to be recreated in other regions grappling with similar challenges.

"I am excited to be a part of Virunga Alliance’s groundbreaking efforts to conserve the Park’s biodiversity and support sustainable development for the population of North Kivu.”

Dr. Chantal Shalukoma
Deputy Director, Virunga National Park

Dr. Chantal is responsible for the conservation of wildlife throughout the Park’s three sectors, including Virunga’s endangered mountain gorillas. She has worked with ICCN since 1992 and has served at Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Lomami National Park before joining Virunga National Park in 2019.

Dr. Chantal is responsible for the conservation of wildlife throughout the Park’s three sectors, including Virunga’s endangered mountain gorillas. She has worked with ICCN since 1992 and has served at Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Lomami National Park before joining Virunga National Park in 2019.

Goals of the Virunga Alliance

Economic Impact

$1 bil.

Increase regional GDP by USD 1 billion, nearly doubling the Park’s local opportunity cost

Job Creation

100,000

New and sustainable jobs that will unlock economic opportunities for the local population

Clean Energy

105 MW

Hydroelectric power developed for commercial and residential use

Eco-Tourism

19,000

Local and international tourists visiting Virunga annually from 2022

Sustainable Agriculture

20 value chains

Exploiting the agricultural potential of North Kivu through production, transformation and distribution in/from the DRC

02

The Challenge

Virunga National Park’s resources have enormous economic value. When these resources are poorly managed, it can lead to extreme cycles of violence. Cultivating peace and stability in the region is tied to the Park’s ability to harness the wealth of the Park to help build new jobs and opportunities for the local population.

Summary of the Conflict Economy

In the past two decades, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been deeply impacted by a civil war that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 5.6 million people, making the conflict the deadliest since World War II.


Despite being one of the most naturally wealthy countries in the world, nearly 77% of the population is living in extreme poverty, defined by the World Bank as those living on less than US$1.90 per day.

Virunga National Park exists between these extremes of economic poverty and natural wealth, which has made it a target for those looking to profit from its resources. Millions of dollars' worth of illegally trafficked charcoal, fish, and animal products are extracted from the Park each year by members of armed militias.


These armed militants are regularly met by Virunga’s Rangers who are tasked with protecting the Park’s valuable resources. To date, over 175 brave and committed Rangers have lost their lives safeguarding Virunga National Park.

Rangers protecting against further deforestation
Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Rangers patrolling for charcoal extracted from within the Park
Photo credit: Brent Stirton

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In protecting Virunga’s natural resources, Park management is confronted by an immense social justice problem – land that has an enormous economic value is being set aside for conservation and therefore cannot be used by the local people.


By depriving the local population of access to resources within the Park, the poorest people on earth are being asked to pay the price for conservation.

The only viable solution is to create an alternative economy that incorporates and enables the community living around Virunga to benefit from a thriving National Park. This is the premise of the Virunga Alliance.

Virunga's Economy at a Glance

Poverty Index

77.2%

People in the eastern Congo are living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per person per day.

Population

6.7M

Individuals currently living in North Kivu - four million live within a day's walk of the Park.

Growth Rate

3.2%

Annual population growth rate for the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2010 and 2015.

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Charcoal Extraction

Millions of dollars worth of charcoal is illegally extracted each year from within the Park boundary by armed militants.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Poaching

Millions of dollars worth of revenue from the sale of animal parts, mainly in the forms of bushmeat and ivory, are illegally poached from the Park per year.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

Illegal Fishing

$35M worth of fish are illegal extracted from Lake Edward each year using unsustainable fishing practices.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton
threats-agriculture_2

Illegal Agriculture

Around 20% of the Park’s surface is invaded, notably by illegal agriculture for both subsistence and commercial farming, in large part controlled by armed groups.


Photo Credit: Brent Stirton

03

Building a Solution

The Virunga Alliance was founded on the principle that the Park’s survival depends on its ability to act as an asset for its surrounding communities. Through the responsible and sustainable development of the Park’s key assets - tourism, clean energy, and sustainable agriculture - the Virunga Alliance is working to kick-start a green economy in eastern Congo, for the benefit of its neighbouring communities.

The Pillars

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01
Eco-Tourism

From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, Virunga National Park was the francophone equivalent of the Serengeti as a world class destination, but conflicts caused a decline in Tourism. On top of giving a positive image of North-Kivu to the rest of the world, nature-based tourism is a sector with among the largest multipliers for the local economy. Tourism is a labor-intensive sector. Large amounts of money are spent on purchases that directly benefit to the poorest inhabitants.

Through massive efforts, tourism was relaunched in 2014. Since that time, there have been over 15,000 visitors to the Park.

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01
Eco-Tourism
Tourism in Virunga National Park holds massive potential for eastern Congo and is a clear growth industry for the entire region. The creation of highly skilled and profitable employment that is also sustainable has the potential to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the country.
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02
Clean Energy

Virunga National Park’s hydroelectric potential is estimated at 105MW. Four hydroelectric stations are currently operational.


Two small stations (0.35 MW and 1.4 MW) are in operation in Mutwanga, north of Lake Edward. They supply a distribution network of around 40,000 direct and indirect users.


The Rushuru I station (13MW), located in Matebe, supplies the Rutshuru Province, along with an extension of the line as far as Goma. Its distribution network supplies 300,000 direct and indirect users (by end of 2019).


The Luviro station (14.6 MW) will be put into operation at the beginning of 2020. The same size as Rutshuru I, it will supply Lubero Province and hopefully the town of Butembo. Its network will benefit 250,000 direct and indirect users.


The Virunga Alliance is aimed at stimulating economic growth and its activities are targeted at small and medium businesses. Their development is unfeasible without access to electricity as alternative energy sources (for example, solar power) do not meet their needs. Generators, beyond their environmental impact, are prohibitively expensive.

A system is in place to allow them to access financial resources which banks generally refuse to grant them. The beneficiaries can take out a loan which they repay at each purchase of electricity, which will have an average increase on the regular kWh price . They are therefore not obliged to pay a fixed sum at the end of the month and can repay their loan when they make a profit. By the end of 2019, 131 local entrepreneurs had taken advantage of the scheme. They have used the loans to finance mills, dryers, fridges, incubators, ovens, carpentry tools, welding units, oil presses, cement blocks and electrical equipment to name but a few. These businesses also invest in infrastructure projects.


Three industrial parks are currently being considered close to the hydroelectric stations. They will offer businesses an ideal environment for their development: a secure area with easy access to electricity and water along with setup infrastructure to help establish their business. Training and financial advice will also be offered to all businesses established in the industrial park.


Domestic connections are available to all households that request them. Electricity purchases are made on a prepaid meter, which encourages saving electricity. Electricity is however not a substitute for charcoal consumption during meal preparation. Solving the complex issue of the “Makala” will only be feasible through a range of measures: Changes in cooking habits, production of “eco-charcoal”, access to gas, improved hearths etc.


All inhabitants of supplied villages and neighbourhoods benefit from street lighting. Its impact is profound: social life in the evenings is extended and most importantly, security improves. This has particularly been relayed back by women, who are the main targets of kidnappings and rapes.

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02
Clean Energy
The Virunga Alliance is working to tackle both energy poverty and to curb production of illegal charcoal by harnessing the enormous hydrological resources of the Park to create sustainable electricity for local communities and businesses.
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03
Sustainable Agriculture

The Virunga Alliance promotes the sustainable exploitation of agricultural production by working on the value chain: production by small-scale farmers and fishermen, agro-industrial processing to add value to produce, and distribution to local, national, and international markets.


Access to electricity has allowed for the establishment of a network of 30 cold-rooms which supports the fishing and vegetable cultivation industries. It makes it possible to store fresh produce and release it into the urban market outwith the harvest periods. This system increases the sale price for small producers and provides a higher quality produce to consumers, often replacing imported produce.


The renown of Virunga National Park is used to help promote local produce. Patents are in place to protect the logo, which is then made available to cooperatives that seek to ensure the reputation of their products. Several Virunga Alliance businesses are already in operation.

Sicovir, a soap factory, employs 100 staff, generates revenue for 3500 small scale palm tree owners and provides 10 tonnes of soap to local markets daily.


Virunga Enzymes uses papaya to produce papain, a high-quality enzyme for use by the pharmaceutical industry in Europe, and provides 15 full time jobs, as well as supporting 300 papaya growers.


A chocolate factory will be opened in the first quarter of 2020, which will allow for the production of chocolate bars in DRC for export to European and North American markets.


Virunga Alliance’s initiatives should prove worthy of emulation. They demonstrate that agricultural development to a larger scale is viable in the province. This is particularly noticeable in the milling industry – for wheat, maize, and cassava flour – which is experiencing a veritable boom. This new and intensified economic dynamism is having a profound impact in the rural areas where it is taking place.

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03
Sustainable Agriculture
Electricity provided by the Virunga Alliance’s clean energy program has allowed a number of businesses to expand in the eastern Congo. A reliable, affordable power supply is already breathing life back into the private sector, especially agri-business processing.
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Today
2017
Our Goal
2030
  • Eco-Tourism
  • Clean Energy
  • Sustainable Agriculture
Tourists

Tourists in the Park each year
Bed Nights

Bed nights available
Direct Jobs

Jobs created directly through Virunga National Park
Indirect Jobs

Jobs created indirectly through community initiatives tied to eco-tourism
Megawatts

Hydro-power available for commercial and human development
Power Lines

Kilometers of power lines installed
Smart Meters

Smart meters connected in local households and businesses
Enterprises Served

Households and small-medium enterprises served
Jobs

Newly created and supported direct and indirect jobs
Investment Portfolio

Investment portfolio (USD) with loans benefiting small to medium enterprises
Agro-Transformation

Agro-transformation business benefiting from investments through the Virunga Alliance
Improved Income

Small farming and fishing households benefitting from an improved income

Strengthening Infrastructure

Eastern Congo suffers from two key structural problems that hamper its economic development: inadequate roads and a very adverse business climate. As part of the three pillars of the Virunga Alliance, there is a commitment to improving local infrastructure and governance.


Transport is key to sustainable development and a thriving agricultural business. In the absence of quality feeder roads, small farmers cannot reach urban markets and sell their produce, or can only reach markets after excessive delay and difficulty with produce whose quality has deteriorated. Instead, intermediaries buy the harvest at a very low price and keep the profit margins. Many products that could be produced within the DRC are imported and sold at much higher prices.

Legal insecurity and excessive taxation are another obstacle to small and medium-size entrepreneurship. Many growing businesses struggle with challenges, such as corruption, which can serve as serious impediments to business growth.


The Virunga Alliance is working to tackle these issues through the construction and the maintenance of 1000 km of feeder roads. It will also consolidate the rule of law by leveraging the judicial authority enshrined in the statute of its Rangers and providing legal and fiscal advice to local entrepreneurs. By working on these two “enabling” factors, the Park will unlock the economic potential that hydroelectricity brings to the region.

The Virunga Alliance, has to date, built four hydro-electrical power plants. We have become the largest producer of electricity in eastern Congo. Hundreds of thousands of people benefit from our work.

Ephrem Balole
CEO, Virunga Energies

Photo credit: Virunga National Park

As CEO of Virunga Energies, Ephrem Balole helps to oversee the running of Virunga's hydro projects. He has been involved in Park operations for over ten years.

As CEO of Virunga Energies, Ephrem Balole helps to oversee the running of Virunga's hydro projects. He has been involved in Park operations for over ten years.

Governance of the Virunga Alliance

The Virunga Alliance is the result of the collaboration of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Virunga Foundation, and 127 local institutions from the private sector, civil society and government agencies.


The program is being implemented by an experienced team of Congolese and international experts, with a long track record of delivering effective results in the region. The team operates through Virunga Energies, a DRC subsidiary of the Virunga Foundation, structured to ensure good corporate governance and to promote institutional sustainability.

The Public-Private Partnership agreement established in 2011 gives the Virunga Foundation an official mandate and the management freedom needed to rapidly and efficiently implement a conservation focussed peace-building program. It also keeps the Virunga Foundation accountable to the State.


All external and internal resources are deployed within a transparent framework, designed in consultation with the Park’s neighboring communities, and managed in terms of best practice corporate governance.

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Mutwanga hydro-electric plant employee

Mutwanga hydroelectric power plant employee/ Life in Mutwanga is transformed. The hydroelectric plant supplies energy to households, businesses and hospitals in the locality. The socio-economic situation is developing with increased vigour.


Photo credit: Brent Stirton

School children in Rumangabo

Schoolchildren in Rumangabo/ A community project allowed the renovation of the school building. Dozens of Parc employees live in the village, which has benefited from an improved security situation due to the presence of Virunga rangers.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

Mikeno lodge staff members

Housework in Rutshuru/ Projects in the agricultural and energy sectors have improved the living conditions of numerous households.


Photo credit: Virunga National Park

04

The Progress

Thanks to the commitment of the Virunga Rangers, Congolese government, and partners and supporters from around the world, the Park has seen a remarkable period of transformation since the creation of the Virunga Alliance.

  • 2008
    Development meets conservation
  • 2010
    Hydroelectric Potential
  • 2011
    Public-Private Partnership
  • 2012
    Community Development
  • 2013
    Mutwanga Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2014
    Tourism Relaunched
  • 2015
    Matebe Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2016
    Luviro Hydroelectric Plant
  • 2017
    Mutwanga II Construction Begins
  • 2018
    Sustainable Agriculture is Accelerated
  • 2019
    Electricity Arrives in Goma

Photo credit: Caj Tjeenk Willink

2008
Development meets conservation
With the appointment of a new Park Director, civil society, private sector and state institutions come together to work towards sustainable development goals in eastern Congo.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2010
Hydroelectric Potential
Virunga’s hydroelectric potential is identified as a key area for economic growth in the region. Construction for the pilot 400KW hydroelectric plant near Mutwanga, a rural village in Virunga's Northern Sector, begins.

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2011
Public-Private Partnership
The Virunga Foundation signs an innovative, 25 year co-management agreement with ICCN. The agreement brings together 127 local institutions from private, civil and government sectors – all committed to sustainably developing the Park’s resources.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2012
Community Development
The Rumangabo water supply network is built at the height of the war in April-August 2012 to reduce women and children’s exposure to the dangers of armed conflict by having to venture far from their homes to collect water during the fighting.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2013
Mutwanga Hydroelectric Plant
Mutwanga generates electricity for over a thousand homes and SMEs (instead of 600)

Photo credit: LuAnne Cadd

2014
Tourism Relaunched
Tourism in the Park is relaunched in January 2014 after the Park was forced to close due to a resurgence of armed conflict in 2012.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2015
Matebe Hydroelectric Plant
The launch of the second hydroelectric plant, Matebe, with over 13MW capacity provides clean electricity to 5000 local homes and businesses.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2016
Luviro Hydroelectric Plant
Construction of the 14.5MW Luviro power plant begins. First connections are planned for 2020.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

2017
Mutwanga II Construction Begins
Construction on Mutwanga II begins and is expected to drastically increase capacity of the hydro-electricity network by 2018.
2018
Sustainable Agriculture is Accelerated
Acceleration of the Agricultural program that supports small farmers in the coffee, cocoa, palm sector, market gardening and legal fishermen and women from Lake Edward.
2019
Electricity Arrives in Goma
Clean, sustainable electricity arrives in the city of Goma, home to around 2 million inhabitants.

Our Progress

Infrastructure

20

Hospitals have been completed, along with 9 schools, and 2 health clinics

Roads

68

Kilometers of feeder roads have that have been successfully rehabilitated

Energy

21

Local villages now have access to public lighting from clean energy

Network

5000

Homes are being powered by Virunga’s two online hydroelectric projects

Tourists

17000

Tourists have visited Virunga

05

Community Development and Programs

Virunga and its partners are committed to integrating the highest standards of community-based natural resource management by soliciting and incorporating input from the communities living around the Park.

Our Programs

Virunga regularly consults with the local population to determine conservation and investment priorities.


Virunga National Park also depends on the support from its international community to sustain its vital programs, such as Ranger training, the Fallen Rangers Fund for Widows, and the orphan gorilla program, that deliver benefits to its wildlife, employees, and local communities.

When you choose to support Virunga National Park, your donation not only helps to establish a future for the Park but also provides crucial resources for the Park’s dedicated community members whose livelihoods depend on the Park's survival.

Join the Effort to Protect Virunga National Park

You can make a difference by joining our community of dedicated individuals who aim to protect Africa’s oldest national park and bring peace and prosperity for the four million people who depend on it.