Revitalization of the National Herbarium of Rwanda by Raymond Umazekabiri

A well-maintained herbarium is a critical resource for biodiversity science, ecological research, environmental change studies, and evolutionary research projects. Herbaria contain primary data in the form of dried and labeled plant specimens arranged to allow for easy retrieval access and archival storage, and in digital form. The specimens can span hundreds of years depending on the history of plant collections in a country. An herbarium is thus similar to a library with information stored in a biological form of pressed, dried and recorded plant specimens; lichens, fungi, bryophytes and some vascular plants are preserved differently but contribute to this rich library of environmental information. Specimens for an herbarium are acquired over time from mainly research field collections. Multiple samples from many individuals of each plant species are collected from different habitats and preserved in herbaria so that variation among individuals can be documented and studied for relationships with ecological or evolutionary factors. Herbarium collections thus host the basic material needed to obtain information about the world’s biodiversity and environmental change. Herbarium specimens also provide materials for research in flora ecology and geographic distribution. An herbarium also serves as an important source of information for research applications in various fields including systematic, ethnobotany, pharmacy, chemistry, natural products, and paleobotany. The National Herbarium of Rwanda (NHR) contains +17,700 voucher specimens dating from 1915, as well as a seed collection. We are developing a web portal which will host information about the specimens in the herbarium, as well as checklists and publication, all accessible to the public. This national treasure was founded during the Belgian colonial period as part of the Institut de Recherche Scientifique en Afrique Centrale (IRSAC) which later became Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (IRST) and now National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA). In 2018, it was officially transferred to University of Rwanda, and is managed by the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB) at College of Science and Technology (CST) where it fits well within the CoEB mission to make information and research available for evidence-based decision making. The CoEB has received funding from IRD/SEP2D to upgrade and digitize the herbarium, and make it into a well-used and renowned botanical research and educational institution for Rwanda and the region. We believe that the upgrading and digitizing of the National Herbarium of Rwanda will help stimulate botanical research and plant conservation in Rwanda and the Albertine Rift region.



Raymond Umazekabiri is a graduate from Botany and Conservation at University of Rwanda, College of Science and Technology. He is passionate in the field of plant taxonomy and systematic, ecology and ecosystem services, as well as collection management. He is a National Geographic Explorer since August, 2019 through his Early Career Grant awarded from National Geographic Society (NGS) where he is exploring the diversity, abundance and host relationships of mistletoe species along elevation gradient in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Raymond coordinated the National Herbarium of Rwanda Upgrading and Digitizing project at CoEB funded by SEP2D/IRD in France since it started and later, he has been appointed as Herbarium Assistant and continues to work with the specimens, data entry, and trainings on data portal management. He assisted a project entitled “ozone monitoring and its impact on crop yields in rural area of Rwanda” by collaboration with CoEB and a researcher from Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in UK where he was responsible for setting up ozone diffusion tubes and gathering data, and sending it to UK partners for laboratory analysis. He was also responsible for planting local beans and detecting ozone injuries while growing. He became a 2nd prize winner in Conversion on Conservation (CoC) poster competition in 2018 and awarded a membership in Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). He also assisted Scientists from Emory University, USA to measure soil trace gases in maize plantations and participatory surveys with farmers to see how they do agriculture and the challenges they face related to climate change. Raymond is involved in different research project proposal writing in CoEB and mentors interns and undergraduate students who come to work in the herbarium. He will be starting a Master’s degree program in Germany in Biodiversity Collections and Management in October-November 2020.