Dispatches from the Field & Project Summaries
Rwanda Tourism – Rwanda (ORTPN), Nyungwe National Park: Ancient rainforest alive with primates – the next best thing to time travel
April 20, 2008
Truth be told, when we arrived in Rwanda, we hadn’t even heard of Nyungwe National Park. Fortunately, thanks to a lead from the folks at Rwanda Tourism (ORTPN), we learned about the little-publicized but grand-scaled gem in southern Rwanda and knew that our trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit.
At 1,000 square kilometers, Nyungwe is the largest mountain rainforest in Africa and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the ice age.
After traveling for days in Uganda and Rwanda’s heavily cultivated landscapes, crossing into Nyungwe was nothing short of a breathtaking. It was a journey into a rainforest primeval that, that in light of humanity’s powerful influence outside the park gates, evoked awe and inspiration. I knew there was an Africa that looked like this.
In recent history, Nyungwe provided sanctuary to more than just flora and fauna. Refugees from regional conflicts, including the 1994 genocide, fled into the park, living on Nyungwe’s resources until they could exit safely. During times of human crisis, the park has been profoundly taxed and it could have so easily been destroyed to meet the human population’s ever-burgeoning demands but it has, instead, been saved and protected – good news for all.
Rich in biodiversity with 240 species of trees and over 140 species of orchid, Nyungwe is a birder’s paradise, considered the most important ornithological site in Rwanda, harboring almost 300 species including the spectacular Blue Turaco, which was described as a “blue Elvis chicken”, as well as a “blue, red and green bird – flocks travel from tree to tree like a procession of streamlined psychedelic turkeys”. I’m not a birder but how can a description like that not pique your curiousity?
In a country made famous for the mountain gorilla, Nyungwe’s main tourist draw is the primate. Home to 13 species of primate (representing 1/5th of Africa’s primate species), Nyungwe National Park offers chimpanzee tracking as well as tours that visit troops of L’Hoest’s monkey, Angola Colobus and other habituated species including the Mangaby and Blue Monkey.
Organizations including ORTPN and USAID’s Destination Nyungwe Project are working to make lush but little-known Nyungwe a sustainable ecotourism destination by improving and extending the park’s network of trails and promoting it to gorilla trackers who want to experience the breadth of species and pre-historic beauty in this rugged, ecologically rich national treasure.
As the park visitor numbers increase, communities outside the park are able to benefit. Park employees are hired from the local population and communities near the park are developing tours to their villages that offer visitors a view into their traditions and culture.
Trail time in Nyungwe is a feast for the eyes: orchids dripping color under the thick canopy, monkeys chattering overhead, swinging their way through the treetops, hilltop vistas of Lake Kivu and into Burundi and Congo (DRC) – a unique hike through a landscape that time, thankfully, forgot.
Rwanda Specialty Coffee – Rwanda (SPREAD), Part II: When time is money, custom coffee cargo bikes are a farmer’s best friend
April 19, 2008
Once a coffee cherry is harvested, the bean inside the cherry swiftly begins to degrade. Within 7 hours, fermentation substantially decreases the value of the farmer’s crop, effectively melting it from premium product to c-list dregs as minutes pass. It’s an agricultural version of “24″ without the standoffs and screaming into cell phones – instead there are big bags loaded with coffee cherries and 5 miles of dicey roads between the farmer on foot and the finish line at the washing station. The speed of a farmer’s delivery directly influences whether their harvest is a windfall or a pittance, determining a number of financial consequences, including whether they can afford to send their kids to school or not.
Tick tock, indeed.
Mountain bike pioneer Tom Ritchey founded Project Rwanda after a trip to the region in 2005, partnering with SPREAD to assist Rwanda‘s rural farmers by “furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope.” Ritchey created a custom cargo bike created for coffee farmers, designed tough enough to endure Rwanda’s rugged terrain and strong enough to haul up to 400 lbs.
SPREAD, Bikes to Rwanda, Vision Finance, and Scallywags Bike Shop united behind the farmers’ cause and, thanks to their efforts, there are over 1,000 coffee cargo bikes in Rwanda, empowering farmers to get their crops to washing stations more quickly, ensuring that they get optimal payment for their efforts. Through a micro-credit system offered within coffee cooperatives, farmers are able to pay for their bikes with the additional income they earn from the increased quality of their coffee. In addition, for the numerous days that coffee doesn’t have to be sped to market, coffee bikes contribute to a better quality of life for farmers and their families, enabling them to haul anything you can imagine without the burden of fueling up a gas tank – construction materials, crates of chickens, treetops of bananas, furniture, family members… really, you have to see it to believe it…
A round of applause to the tremendous efforts and overwhelmingly positive results from the work of SPREAD and Project Rwanda that have helped invigorate the economy, improving lives and elevating a product and profession that Rwandans can be extremely proud of… well done.
More information at: http://www.spreadproject.org/
April 19, 2008
In a world of large scale coffee production, coffee farming in Rwanda has always been a very personal endeavor.
Introduced by the Germans in the 1900s, coffee in Rwanda is cultivated on small, family run farms where coffee plant counts average in the low hundreds, but for decades, the Rwandan coffee market had been state run and coffee was sent into local markets with very little in the way of quality standards. Farmers traded on volume, not quality, so inferior product, along with dirt and rocks, were sent to retail assuring a reputation of mediocrity for Rwandan coffee on the international market.
In the years following the 1994 genocide, all governmental operations were reconsidered and certain programs, including national coffee production, were completely overhauled. Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise (SPREAD), a USAID-funded development alliance of institutes, industries and NGOs, helped identify Rwandan coffee as a potentially powerful economic driver for the recovering nation: a widely produced crop that could command top dollar if very high levels of quality control and premium products were properly marketed and consistently delivered retail.
SPREAD supports coffee co-ops that use farmers’ collective selling power along with the creation of coffee washing stations that enforce quality control from the moment coffee arrives from the field as cherries (the bean itself the seed of the fruit of the coffee plant). Farmers are paid on pure weight of quality cherries while substandard cherries and detritus are discarded. By significantly raising the quality of Rwandan coffee, the international coffee market rewards producers by paying 3 to 5 times the price per pound for superior product.
Dr. Tim Schilling, director and program coordinator of SPREAD, sees Rwanda as a coffee growing paradise, explaining that Rwandan coffee crops are 100% small-holder produced. Small crops allow farmers to seriously fuss over their plants and the care the predominantly heirloom plants receive here results in premium product with a unique flavor profile that rightfully commands top dollar on the international coffee market.
One of the finest examples of Rwanda’s success in these pursuits has been the elevation of the Bourbon varietal grown in the Maraba area. Within recent years, specialty coffee companies have developed a keen regard for Maraba Bourbon and will pay for particularly esteemed harvests at prices previously unheard of for African coffee on the international market.
Good for just a few coffee producers? Consider this: based on recent estimates, there are 500,000 coffee farmers in Rwanda (a country of about 9 million) and coffee-related income that affects 40 to 50 percent of Rwanda’s population.
With the increasing focus on high quality Rwandan coffee, the farmers received a powerful education in the volatile nature of their crop and the very direct relationship of time to money. Anyone who’s ever used a messenger service to deliver documents in a gridlocked city can appreciate the can-do of a bike in time critical environments.
Enter the coffee bike. Follow me….
United Nations Development Program – Rwanda (UNDP SGP), Part II: Environmental education off the grid
April 18, 2008
The following day, Francoise took us up into the mountains north of Kigali, to Stella Matutina Secondary School in the community of Shyorongi.
Walking the school property, practicality blended with beauty… rows of bright green cabbages, carefully crafted gravel pathways, prolific groves of banana trees, healthy cows… and students who were benefiting from exposure to simple, common sense technologies that would be considered edgy in the western world.
There’s no education like outright exposure so keep an eye peeled for those Stella Matutina graduates – they’ve got smarts to share. Read on…
As a school utterly off the grid, GEF/ UNDP became involved with the school to help them make steps toward self-sufficiency, teaching educators and students integrated resource management and created an “education in action” school for environmental education that taught conservation, organic farming and sustainable sanitation.
An all-girls school with 430 students, the school received a generous donation and assistance from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) who helped the design and build a biogas system that would provide an alternative to charcoal and firewood to fuel the school’s kitchen.
Biogas, for the uninitiated, is the methane created by human and animal waste, harvested for fuel. Yep, just that sexy… septic tanks gone wild. But truly, it’s quite wonderful what poo can do for you. I’ll give it an official “ick” on introducing the concept, but it’s really simple, sanitary and smart.
Underground receptacles store waste from the school latrines as well as manure from the school’s resident livestock. Methane rises off the tanks, which flow into gas lines that lead into the school’s kitchen, fueling the commercial cooking burners. While not eliminating the use of firewood, biogas now does the lion’s share of fuel for cooking most of the school’s meals.
Back when the school’s kitchens were reliant on firewood, it took 100 cubic meters of wood to run the kitchen for 9 months. In 2006, after the inception of the biogas program, the school bought another 100 cubic meters of firewood. By March of 2008, they still had half of their original purchase, 50 cubic meters of firewood, left. So, less firewood usage is a good thing!
But biogas is just part of the environmental education at Stella Matutina Secondary School. Like the Gorilla Organization sponsored water cistern projects in Ruhengeri, the school leverages almost daily rainfall and broad classroom roofs to feed massive water cisterns for the school’s drinking and cooking water supply. Students are involved in the acres of gardens on school grounds and all vegetables (yes, ALL vegetables) served in meals for over 400 students are grown in school organic gardens – no mean feat!
April 18, 2008
We step out into a bright morning in Rwanda‘s capital city of Kigali to meet Francoise Kayigamba, national coordinator of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Program that focuses on community based projects, managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Francoise takes us to Nyakabanda, a low income suburb of Kigali where city garbage is the proverbial straw spun into environmentally-friendly gold.
Rwanda ‘s population density is the highest in Africa. In Kigali, primary fuels for cooking are charcoal + wood and in rural Rwanda, wood is the main fuel source – with all that wood-fueled cooking, pollution and deforestation are significant challenges. Established in 2002, the Association for the Conservation of the Environment (ACEN), is a cooperative supported by the GEF and UNDP that collects household waste from 12,000 families in Kigali. The waste is brought to a central facility where sorters collect high-cellulose components from the refuse including tree and plant fibers: compost, paper, cardboard and wood scrap.
These materials are dried, shredded and compressed into briquettes, a cooking fuel that is far more efficient and cleaner burning than wood or charcoal.But now for a sense of scale: This operation produces 14 tons of briquettes per day that are sold primarily to factories, schools and other institutions. ACEN employs 133 people, the majority of which are women, many of whom are widows and former sex workers, over 50% of them are living with HIV.
ACEN provides its employees with vocational training and daily meals along with a living wage and community – keys to empowerment for people who would otherwise be marginalized, disenfranchised and likely living in abject poverty.
The positives of ACEN’s efforts are multifold:
• Harvesting materials from city waste reduces overall garbage. Aside from making for a cleaner city, it also results in a pronounced reduction of methane that would otherwise have been released into the environment had it been left to decompose.
• The briquettes produced from the waste products are more energy efficient, cleaner burning and cheaper than charcoal or wood.
• It’s a sustainable business in every sense of the word - reducing, reusing garbage, providing a necessary service, creating jobs + offering services and training – empowerment and better lives for the marginalized.
ACEN is just beginning to crack distribution to private households – presently they have only sold about 50 in-home cooking stoves. A typical family will spend about 14,000 Rwandan Francs (about 25 US dollars) on charcoal a month. With the cleaner burning, more energy efficient briquettes, the cost goes down to 2,000 per month (less than 8 dollars) along with the one time purchase of a briquette stove, which runs 8-15,000 (15-28 dollars).
More efficient, kinder to the environment, and more economical…why, then, isn’t everyone adopting them?
A simple phrase: hand-to-mouth living.
Very few households can buy all their monthly charcoal one purchase – they buy just enough to get them through the next few days, a few thousand francs at a time. The outright purchase of a stove, without the briquettes, is more than most of Rwandans have in their pocket, leaving them overextended with no money left to buy fuel to cook with, defeating the purpose of the purchase.
But solutions are in the works: ACEN is gearing up to increase production of high efficiency briquette stoves. GEF is working to create a micro loan program that will make stove purchases much more accessible to the average Rwandan household. Together, ACEN and GEF have created an exciting, sustainable success story that’s benefiting many with the potential of helping countless others.
The Gorilla Organization – Uganda & Rwanda, Part V: Gorilla tracking in the Virungas… Even cooler than it sounds
April 16, 2008
In Parc National des Volcans we’re met by Francois, a buoyant, convivial 25-year gorilla tracking veteran and former porter to Dian Fossey who established the formal organization of Rwanda‘s Parc National des Volcans gorilla trackers.
I won’t soft sell it… gorilla tracking ain’t cheap. 500 bucks for a one day, one hour gorilla permit, but it’s an exclusive show – 8 people maximum per day are allowed to visit each gorilla troop. The proceeds from the permits go toward improving tourism services, park infrastructure, community conservation projects and gorilla protection including funding a team of 80 trackers and anti-poachers who work a 24-7 watch on their charges.
We departed on a clear, cool morning, gaiters on and packs filled, prepared for what we’d been warned could be the worst…dumping rain, stinging nettles, mud bog walks, 6-8 hour round trips over dicey terrain. Our venture proved short and forgiving. A steady hike under clear skies, we worked out way straight up the sides of Sabyinyo toward the Hirwa group of gorillas.
The trail wove its way through fields and as we moved into the rainforest, Francois educated us on all the flora the gorillas fed upon – bamboo, sour apple, fern… we crossed the buffalo wall, demarcation of the national park boundary built to keep the hyper destructive African buffalo within the park and out of farmers’ crops.
The canopy thickened. Francois’ radio squawked and he spoke in a rapid fire mix of Kinyarwandan and French. We searched his expression for clues as to our fate.
“They are this way, follow me.”
A few moments later, we met up with the trackers and received our debriefing.
“No food no drink leave your packs here. No flash. You need to pee? Do that now. Numba 2? You need to have done that before. You follow me, you listen to my instructions.”
We nod as willing converts to the one-hour window of gorilla interaction. The anticipation was palpable.
A short walk, maybe 200 yards later, we encountered a mother and baby.
With about 3% DNA deviation, gorillas are the better side of the family – like us, but more calm, less fettered by social norms, more furry and rocking it with equivalent of opposable thumbs on their feet (the things I could achieve…).
As for our critically endangered cousins, it was an honor to visit them that close for even just a brief window. Zoological parks can provide an education and thrills but standing across an short, unfenced divide from a peaceful creature that has an uncanny similarity of social structure, behaviors, in whose offspring’s eyes you spot the spark of discovery as the switch tack to climb, discover, play… nothing like it, people, nothing like it.
Words can’t fully describe pure excitement of experiencing these incredible natural treasures up-close. We were moved, every moment spent in their presence precious. Pictures, while great to cue memory and offer a notion of the activity, barely give it justice.
Consider an idea so good that we shouldn’t have to suggest it twice: grab your favorite traveling companion(s), make tracks to Rwanda and check it out for yourself.
The Gorilla Organization – Uganda & Rwanda, Part IV: Rwandan indigenous communities – The path from forest to farm
April 16, 2008
Thus far, the GO projects that we’d visited were designed to support communities on the edge of gorilla habitat. Then we were introduced to another community, the Batwa, indigenous forest people who had shared their ancestral homes with the gorillas.
When Rwandan national parks were created, including Parc National des Volcans, forest dwellers were evicted without compensation and prevented from providing for themselves through their hunter-gatherer traditions.
The survive/thrive conservation strategy becomes a challenging twist when a critical habitat has been not just been a source of food and fuel – it’s been native land to a people for time immemorial.
Once banished from the territories and environment they once called home, the Batwa suffered enormously, a socially marginalized people who had no jobs, land, homes or political representation. Unable to read or write, the Batwa were held back from integrating into society as their skills and behaviors were specific to a forest dwelling life that they were no longer able to access, forcing them to beg and scavenge to survive.
A Batwa moved by the plight of his dispossessed people, Benon Mugaruwa helped form African Indigenous and Minority Peoples Organization (AIMPO) and partnered with the Gorilla Organization, helping the Batwa acquire 30 acres of farmland and create 7 community based organizations. The farmland and organizational support offer the Batwa agricultural training, assistance and hope, providing access to education and medical care. Through their own efforts and with the support of AIMPO and GO, the Batwa have developed new skills while creating a new cultural identity and pride – attributes that had eluded the Batwa since the loss of their homeland and traditions.
That pride was most apparent when we arrived for a visit to a field very near Volcanoes National Park. A group of 20 men and women stood in a misty field and welcomed us to their land – carefully tilled dark earth with a burgeoning crop of potatoes. Benon did some interpretation for us, but the light in the eyes of the people as we toured their land, their radiant smiles, pointing to the plants and the rich soil that were fueling their rise from dispossession and abject poverty, required no translation.
We took a short trip into a nearby village and Benon gave us a tour of initial construction of crop storage facilities. Singing began to emanate from a simple brick building on the property. The voices rose, more jubilant with the passing of each minute.
“Benon? Who is that singing?”
“That? Those are the farmers. They are singing for you”.
“Oh my, well we should probably go in and listen to them, don’t you think? Benon, what are they singing about?”
“They are singing that they are happy you have come to visit them, that they appreciate that you have come here to hear their story”.
We enter the space and the volume, already pronounced outside, doubles. A celebratory call and response is in full swing, singers and dancers jumping into the center of the group to participate in energetic duets or solos. The room is electric as elders, children and parents clap and call out the tune; babies wrapped to their mother’s backs bounce along to the rhythm of the song.
This performance is ostensibly offered to thank us, but surely the celebration underway is for the Batwa themselves, leaving the brink of existence behind to become landholders, community members, contributors to their own success story with some well considered support – truly a reason to dance.
The Gorilla Organization – Uganda & Rwanda, Part III: Back to school for water catchment education: Cisterns 101
April 16, 2008
Traveling the roads of the communities around Ruhengeri, Rwanda, one cannot miss the ubiquitous yellow water jug – strapped to bicycles, toted atop heads, waddled down roadways by children scarcely bigger than the containers themselves.
One of the cruel ironies of life in this portion of the world is “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.
Despite 300+ days of rain here in the shadow of the Virungas, the porous, volcanic soil rapidly draws surface water away leaving the soggy inhabitants of the region dodging raindrops but without ready access to drinking water.
-Water collection accounts for 85-90% of all illegal activities within the gorilla habitat.
-Household water collection is a chore that falls to children. Since survival trumps education, many children forego school to go in search of water for their families.
Emmanuel Bugingo, Gorilla Organization‘s Rwanda Program Manager, took us to Gitaraga Primary School to give us a tour of a single solution that addressed 3 problems.
A school with over 1000 children enrolled, Gitaraga has a number of big buildings and as one might guess, big buildings have big rooftops. Big rooftops are a spectacular vehicle for water collection, especially in an environment where you can count on rain on an almost daily basis. GO funded the building of a huge water cistern that holds the roof runoff and feeds a collection station where students fill their yellow jugs, supplying their families with water.
The hat trick, in review:
- A new, reliable water source for a water-challenged community
- Water collection is no longer a deterrent to children’s education but is, in fact, a motivation to make sure children get to school every day
- Every water jug filled at school prevents a potential act of illegal entry into the gorilla habitat
The school cistern project has proven a tremendous success, a win for communities and conservationists alike, ringing perfectly true to GO’s philosophy that for gorillas to survive, the people near the gorilla habitat must thrive. Since the project’s genesis, GO has constructed almost 40 cisterns, with plans to build at least 4 more each year going forward.
April 16, 2008
At the Ugandan border with Rwanda, we entered a tidy, simple structure where serious men thoughtfully review our documents and carefully write our details in ledger books with sharpened pencils. Outside, a guard raises a simple wooden gate and we leave Uganda, walking 200 yards of netherworld between nations before arriving at another hand raised gate, passing into Rwanda. Once through, we proceeded directly to the visa office where another serious man thoughtfully reviews our documents and carefully writes the details in a ledger book with a sharpened pencil.
Walking out to meet up with our ride into Ruhengeri, two women in brightly colored traditional outfits greeted us with a cheery, “bon jour”. We were checked out of English-speaking Uganda and our arrival into Rwanda was official, er, confirmé.
We were met by Gorilla Organization’s Rwanda Program Manager, Emmanuel Bugingo, a good-humored, one-man welcoming committee. As we drove from the border into Ruhengeri, I found myself lost outside the lively conversation in the car, searching the lush foliage, the buildings, the faces of the people, quietly considering the recent history that rocketed this tiny country into the world’s consciousness:
the horrific 90 days in 1994 when nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were savagely murdered by Hutu extremists.
I knew there would be so much more to learn about Rwanda besides the genocide but truly, I wracked my mind, trying to put myself in the place of the survivors, trying to fathom how a nation, a people recover from such darkness…how does one reconcile experiencing unspeakable brutality and loss to find a light of hope that allows you to step into a present not completely poisoned by the past, to forgive, to attempt to fully live again?
I wondered if Rwanda would prove to be a haven of promise, a purgatory or something altogether different. Surely there is something to learn about humanity here…
However, as curious as I might have been, I had been taught that a good guest does not bring up uncomfortable issues. I figured I’d have to do a lot of studying up while reading between the lines of conversation and behavior to draw my own conclusions.
Fortunately, the Rwandans don’t believe anyone is served if the events of 1994 are left to cryptic language or subtlety.
Our first stop was for lunch at a hotel in Ruhengeri. Once seated, I noticed a prominently posted sign in Kinyarwanda, a major unifying language in Rwanda.
One word in particular caught my eye:”Jenoside”
Okay very curious don’t ask don’t ask don’t ask rude rude rude.
As our drinks were delivered, Emmanuel pointed at the sign and asked if we knew what it said.
Shaking our heads, he translated:
“It reads, ‘Let’s fight together against the genocide ideology of ethnic and regional division and eradicate it’”.
Over following days, we discovered variations of this same text conspicuously in every town, neighborhood… even the tiniest of villages had this sign prominently posted.
When asked about his tribal heritage (a common inquiry in most African nations), Emmanuel quickly, firmly stated, “we are all Rwandan”, a sentiment in ensuing days would be echoed and reinforced by his countrymen.
The initial takeaway was a powerful one: the people here are facing down and learning from their past, choosing to consciously turn from darkness in search of an inclusive future that benefits all Rwandans. A top industry that has been identified as a path to such a future is tourism and the most recognized and appealing assets that draw international travelers to Rwanda is tracking the rare mountain gorilla.
“There is need for every Rwandan to play a role in the promotion of tourism, in conserving environment and in promoting yourselves by providing items and services that you can sell to tourists so that they feel at home whenever they are in the country” – Rwandan President Paul Kagame
Conservation need not be a one way street. True, for the gorillas to survive, the people near the gorillas must thrive. Rwanda GO has its own unique programs designed to help the people near the gorilla habitat thrive – cisterns at schools and indigenous community uplift. A complementary strategy is the well designed ecotourism destination in which gorilla survival directly benefits the people near the gorillas.
Community-owned Sabinyo Silverback Lodge provides high end accommodation to gorilla trackers and direct benefits to the people living near the lodge and park.
The Gorilla Organization – Uganda & Rwanda, Part II: Going organic for the gorillas; dancing on the edge of DRC
April 7, 2008
The following morning we returned to the Gorilla Organization (GO) offices in Kisoro and met with Regina Sanyu, coordinator for GO’s Organic Farming Association projects in Uganda. Regina recently joined the Kisoro office from Rwanda where she had worked for 3 years as a part of a program that successfully trained 5,000 farmers in sustainable, organic techniques.
What does organic farming have to do with gorillas? Encroachment on gorilla habitat for the creation of new farmland has been and is likely to remain the biggest threat to the earth’s remaining gorilla population. In short, organic methods produce higher crop yields by leveraging farm by-products such as compost and manure alongside crop management techniques such as complimentary planting and crop rotation, eliminating the need for costly synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that compromise soil quality and helpful animal/insect populations. Threats of encroachment are lowered when farmers have more fruitful harvests on existing farmlands – they can make their endeavors more efficient and profitable without expanding their acreage.
You’re noticing a theme, I hope… for gorillas to survive, the people near the gorilla habitat must thrive. Even if you like animals more than people (and I know there are a few of you out there), you have to admit this is a pretty smart win-win strategy for creatures and humankind alike.
The first farmer we visited was a woman who raised rabbits, chickens and goats, providing them with shelters of elevated pens with slat floors, a simple system that makes harvesting manure for fertilizer a much cleaner, higher yield process. She also had a simple yet effective solar water purification system, storing collected water in clear bottles and placing them on a silver sheet of corrugated metal which acted as solar collector. After a day in the sun, the bottle water gets hot enough to be purified and safely drink without sacrificing a stitch of fuel or infusing a drop of chemicals.
Rattling down the road in the back of GO’s Land Cruiser toward our second farm, I hadn’t realized how close we were to the historically trouble fraught eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Our first stop had been to a farm 2 kilometers away from the Uganda/DRC border, while the second farm we visited abutted the border itself, an area through which many Congolese fled DRC as refugees in times of conflict. Many residents view the border between the two nations less as delineation between nation states and more as a region in and of itself with its own sense of “locals”, with Congolese living peacefully and productively just over the border in Uganda without traditional immigration documentation, quietly paying rent and contributing positively to their new community.
Regina was very proud of the woman who ran the second farm on the edge of DRC – an exemplary participant in Uganda’s nascent organic farming program. As we walked her farm, Regina spoke at length at how she had attended every training seminar and actively teaches and supports other farmers in the program. In addition, she had provided sanctuary to DRC refugees on her property – up to 25 people at a time – feeding them from the bounty of her crops and livestock.
To acknowledge her efforts, Regina arranged for her to be a recipient of a fuel-efficient, firewood saving stove. A design made out of local clay that can reduce firewood consumption up to 70%, Regina herself committed her own time and labor to help assemble the stove for this very deserving recipient.
GO has provided over 3,000 firewood saving stoves and planted more than half a million trees around national parks, lowering the pressure of encroachment and illegal deforestation of gorilla habitat while (theme again, people) providing smart, simple technologies that provide economic relief + improve the air quality for residents around gorilla habitat.
Everyone, all together now:
For gorillas to survive, the people near the gorilla habitat must thrive. Three cheers to the Gorilla Organization for investing in a grass roots powered survive/thrive approach to environmental protection. Supporting people and communities to make more sustainable choices is a common sense success story of the best kind: a bright light for conservation strategies in an extremely challenging environment.