Democratic Republic of Congo Climate Women Take On Deforestation & Clean Energy Needs

The second largest rainforest in the world lies cradled in the Congo Basin of Central Africa. It represents more than 60% of the African continents total rainforest area, and holds within it an almost unfathomable diversity of life. However, like many of the Earths most precious places, this center of immense cultural and ecologic importance faces escalating deforestation and threats from pressures including fuel wood collection, timber and coal production, unsustainable agricultural practices, and social and political unrest.

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For more than a year, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN International) has been collaborating with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) South Kivu Province as part of the ‘Women for Forests and Fossil Fuel/Mega Dam/Mining Resistance’ program. Through a series of online trainings and on-the-ground strategy and action sessions, WECAN International and local partner SAFECO are providing an arena to address regional socio-economic need, support women in their role as community leaders, and confront critical environmental issues by building local solutions with a global vision.

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WECAN International and SAFECO led the most recent three-day training in February 2015, bringing together twenty women and seven men from ten different villages around the Itombwe rainforest. The DRC Climate Solutions Training is part of an ongoing program held in the area with the aim of growing the knowledge and capacities of the local, indigenous women to create and enact place-based climate action plans. Building on previous sessions, the February training covered topics including deforestation in the Itombwe forest, forest protection and restoration techniques, and the use of Improved Cooking Stoves as means of reducing pressures on the forest and improving family health and wellbeing.

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During the first session, participants engaged in conversations about the importance of trees and their relationship to climate change, focusing specifically on the immense value of native species and why exploitative practices such as logging are so detrimental to the health of the rainforest, the livelihood of their communities, and the global environment. Crucially, the group discussed and observed how they can work as guardians of the forest and as climate leaders without sacrificing their livelihoods or access to the diverse gifts provided by the land.

In connecting the lives, stories, and experiences of the local women to a larger climate change narrative, the facilitators hoped to help the women see the great power and agency they hold.

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Day two was spent visiting a small nursery where women learned techniques for starting and maintaining a tree nursery to contribute to reforestation efforts. Participants planted over 100 trees and discussed how these trees contribute to water purification, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, sustainable food production, medicinal plant access, and so much more.

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“From these trees we expect to fight climate change by protecting wild ecosystems, as well as satisfy our needs of fuel wood, medicine, and timber production,” explained training participate Yena Nasoka.

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The third and final day was dedicated to discussions and practicums surrounding the use of Improved Cooking Stoves. Participants learned about the characteristics of the stoves, which facilitate more energy efficient, rapid cooking and reduce the amount of smoke polluting living spaces, lungs, and the surrounding air. Because of their improved efficiency, the stoves require less fuel wood, which can help reduce deforestation rates in a region where the collection of wood for cooking and light pressures the local environment.

During discussions, women expressed excitement about the use the Improved Cooking Stoves for cooking and to contribute to forest conservation, but explained their concerns about not having a substitute for open fires used for light at night. WECAN International and SAFECO have begun the next phase of the program, which includes arranging for small hand-held solar lights to be brought into the region for light at night and for the women to develop their own small businesses selling and maintaining the solar lights.

“I’m excited by WECAN’s holistic approach to bring solar light so we can have light at night and Improved Cooking Stoves. This will work in our region,” reflected one woman, Butunga Nalisa, on the final day.

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Participants in this and previous WECAN trainings have formed a local conservation committee to insure that the progress made during training sessions will continue to grow and take root in their region. Through the committee they aim to share what they have learned with other community members, work to document and denounce deforestation, and create a collective voice to speak out when fellow citizens or local authorities facilitate unauthorized timber and charcoal production.

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Following the February session, the committee of training participants held a meeting with local chiefs, government officials, and the WECAN DRC coordinator to present their suggestions and requests.

Their recommendations for the protection and restoration of community wellbeing and the precious Itombwe rainforest are the following:

  • Implement laws and regulations to prevent forest fires and deforestation by holding guilty groups and individuals accountable for their actions.
  • Provide diverse tree seeds to local people and organizations involved in the process of planting trees.
  • Support and create campaigns to make others aware of the importance of forest protection and tree planting, and to promote the use of Improved Cooking Stoves in all villages.
  • Extend environmental education to community members of all ages.
  • Uplift and implement Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
  • Support local villages in getting cheaper solar panels and solar lamps to charge phones and provide light at night.

The WECAN/SAFECO partnership will work to help the communities surrounding Itombwe bring these recommendations to fruition, and will continue to strive to support, encourage, and strengthen the women leaders forging the way.

For an inside look into the recent Climate Solutions Training in the DRC, check out this short video created by the participants: 

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By Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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Guardians of the Forest: Collaborating to Protect the Rainforests of the Congo

Every year more than 40 million acres of forest are lost. A sports field-sized area is deforested every minute of everyday, generating in the process more than fifteen percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, a single tree left standing has the potential to sequester roughly 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year and provide unquantifiable gift of food, medicine, water purification, climate stabilization, mental health, and more. Despite international attention, global deforestation driven by industrial agriculture, cattle ranching, mining, and fossil fuel extraction continues at an alarming rate, amplifying the climate crisis and imperiling the Earth and all its residence.

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Map of Global Tree Cover Loss, 2000-2012. Photo via World Resources Institute.

Hope remains however, held in the hands of the thousands of Indigenous communities who live and thrive in the great forests of the world. Across the globe they are fighting to protect the forests and their diverse cultures, implementing place-based solutions that are socially and ecologically appropriate. In the process, these communities provide daily proof of the power of, and need for, another way of relating to the Earth.

Photo by Emily Arasim.

The Congo Basin of Central Africa holds one of the largest rainforests in the world, second only to the mighty Amazon. It represents more than 60% of all of the rainforests in Africa, functioning as the source of life for a vast swath of the continent, and as a center of balance and health for the Earth’s climate as a whole.

Indigenous Woman Wearing Her Shirt from Feb Workshop

Photo via Neema Namadamu.

For the last year, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) has had the honor of collaborating with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the ‘Women for Forests and Fossil Fuel/Mega Dam/Mining Resistance’ program. Organizing focuses on the protection of the Itombwe forest and the support of the communities living within it, whose cultural and ecologic heritage is severely threatened by exploitative logging, mining, and agricultural practices. Work is based in South Kivu Province in the eastern part of the country, home to two very important forest sites of unquantifiable diversity, the Itombwe Nature Reserve (RNI) and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB), both of which are critically threatened by extractive industries.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kivu Province outlined in red.Via Google Maps

Neema Namadamu, Founder of the Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations (SAFECO), spearheads the collaboration through her work as the WECAN DR Congo Coordinator. Trainings and communication efforts designed by Neema and WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, are the core of WECAN International’s work to support Indigenous women in the region, who, as the longtime stewards of the land, have begun working to oppose the destruction of the forest and their culture.

Neema Namadamu speaks at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit. Photo by Lori Waselchuk.

In June 2014, WECAN International worked with Neema to prepare and actualize the first WECAN- DR Congo Regional Climate Solution Training. The program began with an intensive five-week online course, engaging local leaders in a range of topics, from why women are central to climate and environmental solutions, to action plans for climate justice, forest conservation, Rights of Nature and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and on the grounds solutions.

Following the online intensive, Neema and her team of leaders conducted a series of hands-on workshops with women and men from eight villages in and around the Itombwe forest. The training included an overview of threats to the Itombwe, regional ethnobotanical knowledge, solar oven construction, holistic forest conservation methods, women and climate change, and local leadership in forest protection.

Local Leader Teaching About Medicinal Properties of Trees. Photo via Neema Namadamu.

Using the analysis and tools created during WECAN’s online sessions, participants created a place-based climate action plan to addresses regional socio-ecologic need, move forest protection forward, and empower women in their role as key environmental stakeholders and transformative leaders.

The series of meetings and workshops culminated in the composition and distribution of a declaration calling for a nationwide movement to protect the Itombwe and other rainforest in the country.

“A secret treasure is lying quietly hidden in the bosom of the Indigenous women of the Itombwe forest. We now have a plan of protection and action for the forest and the people who live there in great wisdom and humility,” explained Neema.

Photo via Neema Namadamu

WECAN International is very excited that this is just the beginning of the work in the Itombwe rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with plans underway for follow up trainings and projects ranging from tree planting and clean stoves construction, to trainings on community organizing and influencing policies at the local, national, regional and international levels.

Neema Namadamu (SAFECO Founder & WECAN DRC Coordinator) and Osprey Orielle Lake (WECAN Founder & Executive Director) together during a meeting this month.

Explore More

  • Learn more about Neema Namadamu and her work: namadamu.com
  • Help us keep up this work for climate justice and solutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and across the world, donate here: wecaninternational.org/donate

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Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Special Projects & Communications Coordinator