Voices from the DR Congo: WECAN/SAFECO Workshop, Advocacy Update & Declaration

Training report by Neema Namadamu and Stany Nzabarinda, SAFECO

drc9

On July 3, 2015 women and men from across South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo united in Bukavu for a workshop held as part of ongoing trainings and advocacy work led by the Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations, SAFECO) and the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International). The workshop was called to further efforts to protect and conserve the environment in South Kivu as a whole, and the regions’ Itombwe Rainforest in particular, and to respond to various recommendations and declarations put forth by local communities and Indigenous Peoples during previous trainings held in Mwenga Center and Itombwe.

Thirty-six participants attended the July workshop, including delegates from local communities, Indigenous Pygmies from Mwenga Center and the Itombwe savanna, and leaders from regional NGOs working in the domain of environmental protection – all brought together face-to-face to speak with provincial authorities.

Central goals of the workshop included creating a forum for exchange between diverse stakeholders, developing and strengthening regional understanding of women’s vital role as Earth guardians, and exploring and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the local communities living in and around forest areas.drcSpecific objectives included influencing South Kivu authorities to make just decisions and take steps to stop deforestation and protect the endangered plant species and ecosystems of Itombwe, strengthening compliance with national and international laws and instruments regarding climate and environment, and promoting Traditional Ecological Knowledge as the basis for regional environmental protection efforts.

neema

Neema Namadamu of SAFECO & WECAN International DRC opening the workshop

Neema Namadamu, SAFECO founder and WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, and Mr. Stany Nzabarinda, program manager of SAFECO, presented opening remarks and an overview of WECAN DR Congo activities to support the protection of forests and the life-ways of Indigenous Pygmies in the Mwenga and Itombwe regions. They presented an outline of threats to the forest, solutions to decrease deforestation, and the initial declarations created by local communities in previous training sessions.

drcdestruc

Deforestation in the DRC

The workshop included guest presentations by a series of local leaders. Remy Riziki from the provincial Division of Environment spoke on national instruments/tools currently in place for environmental protection, including DR Congo’s Forestry Code and Law No. 14/003. Mr. Boniface Rukumbuzi from the NGO Human Dignity provided an in-depth overview of international laws, instruments, and principles for environmental protection, and highlighted the importance of international and transboundary collaboration in environmental protection. Mr. Serge Tendilonge of Africapacity Project of Rainforest Foundation Norway and Foundation Prince Albert II de Monaco presented on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the participation of local communities, emphasizing the right of use, the right of ownership, the right of enjoyment, and the right of consultation as central tenants in developing and carrying out environmental protection projects in the region.

DR54

After three guest presentations, participants engaged in a general question and answer session and formed five working groups for conversation and debate. Working group questions and responses are presented below.

What are the daily activities that are destroying the environment (forest) in your area and what/who are the perpetrators and victims of that destruction?

Participants drew attention to mining, timber and charcoal production, brushfires, expansion of livestock area, chemical and slash and burn agriculture, and industrial and home waste in cities and large villages, and identified multinational corporations, local and national traders, and local populations themselves as perpetuators of this destruction. In discussing the victims most affected by environmental destruction, participants focused on women and children, small subsistence farmers and ranchers, and the diverse animal and plant life of the forest themselves.decorestDRC drc4

What are the negative consequences that communities are experiencing?

Participants highlighted the loss of traditional medicines sourced from the forest, an increase in poverty, a scarcity of rain tied to deforestation, and a lack of food, construction materials, and energy sources due to the degradation of forests that once sustained their communities.

drc7

Who are the stakeholders in the protection of Environment and to what extent or level should they intervene?

Participants identified the DRC state as a central stakeholder responsible for using its institutions and services to protect the environment. They discussed the role of civil society and NGO organizations as advocates and connections between the local, national, and international, and emphasized local community responsibility to insure protection of the forests in their region and report any destruction of species and ecosystems.

drc10

What is to be done so that these ecosystems and endangered species are protected?

Participants spoke to the need to organize many more climate, ecosystem, forest, and Indigenous and women’s rights awareness and education campaigns, using on-the-ground trainings and workshops such as WECAN has provided, as well as a wide range of communication medias to disperse these critical messages to a wider audience. They called for decisive action to push for accountability from local communities and government authorities, calling specifically for the provincial Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Land Affairs to take responsibility for the implementation of existing international and national laws. Finally, participants called for increased advocacy and education work to recognize the central role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as well as direct actions such a local tree plantings, which the WECAN programs have begun to initiate in partnership with SAFECO.drc2

As the workshop drew to a close, participants reviewed the recommendations and declarations made during previous WECAN trainings in Itombwe and Mwenga Center, added amendments, and finalized a document to be presented to the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development, and Land Affairs. A copy of the declaration is presented below.

We participants at the provincial workshop -organized by SAFECO (Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo) in partnership with WECAN International, held in Bukavu on July 3, 2015 – after learning the alarming deforestation of the Itombwe forest and destruction of natural ecosystems in general, and after realizing the silence of provincial authorities regarding the destruction of the Earth call for the following:

  1. Recognition of the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge of local communities and Indigenous Pygmies in the protection of environment and of the forest in particular;
  2. Government institutions and services in charge of environment and local authorities must stop timber exploitation licenses for the following plant species under threat of extinction, which are very useful for local communities and Indigenous Pygmy people and in general stop timber harvesting of intact forests: Musela (Uapaca kirkiana), Mbilombilo/Mbobolo (Khaya anthotheca), Kataguwetugwe/Muhumbahumba (Prunus africana),Muvula (Milicia excelsa), Masuku (Canarium schweinfurthii), Kumba/Kiba Kuba (Beilschmedia oblongifolia), Mukungu/Nkungu (Albizia gummifera), Musebu (Lebrunia bushaie), Lukundu (Pitadeniastrum africanum), Mutudu (Ficus exasperata), Licheche (Ocotea milchelsonii), Sirita (Ekebergia rueppeliana), Kibanje (Tetrapleura tetreptera), Libuyu (Entandrophragma excelsum).

Recommendations:

  • The Provincial Minister in charge of Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development, and Land Affairs should initiate and sign a decree banning the logging of the above mentioned tree species under threat of extinction in the Province of South Kivu;
  • SAFECO and WECAN should keep advocating until the decree is signed and recommendations are heard by decision makers of South Kivu province;
  • South Kivu population must own the results of this workshop and understand that environmental and forest protection is the responsibility of everyone,
  • Provincial government, WECAN and SAFECO should help to achieve the following:
    • Enforce the implementation of laws against forest fire, brushfire, and deforestation;
    • Provide plant seeds to local people and local organizations involved in tree planting;
    • Conduct awareness campaigns concerning tree planting and use of Improved Cooking Stoves in all villages;
    • Help local communities to get cheaper solar panels and lamps for light at night in order to reduce fuel wood consumption;
    • Extend environmental education to people of all ages including children at schools;
    • Defend and implement Indigenous Rights;
    • Denounce and stop all deforestation efforts
Advertisements

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.

SAM_7723

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.

drcfeb1

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.

drcfeb2

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.

decfeb5

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.

drcfeb3

“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.

DSCN4045

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.

drcfeb6

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.

drcfeb7

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: 

—–

By Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

WECAN Training: Democratic Republic of Congo, January 2015

WECAN International offers both a digital classroom series of webinars, and local on-the-ground regional climate solutions trainings. The trainings offer a holistic overview, which includes advocacy, hands-on training, systemic analysis and linking local efforts to the global movement for climate justice.

Congo 1

On January 27, 2015 in Bukavu, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, WECAN in conjunction with their honored partners in the DRC, SAFECO, hosted an online training for three days that brought together participants to further the mission of creating a place-based climate action plan. The goal of these training sessions was to further ongoing efforts toward protection of the Itombwe rainforest and supporting the Indigenous people who are the natural custodians of the region. There was a particular focus on women’s leadership and supporting them as transformative leaders in the region. This online training is part one of a two-part training, with the second part taking place in the Itombwe region.

Each day of the training began with music from the Pygmy people to honor the people of the forest and to set the ambiance for the session. Here is an overview of what was covered in the training:

Congo 3

Neema Namadamu, Founder of SAFECO and WECAN Coordinator for the DRC and SAFECO/WECAN DRC Program Manager Nzabas Stany opened by giving a summary of WECAN focuses in the DRC. This work covers issues surrounding the local community in the Itombwe rainforest and the status of the inhabitants living in and around it and what political and educational action is to be taken to maintain this diverse ecosystem while understanding, respecting and promoting the knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of the region. There was also a summary from a previous session on how women are negatively impacted by climate change and environmental degradation but yet are the same ones who can provide sustainable solutions. If the women in the DR Congo mobilized and unified in one effort they would have the most impact in forest conservation efforts rather than working as separate actors. WECAN’s approach to solutions and systematic change was discussed, with a focus on the Rights of Nature and the need to fundamentally change our environmental laws so that Nature is no longer forced into the market place and is respected as a rights bearing entity. This portion of the training also served as a time to discuss ways to make these issues visible in the media to spread the message far and wide and gain power in numbers.

Congo 4

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of WECAN outlined the main activities that needed to be discussed in detail to prepare for on the ground work in Itombwe, these included 1) tree planting /reforestation taking into account the kind of trees people in the community are requesting for medicines and other needs, which will prevent some of the deforestation of the old growth forest 2) making efficient cook stoves with local materials so women are not reliant on vast amounts of wood for cooking fires 3) starting a small scale solar device business for women to have a sustainable businesses and so solar lights are used at night to prevent wood fires at night for light 4) various forms of forest protection education including Traditional Ecologic Knowledge that Pygmy women could share as part of the program. She also talked about the need for advocacy for good policies that would protect forests as well as the rights of Indigenous Peoples at the higher decision making level. And finally, a mutual sharing between communities of knowledge.

In order to best strategize for an advocacy plan, a government expert was brought into the training for the participants to learn about current environmental laws.Congo 2

The online training was part of the environmental education for trainers in preparation for part two of the training to take place in the Itombwe region which will include tree plating, cook stoves training and advocacy education.

After this phase of groundwork, WECAN will prepare an advocacy plan and organize a workshop in Bukavu in order to bring local peoples’ recommendations to provincial authorities concerning the Itombwe rainforest. There people will gather to advocate against illegal logging, which is one of the main causes of deforestation in the region, and policies around it and advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding the management of Itombwe rainforest. Women will be always at the center of the activities of the WECAN/SAFECO partnership and therefore beneficiaries of this work related to the protection of Itombwe rainforest.

Congo 5

Shameika Hanson with input from Stany Nzabas

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.

World Resources Institute

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

—–

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Special Projects & Communications Coordinator