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

Training report by Neema Namadamu and Stany Nzabarinda, SAFECO

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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  • 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