In order to engage local communities in the protection of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, in spite of much hardship due to unrest in the Great Lakes region since the 1990’s, the Pole Pole Foundation has created opportunities for those living around the Park through the following activities:-
The Pole Pole Foundation aims to rehabilitate the deforested areas and this afforestation program started in 1993.
The communities around the Park are encouraged to grow trees in their fields, gardens and on their land boundaries. POPOF is growing trees in nurseries and distributing them to the people. Between 1993 and 2016, POPOF has planted over 4 million trees in its nurseries which, once sufficiently mature, have been distributed to the communities surrounding the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, creating an important buffer zone for its protection.
Today, the mature trees can be harvested for firewood, making charcoal and for use for building materials. Selling their wood enables local people to feed and school their children. Having their own trees stops them going into the Park and cutting down mature rainforest gorilla habitat. Cases of trespass for wood collect, and consequent arrest, have fallen dramatically since 1993. Our aim going into the future is to plant ten trees for every one which is cut and used.
The Tree Planting Project is funded by donations, as well as by project partners in the UK and the USA.
In the future, we would like to work to reforest the eco-corridor; an area of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park which has been illegally cleared for cattle grazing.
The eco-corridor currently represents an obstacle to wildlife migration, so its reinstatement would have a hugely positive impact.
This program is designed to increase levels of general literacy as well as conservation awareness in both children and adults. A kindergarten, primary and a secondary school have been established since 1999. Courses are run for adult students too. These schools will ensure that the next generation grows up to appreciate and manage their natural resources in harmony with local communities, dispelling any conflict of interest which may have existed between the two in the past. A select few are offered the opportunity to attend university, funded by POPOF.
The Pole Pole Foundation recruited over 47 former poachers and gave them training to become artisan wood carvers. The carvings which they create have been sold in Japan, the USA and the UK, and the money raised went back to the artisans. This approach has helped to reduce the frequency of poachers’ intrusion into the Park.
Part of the Women’s Empowerment Program, the ladies of the sewing group took receipt of 20 manual sewing machines in 2019. They are still developing their skills but in the future it is hoped that they will produce items for the local school, plus some to sell at market, and possibly even abroad. It is also hoped that they will be able to make the Rangers’ uniforms in the near future.
Spirulina is a nutrient-dense algae which can be successfully grown in tanks of water. At our new, up-scaled facility in Miti-Mululu, the tanks are agitated by paddles powered by solar energy. Dried and powdered, it is used as a food supplement. Baked into biscuits to make it more palatable, a week’s course can treat a malnourished child. The Spirulina Project is run with the help of international project partners.
Even though communities have lived all their lives only a short distance from the Park, most people have never seen a gorilla. Our Community Tourism initiative gives people from the local communities the opportunity to go into the Park and visit with the gorillas. Visiting the gorillas is awe-inspiring, and makes local people feel more involved and invested in their protection.
The Vegan Association of the Democratic Republic of Congo (VADRC) began in 2020 in response to growing interest in the number of visitors to the gorillas with plant-based diets. The group currently comprises some 48 families who gradually transitioned to a plant-based diet during 2020. The KBNP has suffered deforestation and burning to clear land for grazing, and bushmeat remains an enduring threat to gorillas and other animals in the Park.
Reducing the consumption of meat is critical to protecting the habitat of the Grauer’s gorillas and ensuring their safety, and the Vegan Club provides a positive umbrella under which to promote this.
Running in conjunction with the Vegan Club, our mushroom growing cooperative provides nutritious plant-based food for families. Growing their own mushrooms not only provides families with nutritious food, and surplus to sell at market, but it also removes the temptation to gather wild mushrooms from the sensitive rainforest habitat (which is illegal).
In the future, we are hoping to scale up these operations and have sufficient surplus to sell to local restaurants and hotels.
FRUIT TREE GROWING
Complimenting beautifully our tree planting program and the Vegan Club, fruit trees are being cultivated from seed and distributed to local communities to grow in their fields. Once mature, these not only provides nutritious plant-based food for many years, but the trees remain standing for decades, giving the added benefits of fixing soil and sequestering carbon.