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 1997. 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 1997 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.
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.
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.
The construction of fish ponds has been a successful way of providing local communities with a good nutritious source of protein. This has had the desired effect of helping to prevent illegal poaching for bush meat. Snares set by poachers are a big danger for gorillas, causing life-changing injuries and sometimes death. More fish ponds are planned.
Spirulina is a highly nutrient-dense algae which can be successfully grown in tanks. Dried and powdered, it is used as a food supplement. Early trials show that it can be used in the treatment of children with malnutrition, giving promising results in as little as 10 days. This project is still in its early stages, but it is hoped that future production will be sufficient to allow for outside sales to provide an income.