What is the economic value of a tree in the Eastern DRC? Well, a tree seedling normally costs around $1.00 to buy, but when you add in cost of transportation, you must travel to Bukavu to find a tree nursery, the costs are raised to about $5.00 per seedling. Considering that most people make well below 300 dollars per year, investing money in one tree, let alone multiple is nearly impossible.

But what are the economic benefits of planting trees in your fields? Well for starters, you get free fertilizer for your crops. You can sell branches as bean poles and easily make $14 per tree per season. You can also sell a tree to pay for a child’s school fees, or to repair your house. Other species, like Eucalyptus, are great for firewood and for charcoal which is in high demand in Bukavu. Not to mention the non-economic benefits of preventing erosion, providing shade to your crops, maintaining soil fertility, and regulating the climate. All in all, people here around Kahuzi-Biega and the Itombwe Nature Reserve highly value trees. As one man told me, “ When we cut down one tree, we try and plant four more.”

Tree Nursery in Miti, near Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Strong Roots, in collaboration with Partners in Conservation, currently operates the only tree nursery in the villages surrounding Kahuzi-Biega. On average we grow 100,000 trees a year in this nursery. Based in Miti, which also is the KiSwahili word for tree, we produce grevillea, markhamia, eucluptyus and podocarpus . From purchasing the seeds, bags, and other equipment to paying our tree manager and his staff, it costs us about 15 cents to produce each tree. Grevillea is the most highly demanded tree because it is a great organic fertilizer for fields and doesn’t disrupt crop growth. Markhamia is used by artists to carve masks and statues, but can also be used for lumber. Markhamira is also great because you can grow it in a coppice system, meaning if you cut it, it will re-sprout. While slow growing, podocarpus are used to mark the boundaries of fields. And eucalyptus is a great tree for lumber,firewood, and charcoal. Charcoal production for cooking for the nearby booming town of Bukavu is one of the main drivers of deforestation around and in the park. As the manager of the tree nursery told everyone waiting for trees, though, Euclyptus shouldn’t be planted in fields because it doesn’t work well with crops. As a condition to take home a Euclyptus tree, you must show the tree manager where you plan to plant it and because of the negative impacts of Euclyptus on the soil we only allow it on land that cannot be used for crops.

Yvette, our project manager for Kahuzi, with the tree nursery manager and the village chief launch the tree distribution in Miti.

Strong Root also manages the only tree nursery in the Burhinyi Chiefdom, located near the Itombwe Nature Reserve. We began this tree nursery two years ago in our efforts to reduce pressure on the Burhinyi Community Forest, which is also home to Grauer’s gorillas and numerous endemic and endangered bird species. This year we distributed about 60,000 trees to surrounding villages. Some people had to walk up to 4 hours to get trees! We are hoping to install a second tree nursery next year to reduce this distance and reach a great number of people. We distribute the same tree species in Burhinyi as around Kahuzi-Biega, but because the climate is much colder due to the high elevation in the mountains we also grow pine trees.

Strong Roots could easily sell each of their seedlings for $1 a piece, but instead with support from Partners in Conservation we are able to distribute and plant them for free. The reason? It’s a win-win. People who are able to produce their own firewood, lumber, and organic material, no longer need to go into the park, reducing pressure on Kahuzi-Biega and people benefit immensely from increasing the number of trees on their land. In a sense, trees serve as a saving account. In times of financial need, you can cut a tree or two, and easily pay for food or medical bills. It provides extra income to families while also reducing degradation in the park. The trees are in such high demand that people from towns further away come and ask for trees, but because our goal is reduce pressures on Kahuzi-Biega we restrict tree distribution to the 7 villages surrounding the park. Strong Roots is happy that the tree nursery can improve livelihoods and help conserve the Grauer’s gorilla.

A women carries home her trees.

Knowing all of this, I wasn’t surprised to find a large crowd of people waiting for the tree distribution to begin when Strong Roots arrived in Miti. In Burhinyi, we had people knocking on our door at 5am asking when we would start the distribution! Men, women, and kids, gathered with baskets, buckets, and cement sacks, to haul their trees back to their fields. I was impressed by the ingenuity of people in transporting these heavy trees back home. I saw one women carry her baby on her head so she could carry her trees on her back. Another old man dragged the trees home in a cut off water jug. This was my first year attending the tree distribution so I was eager to talk with the people who came to collect trees. Why did they come? Why benefits did they trees give them? Was this there first time there? What tree species did they prefer?

Tree nursery in Buryhini

Tree nursery in Buryhini

Beatrice, the project manager for the tree nursery in Burhinyi, joined me in chatting with the people who were there. Leonard, a chief from a nearby vilalge, told us he came every year for new trees because there was a “….direct need for trees. If our wives enter the park for firewood they get arrested, if we enter to get wood for constructed we get sent to prison. If we have our own trees, we have no problem with the park.” Beatrice asked him what he would do until the trees he collected at the nursery were big enough to use. For him, he said, it was no problem, because he had other mature trees that he got from Strong Roots six years ago.

Leonard, a chief of a nearby village

For Esperence, this was her first time collecting trees from Strong Roots. When asked why she came for trees she said “trees are important, they help bring rain and we can use them as fertilizer.” I asked her which were her favorite, which trees she preferred. Laughing at my question, she replied, “ they are all good, I cant have a favorite.”

Another man we chatted with jokingly told me, “There are three things every person should have in life; human rights, trees, and good sauce.” Not only did three local schools show up for trees in Buryhini, but the Mwami, the traditional chief of this area, asked for trees too! Having the Mwami’s support is a huge endorsement and will encourage further tree planting around the forest.

We found that beyond the direct benefits from trees, the tree nursery also employs community members. From filling the tree sachets with dirt, to helping collect branches and banana leaves for shade for the young seedlings, the community members are able to earn a small income working in the tree nursery. Women are the ones who largely come out to fill the tree sachets with dirt. However, the women did tell us that they would like to be employed full time in the nursery as well. They said they were no different, that they too could also manage the tree nursery and help out with work. Safi, our project coordinator for Kahuzi, immediately agreed and we are working on creating a more gender inclusive tree nursery for next year. Because of the high demand, we are also planning on doubling tree production next year and also incorporating several fruit trees.
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If you visit Kahuzi- Biega, you can see all the trees that Strong Roots in helped plant. They line the roads, they line the fields, and serve as shades near the homes. Normally the main challenge for reforestation projects is convincing people to plant trees, but here, our challenge is trying to produce enough

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Website updates and more news from Congo

Hello Friends,

Strong Roots continues to do work throughout the year and we are working to get our new projects, updates on old and continuing projects as well as new photos and more up on the website soon.

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Dominique Bikaba interviewed for the United Kingdom’s Guardian

“Illegal mining in eastern DRC has been reported to be the highest threat for gorillas; situation that is exacerbated by militias and rebel movements. operating in the region. First victims of this situation are local and indigenous communities and mostly, women and children.” ~ Dominique Bikaba

 
Dominique Bikaba, director of Strong Roots, was quoted in the following article by Diane Taylor on 2 September, 2011 in the online version of Guardian UK.  The article is as follows:

Rape victims in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being forced to work in conditions of slavery in mines producing the gold, coltan and tin ore needed to manufacture jewellery, mobile phones and laptops, a Guardian investigation has found.

The girls and women fled their villages after being raped by one or more of the militias terrorising the region. Traditionally the women were engaged in farming but their fields are in forests occupied by rebels and growing food has become too dangerous. Instead they are forced into exploitative work in mines to survive.

“If you choose to get food from the field you have to accept that you’re going to be raped,” said Patience Kengwa, 30, who works at Kamituga gold mine. She fled her village, Luliba, after being raped five times in two and a half years. Now she pounds rocks and carries heavy sacks, earning between 50 cents and a dollar a day.

Dominique Bikaba, director of Strong Roots, an environmental charity that works with miners to improve their conditions, has condemned the situation.

“These girls and women are working in the mines in conditions of slavery. They earn less than a dollar a day and are often forced to work harder than they are physically capable of working,” he said.

Various militias have been fighting each other in east Congo for more than a decade, raping and looting with impunity. The greed for Congo’s vast mineral wealth has made the situation worse. Even the UN mission in Congo, Monusco, which has 19,000 peacekeepers costing $1.4bn (£8.7m) a year, is implicated in illegal practices involving minerals.

Recently, a UN truck carrying a tonne of cassiterite was stopped by the Congolese authorities trying to cross the border from Congo to Rwanda. The UN has confirmed that it is investigating.

Congo’s mineral resources are estimated at $24tn, more than the combined GDP of Europe and America.

According to Bikaba, 98% of east Congo’s mines have some involvement with one militia or another – either they militia control mines and coerce people to work in them or demand “taxes” from workers.

East Congo was recently described as one of the worst places on earth to be a woman after a study in June by the American Journal of Public Health found that 1,152 women are raped every day in the African state, equating to a rate of 48 an hour. The perpetrators include the mainly Hutu Rwandan rebel group FDLR, a rival rebel group comprised mainly of Tutsis called CNDP, Congolese soldiers and the local Congolese Mai Mai militia.

The CNDP and some Mai Mai have now “integrated” into the Congolese army but many women have reported an increase rather than a decrease in rapes by the army, post-integration of rebel groups.

In a cruel twist some of the women kidnapped and raped by rebels are forced to pay a ransom before they are released. The money funds more weapons that are used to terrorise more women.

East Congo’s problems with Rwandan fighters began in the years after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The arrival of the rebel forces coincided with the explosion of the west’s appetite for mobile phones, computers and other electronic equipment. Gold, always a precious metal, is continually increasing in value. The Foreign Office has named gold, coltan, tungsten and cassiterite (tin ore) from east Congo as conflict minerals.

The US government has passed legislation requiring electronics companies to verify and disclose the sources of the minerals used in electronic and other products. Its aim is to prevent manufacturers using minerals from east Congo, which have been extracted in circumstances involving human rights abuses. The securities and exchange commission has issued far-reaching draft regulations to implement the US’s conflict minerals law. An announcement confirming the draft regulations was expected this week but, to the dismay of many human rights groups working in east Congo, it has been delayed.

The women working in the mines want to see a return to the peaceful lives they led in the early 1990s.

“The FDLR need to be taken back to Rwanda. When they attack us we have no idea how to defend ourselves,” said Kengwa.

Yvonne Starko, 25, who works at a cassiterite mine in Kalehe, fled rape in her home village of Ramba 100km away, in August 2008 and has been forced to work at the mine to feed her three children.

“I’m not healthy because I have to pound rocks and carry the heavy sacks at the mines. I’ve become weak and have lost weight. I came here as a refugee because there’s food here. I work to get money but there are bandits who steal it from me so at the end of the day I sometimes go home with nothing and my children stay hungry.”

While the rebels, the mineral traders and those higher up the supply chain profit from the unregulated, lawless mining conditions in the region, the enslaved women continue to suffer. They believe that their lives would be much better if Congo had no minerals. Elizabeth Wabiwa, 24, was rejected by her husband after she was raped by FDLR rebels.

“I wish we had no gold and no other minerals. I just want peace and my husband back, that’s all.”

Link to article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/02/congo-women-face-slavery-mines?INTCMP=SRCH

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Baboon Conservation Project

The Lake Kivu and the Lake Tanganyika are linked with the Ruzizi River (117Km) and constitutes the natural border between DRC and Rwanda. Last year we were called for looking over groups of baboons and other small monkeys along the Ruzizi River, in the Nyangezi administrative grouping.

We have sent several researchers teams in the area and we are thinking of a conservation and research project on the site. Ruzizi River is also home of crocodiles and hippos that were reported extinct in the Lake Kivu. 

We call for friends and researchers who would be interested to learn on this project in general and on baboons in particular to join us.

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Update on Strong Roots Projects and Programs

  • Environmental Education Program

The Environmental education program includes two the formal education that concerns children at school where conservation curriculum is coupled with the national education program to skill to new and future generations with tools to tackle environmental issues in their area. This program is applied in our school and extended other schools around the park.

The other program’s activity is sensitization sessions where adults and people in the communities are empowered with conservation kits composed of skills, knowledge and information in conservation. Most of the sessions relate to natural resources management.

  • Park Rangers Women Co-operative

This program concerns about 200 women:
1)     The Cassava Mill:  We have provided the park rangers women co-op with cassava mill and seeds money to start business. And net income of $US88 per month that they invest for a future socioeconomic project in the co-op.

2)     The poultry project:  This project is affiliated to the Kahuzi-Biega Environmental School (KBES). It produces eggs that used in the lunch program at the school.

  • Pygmy Farming Project

This project was launched in September 2010 and during the first agricultural campaign (Sept – December 2010), 40 hectares of land were leased for 102 pygmy families where they grew beans and corn.

Agricultural tools and seeds were provided by the project.

During this agricultural campaign, each family secured an average amount of 78Kg of beans that they planted this time.

The project just provided the leasing of the 40 hectares.

  • Reforestation Project

Nurseries (for trees) are installed since last February and 100,000 tree plants are expected to be planted around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in September 2011. More than 87.6% of local and indigenous communities rely on natural resources exploitation for subsistence and 98.6 of fuel comes from wood. And since the KBNP doesn’t have a buffer zone since its creation in 1970, conflicts between the park’s management authority and the surrounding communities are increasing – not only because of giving confiscated the communities lands without compensation when the park was created – but also, because of the high demographic rate (4% per year) that increases also the demand on land and natural resources.

This project is responding to a high need for communities’ subsistence as generating income for the beneficiaries, and also to tackle the conflicts between the park management authority and the surrounding communities when destroying the gorillas’ habitat, searching for firewood, timbers, sticks for houses building and charcoals in the park.

  • Baboon Conservation Project

The lake Kivi and the Lake Tanganyika are linked with the Ruzizi River (117Km) and constitutes the natural border between DRC and Rwanda. Last year we were called for looking over groups of baboons and other small monkeys along the Ruzizi River, in the Nyangezi administrative grouping.

We have sent several researchers teams in the area and we are thinking of a conservation and research project on the site. Ruzizi River is also home of crocodiles and hippos that were reported extinct in the Lake Kivu. 

We call for friends and researchers who would be interested to learn on this project in general and on baboons in particular to join us.

  • Carvers Co-op Program

Since the tourist machinery was broken in DRC because of the unstable political situation, all the carvers who used to sell their products to tourists have been their market broken, too. We have helped them constituted in carving co-op from which we help them selling their carvings to increase their income and sensitizing them about conservation.

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Kids raising money for Congo…

1st Graders in Breckenridge, Colorado held a fundraiser after school this week to raise money for Kids 4 Congo’s Kids and Strong Roots by holding a bake sale, art sale & also serving a full-service dinner to parents, siblings & teachers, complete with live entertainment, wait staff & a hostess! These 6 and 7 year olds raised over $250 for Strong Roots and their conservation and educational programs.  They are looking forward to their donations helping endangered gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. 

Thank you 1st Graders…you are helping change your world for the better!

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For our friends and supporters…

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Conservation International’s Indigenous Leaders Conservation Fellowship

The CI with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat have launched an Indigenous Leaders Conservation Fellowship and it’s a pleasure to announce that our Executive Director, Dominique Bikaba has been one of the four fellows who has won it among about 130 applicants.

These fellowship winners were announced were announced last October at the Tenth Conference of Parties (COP10) of the CBD in Nagoya (Japan) where Dominique Bikaba who represented the fellows at this United Nations event expressed profound gratitude on behalf of the other fellows and on his own name to the CI and the CBD for selecting them.

Mr. Bikaba also took this opportunity to announce the project on which he will be working through this fellowship. The project that will be evaluating the ability to merge traditional knowledge with science and new technology for conservation of protected areas in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo will focus a comparative study on management policies of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the Itombwe Natural Reserve and the Bushema Community Reserve. The other targets for this project will be on land tenure and conflicts in these protected areas’ region by assessing existence of potential corridors between them.

 The CI office in DRC as well as conservation officials in DRC have welcomed this project announcement and are eager to use the project results in the design of new protected areas, especially the community forests, as well as in management in conservation

It is a yearlong fellowship and the other fellows are respectively from Fiji, Guatemala and the Philippines.

Congratulations Dominique!

For more information, please visit: http://www.conservation.org/discover/centers_programs/itpp/pages/indigenous_fellowship.aspx

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Strong Roots in the New York Times

Strong Roots is mentioned in New York Times blog “How To Change The World” by Nicholas D. Kristof:

I have an essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about do-it-yourself foreign aid, but I know that it won’t fully answer the question that many readers will have: What can I do? Originally we had a sidebar addressing that question to go with the article, but it had to be cut for space reasons – and so I’ve found a home for it here on my blog.

So for those who want to do more, here are my suggestions….

Or you can volunteer at a soup kitchen or mentor a child, or find other ways to help. A stay-at-home mom in Colorado, Jenny Murphy, heard about Lisa Shannon (whose work with Run for Congo Women I describe in the magazine article) but isn’t a runner and wasn’t in a position to go off to Congo. But she browsed the Internet and through Facebook connected with a remarkable man in Congo running schools there. Now she is passionately engaged in an organization, Strong Roots, that supports those schools and works on conservation issues around Kahuzi-Biega National Park in Eastern Congo. That’s a reflection of what technology makes possible: a Mom in Colorado giving people hope in eastern Congo.

Please check out the entire article and more wonderful organizations here: http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/how-to-change-the-world/

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