“The only way we can address that and live in harmony with the wildlife is to plant tea,” says Gregory, who spoke to RFI on the sidelines of the Cop21 climate Change summit in Paris.
Gregory represents the 7,205 smallholder tea farmers who won the 2015 UN Development Program Equator Prize, for their contribution to adaptation and mitigation to climate change. Over the last decade, the Equator prize has recognised community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation of biodiversity.
The farmers share their smallholdings with half of the world’s mountain gorillas who live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of Uganda’s oldest rainforests.
“Wild animals don’t want to go into an open place and tea is acting as a buffer. So when you have 100 metres of tea around the forest, then you can plant your crops. Animals won’t cross the tea to come and destroy the crop,” he adds.
Farmers used to grow their crops up to the forest boundary, but after the plants started sprouting, the animals in the forest would come out and raid their crops.
“We did research and we found that first of all, these animals don’t eat tea, and they fear to go out in the open, because their home is the forest,” he says, adding that when the animals see the sky, they go back into the forest.
The tea is grown around the boundary of the forest, and the crops are grown in the middle to ensure that farmers harvest their crops unimpeded. But wildlife conservation is just a small part of the Kayonza tea growers’ programme. In order to address deforestation, the group of farmers plant trees, and to combat drought, they give water tanks to the women who store water for domestic and agricultural use during the dry season.
The group has recognised that part of the issue of dealing with climate change is people themselves and their habits.
“The population is increasing - the fertility rate in Uganda is 6.5 children per woman. This exerts pressure on the natural resources,” says Gregory, explaining that his group tries to promote manageable family sizes that are compatible with the resources they have.
The Kayonza growers examine every aspect of living to ensure it is more harmonious with the environment. They have replaced traditional cooking stoves with more efficient ones that do not use a lot of firewood, Gregory says.
“At the tea factory, using energy-saving bulbs has reduced our expenditure by 20 per cent,” he says. “Our work has been recognized by UNDP, so we are proud about what we are doing differently.”
In Tanzania, forest preservation is key to maintaining the environment and to help those who live in the forest, says Rahima Njaidi, the spokesperson of Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu Tanzania, or Mjumita. Her organization also won an Equator prize for their forest management programmes that empower communities.
“The network is an advocacy tool for the community’s right to be heard, for forest conservation, and for them to benefit from the forest,” says Njaidi.
Although the communities live in the forest, it does not mean that they should not benefit from them too, she says.
“We’ve also introduced alternative income-generating activities, such as beekeeping, mushroom farming and butterfly farming…all in the name of making sure they don’t go into the forest and rely on something else,” she adds.
Although Tanzania has good laws on resources preservation, many of the laws are not enforced, leading to abuses, including cutting down trees, or illegal charcoal production. There is no excuse for breaking the law, despite the hardships people might face, Njaidi says - “just because somebody wants food on the table, somebody wants to send their kids to school, and somebody just does it in the name of corruption, in the name of anything,” she adds.
By creating awareness about laws and policies, Mjumita, a network with members in 450 villages in 23 districts throughout the country, ensures that communities know what they are supposed to be doing and what the law protects and why.
“We established village forest reserves for the communities, where they have their management plans, their harvesting plans, so whatever is done in the forest is done according to their management plan,” says Njaidi. The group also facilitates land use planning, including mapping out settlement, grazing, and agriculture areas.
“So now these [plans] make sure the village land is used wisely, for the present generation and also for the future generation,” says Njaidi. By giving the communities the tools, they are able to make an impact on their own lives, she adds.
“Let’s believe in the communities they can make a change in the forest sectors, and that’s why we’re trying to give them a chance to do so…the community brought almost 1.8 million hectares of forest into management, and it’s going very well, so we’re trying to put more into management for the communities,” says Njaidi.