THE DRC ITOMBWE
Indigenous women are leading the drive to restore and reforest the rainforest in this planting project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) and Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO)
Itombwe Rainforest, the DRC
Located in the Itombwe Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this program works with over 700 local and indigenous women representing five tribes of over 25,000 residents. It aims to reforest devastated areas of the rainforest, as well as protect against further destruction of old-growth.
The program is unique because the implementers and leaders are almost entirely female and indigenous. This approach provides local women with a platform to learn, strategies and protect the rainforest, their rich ecological knowledge and their communities. The Itombwe Rainforest is an internationally recognised conservation area with an extraordinary biodiversity of plants and animals. It is also part of the Congo Rainforest, the second-largest rainforest on Earth, which scientists estimate, at its current rate of deforestation, will be entirely gone by 2100.
Hectares of forest planted to date
Local indigenous women working on the project
Trees to plant per year
“This is the first time such a program has existed in the Itombwe rainforest. Women have become more educated, safer and economically stronger in a country that is rated as having some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. They refer to themselves as forest guardians and take great pride in their efforts. ”
IMPACT ON NATURE.
This forest protection and restoration programme focuses on reforesting devastated areas of the internationally recognised conservation area of the Itombwe Rainforest. The project will plant a majority (75%) of native trees and an additional (25%) of agroforestry trees to meet community fuelwood needs and support livelihoods.
The broader planting goals intend to build a buffer zone by planting 2 million native trees and a few selected non-native agroforestry trees that will help the overall ecosystem regenerate in the south-eastern part of the Itombwe forest to protect the old-growth forest.
The Itombwe Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is part of the Congo Rainforest - the second-largest rainforest on Earth. It is an internationally recognised conservation area due to the extraordinary biodiversity of its plants and animals, some of which only exist here.
The project will plant a mix of species, such as fruit, medicine trees, and trees that attract protein insects for food. All tree planting is done by hand with no modern equipment, from building the tree nursery to planting the seeds to watering, then bagging, to carrying tens of thousands of seedlings to the planting sites.
The area's farming, mining, forestry, water and cultural resources have been an ongoing source of conflict and war. This has led to suffering and human rights abuses of indigenous communities, particularly indigenous Pygmy forest communities. Large forest areas have been lost due to industrialised logging, illegal timber harvesting operations, mining and farming, and local dependence on Itombwe's old-growth forest for fuelwood and other wood products. The local population also relies heavily on agriculture and livestock, and preparing land for growing crops has long consisted of clearing natural forests to plant crops. Similarly, cattle farmers burn the savannah every year for grazing.
Through training and on-the-ground projects, WECAN DRC's program addresses these issues by elevating women's rights and leadership, providing environmental education, widespread reforestation activities and renewing and championing Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The project defends the rights of Indigenous Pygmy women and the local communities living in and around forest areas and renews cultural practices connected to land respect.