The Bamboo Liberation Front
Story by KIWOCEDU
Between August 2018 and October 2019, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) supported a project entitled "Community Restoration of Bamboo (CORB)" at Echuya Forest in Uganda - a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. Echuya Forest is a montane rainforest measuring about 3,400ha, and was once predominantly covered with bamboo vegetation - a resource that is much used by people and therefore disappeared at an alarming rate. A women-led community-based organization operating in and around Echuya forest, known as the Kigezi Initiative for Women and Children Empowerment and Development Uganda (KIWOCEDU), spent 15 months addressing this issue by restoring and liberating bamboo.
The CORB project focused on four thematic areas - bamboo restoration, bamboo liberation, sustainable bamboo harvesting practices, and value addition for men and women. During the restoration process, KIWOCEDU planted over 1600 bamboo rhizomes, specifically at the Rushayu bamboo restoration site. All members of the community, both men and women, teamed up with KIWOCEDU to engage in tedious activities such as pitting, uprooting, transporting and planting of bamboo rhizomes. The planted site is now thriving with new bamboo shoots sprouting from the planted rhizomes.
Much of the bamboo degradation was caused by invasive plants. Periodic spot-weeding activities were effective in promoting healthy growth and reproduction. Thirty hectares of previously colonized bamboo habitat was freed of invasive plant species, and the liberated area, which was previously characterized by scattered, yellowish, dirty bamboos culms, regained its green leafy color. Bamboo culms increased in numbers, height, and diameter.
Sustainable harvesting practices
In order to improve bamboo growth, CORB also improved bamboo harvesting practices. Bamboo users around the forest were taught how to conduct selective harvesting of mature bamboo as opposed to indiscriminate (yet traditionally accepted) harvesting of young bamboo shoots. Bamboo products have been, and still are, a major source of livelihoods for many communities around the forest, especially for handicraft makers. Ninety-one bamboo users were trained in sustainable bamboo management and harvesting practices. One hundred bamboo handicraft makers were trained to reduce bamboo material wastage, and to improve the skill and quality of their trade and products for better economic and commercially viable production of bamboo handicrafts.
Gender mainstreaming and inclusion of marginal groups
The project involved representatives of all sections of the adjacent community, especially women and the indigenous Batwa people – marginalized groups in the community who rarely participate in conservation projects. A gender-mainstreaming training was provided to encourage the consideration of 'gender' in conservation activities, and specifically in the CORB project so that both men and women would share equally in the benefits from bamboo conservation and restoration.
The indigenous Batwa consider themselves as custodians of Echuya Forest, which was their traditional home until government mandated the forest as a Central Forest Reserve resulting in their eviction in the 1990s. Today, the majority of Batwa live on the fringes of Echuya as landless squatters. Their inherent attachment to the forest heavily contributed to their perpetual marginalization, social exclusion and endemic poverty. However, CORB project embraced the full participation of Batwa in its project activities and benefits.
One of the Forest Management group leaders, who previously believed that the involvement of women and Batwa should be minimized as much as possible, eventually remarked, “KIWOCEDU has broken the silence on women and Batwa participation in conservation-based activities. We never thought women were able to do conservation activities because they had never been brought on board before. We are surprised by how much they can do. Maybe it’s time we put some on the Forest Management groups.”
Through the CORB project, KIWOCEDU has forged strong partnerships and networks with other stakeholders supporting biodiversity conservation projects in the region. The resilient women of KIWOCEDU prevailed against difficult terrain, poor roads, unstable telephone networks and reluctant individuals to see the CORB project become a success. Women and the indigenous Batwa are gradually integrating in conservation projects, mutually benefitting and becoming socially accepted overall. Like the bamboo of the Echuya forest, there is no stopping them now!
BirdLife International runs the Regional Implementation Team (RIT) for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) investment in the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot (2012 -2019). See the interactive map of all projects implemented under the CEPF Eastern Afromontane Hotspot programme here.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. More information on the CEPF can be found at www.cepf.net.