DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

WOMEN FOR FORESTS

Women of the DR Congo WECAN/SAFECO program walk between the savannah and their tree nursery

Women of the DR Congo WECAN/SAFECO program walk between the savannah and their tree nursery

The Itombwe Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is an internationally recognized conservation area due to the extraordinary biodiversity of its plants and animals. It constitutes a part of the Congo Rainforest, which is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. However, its enviable wealth of farming, mining, forestry, water and cultural resources have been a constant source of conflict and war, leading to the ongoing suffering and human rights abuses of the Pygmy forest communities.

 

At its current rate of deforestation, scientists estimate that the entire Congo Rainforest will be gone by 2100.  Sixty percent of the Congo Rainforest is located in the DR Congo, making this region a vital area of concern. In addition to industrialized logging, illegal timber harvesting operations, mining and farming, local communities have depended entirely on the Itombwe’s old-growth forest for fuelwood and other wood products such as timber, charcoal and medicine. Through trainings and on-the-ground projects, WECAN’s Women for Forests program in the DR Congo addresses these issues through the elevation of women’s leadership, environmental education, widespread reforestation activities and renewal of Traditional Ecological Knowledge.   

 

Since 2014, women in South Kivu Province have been organizing through the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) in partnership with Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO) to raise awareness about women’s rights and leadership; the long-term harm of industrial deforestation and illegal logging; protection of the Itombwe Rainforest in relation to climate change solutions; the importance of learning hands-on reforestation techniques; defending the rights of Indigenous Pygmy women and the local communities living in and around forest areas, and renewing cultural practices connected to land respect. 

The program was originally initiated by WECAN’s Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, after meeting with Neema Namadamu at a WECAN International climate conference where Neema was invited to be a presenter. Subsequent listening and learning circles were organized to learn how a women’s leadership and forest protection program could be developed in the DR Congo.  From there a wonderful partnership began between SAFECO and WECAN.

Our vision for this program is to: 

  • protect and regenerate forest ecosystems for biodiversity well-being and climate mitigation;

  • create income-generating livelihoods for women through tree planting and harvesting and sale of fruits and herbs from planted trees; secure land ownership for women;

  • give girls more access to education since they will not need to walk such long distances in order to provide daily wood and other forest needs;

  • protect women and girls from molestation during long walks to locate wood;

  • create women’s empowerment and respect in their communities;

  • and to uplift Indigenous worldviews of humans living in right relationship with nature.

A woman and her child tend the WECAN/SAFECO tree nursery

Women of the DR Congo WECAN/SAFECO program work together transplanting trees and sharing knowledge in the nursery

Our collaborative work centers in South Kivu Province, which hosts two very important forest sites: the Itombwe Nature Reserve and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB), both of which have been listed as in danger since 1994 due to pressures from extractive industries and inter-related conflicts.

Co-facilitated trainings and strategy/action sessions, run under the auspices of the WECAN Regional Climate Solutions Training Program, focus on the protection of the Itombwe Rainforest and the support of the regions Indigenous Pygmy peoples, whose cultural and ecologic heritage is severely threatened by unsustainable and exploitative logging, mining, and agricultural practices.

Through online trainings, on-the-ground workshops, and an ongoing reforestation program, WECAN DR Congo is providing a platform for local women to learn, strategize, build, and implement a plan for protection of the Itombwe Rainforest, their rich Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and their communities living in and around the rainforest.

Over the course of a series of program strategy sessions, the women have formed a local conservation committee, drafted a declaration, and met with government officials, military members, and local NGO’s to share their work and action plans, while calling for accountability and support from state actors.

In addition to education and advocacy work to stop illegal timber harvesting and promote forest conservation, the women of WECAN DR Congo are continuing their successful tree nurseries growing over 25 local tree varieties, which have medicinal, food, fuel, and reforestation purposes. Twenty-five percent of the new growth is for human use, and seventy-five percent of the planted trees are for re-wilding damaged lands. Each year the new trees decrease use of the Itombwe old growth forest, which is essential for carbon sequestration and biodiversity protection. Over one-hundred thousand trees have been planted by women leaders and community members so far - all by hand, with no machinery or equipment.

In 2020, WECAN DR Congo initiated a food sovereignty component to the program, and local women are also now caring for gardens to increase food security in the area, which is located near two displacement camps. Currently the women are growing cabbage, carrots, eggplant, and more. You can learn more about WECAN's Women for Forests program in the DR Congo in our online event, “Women for Forests & Future Generations: Defending Communities from Pandemics & Climate Chaos”.

We are very thankful to have Neema Namadamu on our team as the WECAN Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Neema Namadamu is a visionary peacemaker from Bukavu, South Kivu Province in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where she advocates for peace, women’s rights, rights for persons with disabilities, rights for Indigenous pygmy peoples, and Rights of Nature. She is Founder and Director of SAFECO, the Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations and Maman Shujaa: Hero Women of the Congo. As WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, Neema leads workshops and trainings with local women to address deforestation, build women’s leadership, support Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and protect the rich ecosystems of the Itombwe rainforest.

Neema Namadamu, WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, speaks during the UN COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, France – Photo via Emily Arasim

Neema Namadamu, WECAN DRC Regional Coordinator, speaks during the UN COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, France – Photo via Emily Arasim

WECAN DR Congo Regional Climate Solutions Training

Neema Namadamu leads a WECAN/SAFECO training with local women leaders. 

Key Moments:

  • 2014 - First online training! 5 week intensive course focuses on topics including women and climate change; connecting the local to the global; importance of forests and forest protection; and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of region's Indigenous peoples.​

  • 2014 - 3 day training in Mwenga, focused on topics including: skill sharing and presentations on local ethno-botanical knowledge; introduction of clean cookstoves; holistic Indigenous forest conservation methods; women's leadership and rights; and climate justice.

  • 2014 - Drafting of Women's Declaration calling for regionwide forest protection.

  • 2014 - Formation of local village conservation committees to share and implement tools and analysis for forest protection presented in WECAN trainings.

  • 2015 - 3 day online training in Bukavu, South Kivu, followed by a hands-on training in the Itombwe forest, focused on topics including - women's leadership; Indigenous rights; Rights of Nature; local and international environmental laws; development and implementation of regional climate action plan; and tree planting.

  • 2015 - Launch of initiative to use clean cookstoves and build a small women-led solar business - research and development phase.

  • 2015 - Design and creation of WECAN / SAFECO re-forestation and tree nursery project in South Kivu Province to plant, regenerate and protect over 25 species of native tree saplings.

  • 2015 - Visit of local government leaders, women's presentation, and tree planting ceremony to officially launch first ever reforestation project in South Kivu.

  • 2015 - WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, Neema Namadamu, represents women forest guardians of the DR Congo at COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, France.

  • 2016 - Women leaders nurture and plant over 20,000 diverse tree saplings by hand!

  • 2016 - WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, Neema Namadamu takes part in the COP22 climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco as a representative of WECAN International.

  • 2017 - Women leaders nurture and plant over 22,000 diverse tree saplings by hand!

  • 2017 - WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, Neema Namadamu takes part in the COP23 climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, as a representative of WECAN International.

  • 2018 - Women leaders decide to add a nursery and planting site for coffee plants, to continue to diversify their reforested areas, and provide income for their families. Over 35,000 coffee seedlings were bagged and distributed in 2018!

  • 2018 - Approximately 324 households participated in the reforestation program, where 4 tree nurseries produced 39,730 trees, with 69 hectares of land reforested. As a result, 10 years from now, the 39,730 trees will be sequestering 1,456 tons of carbon per year.

  • 2018 - Four community trainings were held to share knowledge and continue planning around the women-led reforestation effort.

  • 2018 - Â WECAN DR Congo Coordinator, Neema Namadamu takes part in the Global Climate Action Summit in California as a WECAN International representative.

  • 2019 - Meetings and trainings, and the tree nursery and reforestation project, continue to grow!

Learn more about the WECAN DRC Regional Climate Solutions Training programs via blog posts and videos:

Co-facilitated trainings and strategy/action sessions, run under the auspices of the WECAN Regional Climate Solutions Training Program, focus on the protection of the Itombwe Rainforest and the support of the regions Indigenous Pygmy peoples, whose cultural and ecologic heritage is severely threatened by unsustainable and exploitative logging, mining, and agricultural practices.

 

Through online trainings, on-the-ground workshops, and an ongoing reforestation program, WECAN DR Congo is providing a platform for local women to learn, strategize, build, and implement a plan for protection of the Itombwe Rainforest, their rich Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and their communities living in and around the rainforest.