TreeSisters Planting Projects

Itombwe Rainforest, Democratic Republic of the Congo

In Partnership with WECAN and SAFECO

Video courtesy of Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.

Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa

This forest protection and restoration programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is led by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) and Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (SAFECO). The program focuses on reforesting devastated areas of the internationally recognised conservation area of the Itombwe Rainforest with native trees (75% of total trees planted) and planting agroforestry trees to meet community fuelwood needs and to support livelihoods (25% of total trees planted).

The Democratic Republic of Congo Forest Protection and Reforestation Program is remarkable because it involves over 700 local indigenous women from five tribes. The leaders and those involved in fieldwork are almost entirely female and indigenous. 

Through online training, on-the-ground workshops, and an ongoing reforestation programme, WECAN DR Congo is providing a platform for local women to learn, strategise, build, and implement a plan for the protection of the Itombwe Rainforest, their rich Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and their communities living in and around the rainforest. The programme uplifts Indigenous worldviews of living in alignment with nature through valuing and renewing Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 

The women participants in the program (and their households) represent over 25,000 residents in their respective communities. Goals for the program include reforesting 1,209 square kilometers of devastatedareas of the Itombwe Rainforest. Protecting over 1.6 million acres of old-growth forest in the Itombwe Forest Sector of the Congo Rainforest, the second largest rainforest on Earth and which, at its current rate of deforestation, scientists estimate will be entirely gone by 2100. 

The Itombwe Rainforest is an internationally recognised conservation area due to the extraordinary biodiversity of its plants and animals, some of which only exist in this area. However, the area's farming, mining, forestry, water and cultural resources have been an ongoing source of conflict and war, leading 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. 

According to community agreements, 25% of the planted area is for human use to provide for their needs historically met by cutting down old-growth forests, and 75% is reserved for wild forest regeneration. The 25% for community use is a mix of tree species, such as fruit and medicine trees, and trees that attract certain protein insects for food. All tree planting is done by hand with no modern equipment, from building the tree nurseries and planting the seeds to watering, bagging, and then carrying tens of thousands of seedlings to the planting sites. It also includes monitoring and protecting the planted trees.

By halting old-growth deforestation and also regenerating clear-cut forest areas with native tree species (which also improves the soil quality), the programme aims to support the re-growth of natural habitat favourable for native trees to grow back and also for the animals to return to the area.

Photos of the Itombwe Rainforest project courtesy of WECAN

~ Neema Namadamu, WECAN Coordinator for the DRC, leads a training
~ Women  prepare a nursery site

~ Women gather to plant trees

~ Participants prepare baskets with tree seedlings  

~ Women tend to the tree nurseries

~ Program participants prepare to transplant tree seedlings to damaged lands

(Photos will change every few seconds or you can scroll with the small arrows on each side.)

"This is the first time such a program has existed in the Itombwe Rainforest. Women have become more educated, safer and economically stronger.  ~WECAN

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