The Fossey Fund is best known for its work to bring wild gorillas back to the brink of extinction. But many of the Fossey Fund’s initiatives go beyond gorillas, instead focusing on human communities that live close to gorilla wild habitat in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We know that helping these communities, through livelihoods, food and water security, and education initiatives, helps protect gorillas and keep their biodiversity habitat intact.
In 2017, our conservation education program began working with nature clubs in primary schools near the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park (VNP). Each year since, we have trained teachers to lead clubs and support students in designing and implementing projects that benefit their schools and communities while protecting the environment.
“These nature clubs are a critical part of our community outreach strategy,” says Felix Ndagijimana, program director for the Fossey Fund in Rwanda and the Karisoke Research Center. “Through these clubs, we provide conservation education, not only to students and teachers, but to the community as a whole. They also play a key role in our essential food security programs and align with our mission to help humans and save gorillas.
We are currently working with clubs from 17 different primary schools near the VNP. Students in these clubs have successfully implemented a variety of projects in their schools, including school animal husbandry and gardens. Over the past three years, several of these student-run clubs have started to dream big, focusing on nurseries to produce fruit trees, bamboos and other local tree species that will help feed their communities for coming years. Nurseries increase agricultural productivity, provide alternative sources of income and improve conservation knowledge within communities.
Nature club members have planted over 35,000 fruit and agroforestry trees to date. In 2020, 14,000 of them were mature enough to be distributed to more than 5,000 families. Of these, 9,000 were food-bearing trees, mostly avocados, while the remaining 5,000 were agroforestry trees intended to be used for things like firewood or timber. Club members also delivered 300 hagenias to the nursery at our new Ellen DeGeneres campus, where they will be used in reforestation projects.
Vestine Nyirandikubwimana, mother of three participants in the nature club, received trees from the Center Scolaire Nyamurimirwa in 2018. “I am very happy to have bean stakes and firewood from these trees, which were planted by my children. », Says Nyirandikubwimana. “I learned from my kids how important it is to conserve the park. For me, it is not necessary to go to the park to cut trees.
These tree planting projects do more than provide alternative sources of food. During the rainy season, water rushes down the steep mountain slopes, causing flooding and soil erosion. Planting trees promotes soil conservation, forest landscape restoration and soil productivity; trees also absorb carbon dioxide, slowing the rate of climate change around the world. In addition, the nature clubs nurseries are supporting a Rwandan government initiative that aims to make agroforestry and fruit trees available to every family in Rwanda. And these projects are changing the attitudes of students and parents regarding the protection of gorillas in the PNV.
“Club projects can target three beneficiaries: schools, communities around schools and the environment,” explains Maurice Ngiramahoro, conservation education manager at the Fossey Fund. “The nature club nurseries benefit all three targets. It is wonderful to see communities benefit from the projects implemented by their students. And the nurseries also serve to protect and conserve gorillas and the Biodiversity Volcanoes National Park.