The forest is my wealth and I will protect it
At 42, Mauro Bosoli is already grandfather and father of 11 children. He has three wives and his 16 year old daughter has just given him another grandson. For an Indigenous citizen, Mauro is quite slim and rather tall in size, exceeding 1.70 m. He is the president of the local association for the promotion of Indigenous people of Lokolama and Botsua Lamuka, two villages separated by the road in the Penzele sector, Bikoro territory in the province of Equator. Gradually, Mauro began to realise that his sons were not growing up like him. They do not eat like him anymore. Large amounts of food have disappeared. Children are suffering from malnutrition. Forest resources are being depleted. “When we were kids, monkeys inhabited trees, wild boars were abundant in the forest. We ate our fill and had succulent dishes”, Mauro recalls. “And now we must settle for canned food, vegetables and smoked or salted fish. But you must have money to buy”, he relates.
The Wamba forest in Lokolama and Bostua Lamuka, however, belongs to the Pygmies but has long been exploited and plundered by neighbouring Bantu populations who do not have any official rights to the forest. "We have noticed that the forest is deteriorating with the expansion of slash and burn agriculture and wild wood cutting by our Bantu neighbours; the prey becomes scarce with the intensification of hunting, for commercial reasons, using firearms; some fish have disappeared from our natural ponds, we no longer have caterpillars as before”, Mauro explains. "The forest is an asset for us because this is where we gather all of our resources. This is why we took the decision to protect it. Not only do we protect it, but we reforest it with particular species that have disappeared, including trees with caterpillars and medicinal plants”, adds Mauro.
Regenerate the forest
To give more importance to and raise awareness to this cause, Mauro's association has formed an alliance with another association that believe in the same goal: the Pygmies Peasants Association of Lokoloma (PPAL). Together, they launched the Indigenous forest heritage of Wamba conservation project. In the UNDP’s environmental protection programme framework, the PPAL has benefited since 2011 as a result of funding of more than 25,000 dollars as part of the UNDP Small Grants Programme. This programme receives its funding from the Global Environment Fund. This fund has enabled the PPAL to actively advocate against deforestation with continuous support to the planning of the biodiversity conservation project of the Wamba forest ecosystem. "This funding has already helped to limit and to do an update about the forest; sensitise the natives to a rational management of their nurturing mother just to get what they need to live.”
- UNDP is present in the area as part of the Small Grants Programme with the support project of planning of the biodiversity conservation project of the forest ecosystem of Wamba.
- Sustainable management of nearly 200 hectares of forest
- Project cost 25,000 US dollars
- The lessor is World Environment Fund
- The goal of this project is to carry out conservation activities for the biodiversity of the Wamba forest ecosystem
“Now, farmers are replanting the forest”, Tyti Balenga says, an agroforester who is the head of the PPAL programme. "To eat, heal us ... we rely on the forest," Mauro explains. Tity Belenga states that “UNDP funding has helped to initiate a contingency plan of the forest heritage of Wamba. Through cooperation with the Pygmies, we divided the forest into two sections. The largest section, which is more than 100 hectares, is to be set-aside for a two year period. There will be no hunting, fishing in natural ponds, wood cutting, nor cultivating of fields. It's a way for us to let the forest and land recover. The other section, which is approximately 70 hectares, is to be used by the local population”. The local administration of Penzele has agreed to work alongside the Pygmies population in this project, most notably in conflict management related to intrusion into the protected areas.
The forest nourishes and heals
In the forest, which consists of marshes, Mauro leads us to the demarcation line between the two sections of the forest. The winding track ends abruptly on the marshes. To reach the heart of the Wamba forest, the felled trees serve as a tracking guide through the marshes. You have to be quite agile to follow the track, formed by the tree trunks, in a single line. “We cut down the fast-growing trees. It is not a waste”, Mauro states. In the forest, he stops in front of a tree and points to a wild hive. “We will come back one night to pick honey. It is a miracle product, an important food for us as it treats several diseases. It treats constipation, wounds, and coughing. It should not be absent from the house”, Mauro explains. A few meters away, Mauro curses by showing tree trunks which have decomposed from the humidity. “Why did they cut them down if they could not salvage them?” he rages.
In some areas, the forest is very dense that the treetops prevent sunlight from reaching the ground. We now better understand the greenhouse effect that occurs within the forest. Water vapour that rises from the swamps is trapped by the dense forest resulting in high humidity levels. This causes you to sweat profusely. Sweat drips from head to toe and blurs vision as it enters the eye. The Pygmies, we could say, run and dance around tree trunks as they are familiar with the forest climate! For city dwellers, who have come to report, it's not that easy! The Pygmies have not sweated a single drop during the trek! In this forest, we lose the concept of time and sense of direction. After hours of strenuous walking, we come across clearings where Mauro shows us some fruit trees. “Our ancestors lived here before settlers forced them to move to the main road because an epidemic was wiping out the population in the forest”, Mauro says. He explains that when the resources became scarce in a particular area, their ancestors moved to another site.
After more than two hours of walking on a treacherous path in the humidity, Mauro indicates the demarcation line of the part of the protected forest. The trees have been cut nearly five meters apart. “To clearly mark the separation between the two parties, we have planted trees with caterpillars and medicinal plants in a line. We perform maintenance work on the demarcation line once a month. Each member of the community has the duty to protect the part left fallow by recognising and denouncing cases of intrusion and prohibited activities. We have replaced the fish, which had disappeared, in the ponds and hope that they will multiply in the meantime. After two years, we will assess the situation with environmental technicians and those of PPAL who work with us”, Mauro explains.