Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers' co-op
I recently had the great fortune to visit and work in Uganda, a place with a powerful sense of identity— and a very different landscape and climate from our project site in the Peruvian Amazon. What brought me there was the opportunity to share some of our tools for participatory conservation in a totally different context. An important outcome of the trip was the creation of a community reforestation project with a particularly compelling backstory.
But first, you may be wondering what Uganda has to do with the Amazon? Doesn’t Camino Verde plant trees in Peru? The answer is that this trip represents the first gig for Camino Verde Consulting (CVC), a new branch of the organization that is just one of the ways that we reach out to other communities and share our strategies on a broader platform. Successful reforestation projects are few, and CVC is one avenue to replicate the successes we’ve had in new and different contexts.
And different is right. Though both Peru and Uganda regularly top lists of biodiverse countries, climate and landscape of Northern Uganda is a a far cry from the Amazon rainforest. Dry is the word that comes to mind. Remarkable native tree populations have been greatly compromised by pressure for firewood for cooking, and the overlap among ecological, cultural, and economic factors is evident. A perfect opportunity to test Camino Verde’s toolkit.
And let’s talk more about that cultural component I just mentioned. The recent history of Northern Uganda is like few places in the world— the region has enjoyed the past few short years of peace after almost half a century of ongoing conflict. The last twenty years of that war-torn period were characterized as one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises— over 1 million people displaced to camps, an estimated 60,000 children abducted for enforced conscription and enslavement.
Extraordinary to me was the profoundly optimistic and nearly universal perspective that it’s time to put the conflict behind us and build a better future, starting today. And few people were more articulate in this perspective than the Mon Ma Ryek, the “Wise Women of Uganda,” a community-based organization of women traditional healers with whom I had the honor to work. Think shamans, medicine women. And then turn your wow factor up by ten notches. These women are cultural knowledge keepers who have shown astonishing resilience in the face of decades of scapegoating and persecution by violent rebel groups and government alike. And now we’re going to be planting some trees together.
One of the key outcomes of the trip (which was part of an ongoing initiative of US-based organization Wild Forests and Fauna, of whose team I’m a part for this project) was the development of a reforestation action plan and a native trees nursery to generate seedlings for the Wise Women to plant. We’re starting out with 15 key conservation target tree species and researching ways to include a non-timber forest product component— African essential oils anyone? The first round of species are multipurpose trees facing over-exploitation for use as charcoal or fuelwood but that are also important medicines.
I’ll be sure to follow up in the future with more news from Uganda. In the meantime, heartfelt thanks to the whole WFF family and trip team who brought so much heart and expertise to the project. It's an honor to be a part of this work.
And back in the Peruvian Amazon…
…Amazing things are happening. Here are the first quarter milestones:
•1200 trees planted representing over 30 species as part of our Living Seed Bank, which was recently featured in Rodale’s Organic Life.
•Camino Verde field research team Manuel Huinga and Piero Maceda spent January through March documenting and gathering seeds of important, rare Amazonian trees. Six thousand seedlings sit in our nursery now, growing to be planted out next rainy season.
•Forestry engineer thesis candidate Olivia Revilla has begun the labor of love of documenting the trees of Camino Verde— all the trees planted here in the last 9 years. Her ongoing long-term data collection of our reforestation center will provide a unique body of information from our 280 tree species on farm: over 15,000 individual trees.
•In parallel with our bio-regional partners in the northern and central Peruvian Amazon, Camino Verde has planted an “oil polyculture agroforestry system.” This ecologically sound answer to the disastrous oil palm monocultures impacting tropical forests around the world focuses on native species and helps prove that ecological agriculture is ultimately more economically attractive to farmers that plantation serfdom and forest degradation. Thanks to the New England Biolabs Foundation for their generous support of this initiative.
It’s always a pleasure to share with you about what’s going on with Camino Verde, and there’s always more going on than I can mention in these brief missives. Please follow us on Facebook or reply to this email and request to subscribe to our Bulletin, which provides more detailed information on Camino Verde program work for our board and advisory council.
Thank you, and kind regards from Tambopata,
Seeds of native trees of Northern Uganda
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
WWU herbal workshop
Camino Verde seed experts Manuel and Piero