Help Stop Slash and Burn Farming in the Congo

by Wildlife Conservation Global
Planting seeds
Planting seeds

OCP has been assisting communities throughout the Okapi Wildlife Reserve to improve their food security. The agroforestry program has gained popularity among the farmers in more remote areas of the reserve, allowing OCP educators to make inroads to areas not previously receptive to conservation efforts.

Since the success of the program depends on secure areas, the increase of patrols has allowed more farmers to commit their participation. However, the poor road conditions still hinder outreach and education, especially during the rainy season. Because of the programs high demand, OCP is trying to surmount the difficult conditions in order to bring sustainable farming practices to more farmers living in and around  the reserve, thus reducing the rate of conversion of forest to agriculture and helping preserve the critical habitat needed for the endangered okapi.

OCP also operates 11 demonstration gardens to pique the interest of passers-by and teach them about crop selection, crop rotation and row planting to improve their crop yield. Caring about the needs of people opens doors for conversations about why we care about them and their communities – we need their help to conserve critical okapi habitat. Because we work to improve the livelihoods of the communities around the reserve, they are directly involved in helping preserve okapi habitat – as a result 95% of the forest cover remains intact in the Ituri basin.

So far in 2016:

  • OCP has distributed over 10,000 tree seedlings
  • Distributed 2 tons of peanut, bean and rice seeds to 188 farmers
  • Established 11 new seed beds of various vegetables in Epulu and Mambasa nurseries,
  • Provided agricultural tools, seedlings and training in farming to primary and secondary school students in Epulu.

The support of conservationists from around the world makes the challenging work of protecting okapi and this unique forest teaming with biodiversity possible!

Planting in the Reserve
Planting in the Reserve
Road Conditions within the Reserve
Road Conditions within the Reserve


Agroforestry Garden
Agroforestry Garden

The Okapi Conservation Project educators and agronomists continue bringing the message of sustainable agricultural practices and forest resource conservation to communities living in and around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Our 18 demonstration gardens situated around the Reserve draw people as they pass by on foot, bicycles and motorbikes. The genuine interest of the people in how they can change their crop selection, crop rotation and planting schedules to improve crop production is making a broad impact across the region in reducing land degraded by slash and burn agricultural practices.

The past year we have been able to admit many new farmers to our program. The OCP agroforestry team provided tools, and seeds to 553 farmers this year and distributed 38,500 tree seedlings. As we enter a new year we look forward to being able to serve many more interested farmers around the Reserve that are  currently on our waiting list.  There is a direct relationship between improving food production and a reduction in illegal activities. As people grow more food they can sell the surplus for cash to buy much needed basic supplies and pay for health care. There is a reduced need to get involved in dangerous illegal poaching and mining operations to make money to take care of your family.

By tying our support to better stewardship of forest resources, wildlife benefits and people benefit. Caring about the needs of people opens the door for conversations about why we care about them – we just want their help in conserving wildlife habitat. It is working; 95% of the forest cover remains intact in the Ituri Basin which encompasses 45,000!

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a World Heritage Site, is one of the most bio diverse sites in all of Africa, and is home to the largest populations of Forest elephant, okapi and chimpanzees in DR Congo. We are grateful for the many supporters from around the world that support this important work!

Planting in Agroforestry Garden
Planting in Agroforestry Garden
Harvesting from Garden
Harvesting from Garden


Upper-secondary Students Attending Conservation Aw
Upper-secondary Students Attending Conservation Aw

Okapi Conservation Project educators focus on working with schools in communities that interface with forest resources and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Students are considered important message multipliers and future decision-makers. In order to make them aware of conservation issues, OCP educators organized a series of conferences on forest protection and management of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve for secondary school children in Isiro, Watsa and Bunia. All three communities are district headquarters for territories that encompass the Reserve.

This far ranging trip involved the participation of 17 people, traveling in a pickup and riding several motorbikes. Over 2400 kilometers were covered, sometimes over very difficult muddy tracks, to bring the program to 2206 students attending 33 schools. This is the fifth time OCP has organized such a challenging public awareness campaign, involving students, school leaders and local media.

The conference participants openly discussed the nature of the threats to the forest as well as the unique conservation value of okapi and the Reserve. As an example of how the educators reach the students in Isiro protected animal posters were explained and distributed to schools for zoology lessons and 20 soccer balls as well as soccer equipment were donated for an upcoming interschool tournament.

Given the interest of students in the conservation message, we feel that a good number of them will show an improved respect for the environment, share what they learned with their families and friends and have better attitude about accepting the restrictions on the use of natural resources allowed inside the Reserve.

During the trip OCP staff took the opportunity to meet with local government officials and host seminars. Nearly 100 officials participated in this activity alongside District Commissioners and Territory Administrators in Isiro, Watsa and Bunia. Conservation law brochures produced by OCP were handed out for their offices and staff. The OCP education team took advantage of the seminars to explain the reasons and procedures of closing mining camps, the importance of honoring the boundaries of the Reserve and the need to promote the conservation of nature as one of their defined roles as community leaders.

Illegal Gold Mine on the Reserve
Illegal Gold Mine on the Reserve

Closing Down Illegal Mines Protects Okapi Habitat

As Okapi Conservation Project agronomists and educators continue programs on ending “slash and burn farming,” ICCN guards and Congolese military actively pursue illegal mining that is devastating to the Reserve's habitat.

After a three month amnesty period declared in August of 2014 by Governor Saidi of Orientale Province, a special force of ICCN guards and Congolese military has been moving through the Reserve shutting down illegally operated gold mines. To date over 20 mining camps have been evacuated with an estimated 5,000 miners moving out of camps as a result of public awareness campaigns.

ICCN guards will undertake continued surveillance of the closed gold mines to prevent the re-establishment of the mining operations and allow for regeneration of the forest. Recent surveys show that wildlife quickly returns to areas around abandoned mines once the human disturbances are removed. Monthly reconnaissance trips during the next year by ICCN patrol units are planned to prevent the mines from being reoccupied.

Progress made by the ICCN and the Congolese army to clear out armed militia, poachers and now miners is truly a remarkable achievement given the lack of government resources to impose law and order in the region. The brave actions of all those involved, and the support of all partners and OCP staff to secure the okapi wildlife reserve with a minimum impact on local communities is truly commendable.

Eviction of Miners
Eviction of Miners
Farmers Meeting and Sustainable Gardening
Farmers Meeting and Sustainable Gardening

Okapi Conservation Project agronomists and educators organize regular meetings with farmers in remote villages to discuss sustainable agricultural practices. It is widely known that a slash and burn approach has long lasting negative impacts on soil fertility. Crops are more likely to fail due to wind damage, and unnatural crop associations were contributing to impoverished soil fertility in a short period of time. An OCP agronomist explains the benefit of crop rotation, adding nitrogen fixing plants and timing of plantings season as ways of improving crop production and increasing the length of time the soil remains fertile reducing the need to expand their farmland into the forest.

At a recent meeting, farmers voiced concerns about crop raiding by primates. They requested frequent and regular visits by ICCN rangers to help control crop raiding by wildlife and monitor the conversion of protected forest into fields which could quickly impact the limits of the delineated agriculture zones and compromise their ability to farm legally inside the Reserve. These forums are important avenues for productive dialogue between community members and OCP as we inform residents how they can live sustainably in this biologically diverse landscape and still provide for their families.

Through the Agrioforestry program, OCP was involved in the following activities during the third quarter of the year:

  • Distribution of 847 kg of rice seeds, 303 kg of peanut, 24 files, 25 machetes and 25 hoes
  • Assiting in monitoring the peanut multiplication field in the Bandisende area and rice multiplication field in Epulu and Mambasa
  • Collection of 773 kg of rice seeds in Bandisende and 140 kg of peanut in Epulu
  • Monitoring community reforestation in two school plots in Mambasa
  • Weeding the Terminalia matali trees planted at Zunguluka Patrol Post
  • Distribution of seedlings: 7172 seedlings including 1562 nitrogen fixing, 865 agroforesty tree species, 350 fruit tree species and 4395 multiple use tree species.
  • Monitoring the BIAKATO and MAMBASA nursery

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Organization Information

Wildlife Conservation Global

Location: Jacksonville, FL - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
John Lukas
Jacksonville, Florida United States

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