Connecting Humans, Animals, and Ecosystems

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Connecting Humans, Animals, and Ecosystems

Sustainable Livelihoods


As Jane Goodall celebrates her 80th birthday this year, her legacy lives on in Africa. In west-central Uganda, the Jane Goodall Institute's (JGI) Sustainable Livelihoods project not only aligns with the One Health perspective but also incorporates several of Ostrom's principles. As human populations have expanded, chimp populations have declined throughout their range in central Africa—a classic social–ecological dilemma. Only 175,000 chimpanzees remain throughout their native range, with 5,000 remaining in Uganda. Meanwhile, Uganda's human population grew from 8 million in 1962 to 34 million in 2012, with one of the world's youngest populations (78% below age 30) and highest fertility rates (an average 6.4 children per woman).

"Because of the rapidly growing human populations, we've had a lot of fragmentation of what was, centuries ago, a continuous forest," says Peter Apell, JGI's field programs manager in Uganda. JGI wanted to reconnect two isolated chimp populations living in the Bugoma and Wambabya forest patches. "It was such a daunting task because connecting the fragments meant taking land away from communities that are living along that corridor," Apell says.

The institute instead began working with the seven villages along the 6.4 kilometers of land connecting the forest patches. JGI staff met with community members and listened to their problems as well as their proposed solutions. "Many talked about how their level of poverty requires them to look for ways of improving their livelihoods," Apell says. "A lot of them have said they are out hunting, they're going into the forest to harvest wild honey, and they are facing problems because they get arrested. They say, 'If I had money, I wouldn't be hunting. If I had sheep or goats or pigs, I wouldn't be hunting.'"

Even more than income and meat, the communities needed water. Rivers had dried up because locals farmed right to their edges, and siltation had filled them in. As a result, women and children walked for hours to gather water every day, sometimes causing children to miss school. JGI also noticed their agricultural practices were poor; for example they were using poor quality seeds, farming on steep slopes without terracing, and not rotating crops or properly mulching.

Not only did most villagers not believe that trees could restore the river or that new agricultural techniques would make a difference, they feared the government might take their land if forests and chimps returned, Apell says. JGI had to win over a skeptical crowd.

The institute began by improving goodwill; they installed one well per village, renovated five freshwater springs, and soon recruited a few pioneers. Participants received either improved crop seeds, beehives, Boer goats (which grow faster and larger than local goats), pigs, or training in basic forestry so they could raise tree seedlings for woodlots. Exotic fast-maturing species could be harvested for income, while indigenous trees would remain for a sustainable forest.

In exchange, JGI required participants to improve domestic hygiene and nutrition by undertaking a number of activities such as installing a pit latrine, establishing a kitchen garden, and constructing a drying rack to keep dishes off the bare ground. "These communities would wash their cups and plates using dirty water and then dry them out in the sun, like there, on the ground," Apell says, pointing to the rich red soil. They also encouraged locals to build vented cook stoves to reduce smoke inhalation.

The people saw that JGI's concern was genuine, and participation grew rapidly. After seeing improved crop yields and increased household incomes from the few initial participants, soon everyone wanted to join, says Apell.

In line with Ostrom's principles of following the locals' lead in creating their own rules, JGI distanced itself from the decision-making process, but put in place the structure for the communities to lead the process themselves, according to Apell. The locals started a community association with representatives from each village. They elected a chairman and leaders, then divided themselves into interest groups—some groups wanted honey, some wanted trees, others wanted seeds.

Since JGI lacked funds to give animals or seeds to every family, they adopted the "pass on the gift" approach widely used by Heifer International, a project partner. When one family's goat breeds, for instance, they pass a female kid to another family. Likewise with pigs and seeds. "Even after the project there are still people passing on goats to each other, passing on [seeds], passing on tree seedlings," says Apell. The project was designed to be self-sustaining even after JGI's involvement ended last year.

Although the new trees need to grow at least five more years before chimps return, 90% of the riparian forest has been restored, and black-and-white colobus monkeys have returned to the river corridor. "During the village implementation time, that area was more peaceful and less threatening [for wildlife], " says Apell. "Maybe the chimps are also watching."



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A chimpanzee relaxes in Budongo forest, a reserve with a relatively large population of the animals. JGI is promoting reforestation of other forests nearby in hopes chimps will return to those areas as well. © Wendee Nicole





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