“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people…”

By: Elna de Beer SAWC Technical Associate

These words from Wangarĩ Maathai were the inspiration for the development of the SAWC’s newest learning programme called Community Practice in Responsible Resource Use. You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, inform them, and help them understand that the resources of the land are their own and that they must protect them. We also believe that every one of us can contribute.

This short course was piloted in Mozambique at Zinave National Park from 18 to 22 September 2023. In the spirit of landscape connectivity, the first cohort of twenty students came from three conservation areas in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA); Banhine National Park (BNP), Zinave National Park (ZNP), The Hunger Project (Zinave) and the Coutada 5 Conservation Concession. All the students were community practitioners responsible for engaging with people living in the landscapes linked to conservation.

The course introduced the concepts and principles of responsible resource use within the context of communities and inspired action towards sustainable and responsible use of a diverse range of common pool resources. It is aimed at community practitioners and community members participating in a range of activities focusing on the link between livelihoods and natural resource use. It further provides a foundation for supplementary processes such as landscape connectivity featuring contextual practices.

With four conservation organisations attending the course together, it established collaborative/social learning between these practitioners, enabling a more consistent approach to community-centred conservation which is conducive to landscape-oriented conservation processes.

As an accredited course, the students were assessed for competency in the subject matters and the SAWC is very proud of this first cohort who passed the course (presented in Portuguese and English) with success. 

We are proud of our partners in this process: The Hunger Project for funding the training event; the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) for their continued support through BNP and ZNP; as well as Coutada 5 which is a relatively new process in the region and their keen participation and financial support of their team already holds promise for growing the potential of their community practitioner team.

Feedback from the teams echoed the words of and inspiration from Wangarĩ Maathai when they said that they feel empowered and more confident to take on these highly complex processes within communities. 

With these practitioners working with people whose livelihoods are linked to the land, we concluded the training session in the words of Wangarĩ Maathai: “Education should not take people away from the land, but instil in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet (and our communities) concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it…”

We will be seeing more of our team of practitioners and their involvement in more capacity development events in 2024.

From the SAWC: Congratulations and well done on taking your learnings into your communities and your careers!

Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental, and political activist who founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. In 2004, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. 

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