Guest blog written by Vibeka Mair, a Senior Reporter for Responsible Investor who visited our Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in February 2018.
Jacob Kazungu has been disabled since birth. Now 72, he walks with a stick and has shakes when he stands up. But he insists he will stand as he presents the work of his community group in rural Kenya. The Buguta Disabled Group supports the disabled and parents of the disabled with a place to come to every day, conversation and most importantly a form of income through the making of toys, jewelry and baskets sold in places including popular fashion website ASOS. “We want to be self-reliant and not begging,” he says.
Buguta Disabled Group work is supported by the Wildlife Works REDD+ project in the Kasigau Corridor. I visited the project in February with a team from BNP Paribas, which buys REDD+ credits to offset its unavoidable emissions. Proceeds from REDD+ projects fund the conservation of wildlife and support the surrounding community through a number of activities including crop intensification advisory, greenhouse operations, fair trade factories, sustainable charcoal, community support groups, forest monitoring and much more.
One interesting feature of Wildlife Works’ conservation approach is the absence of guns. A conscious choice by Wildlife Works’ founder Mike Korchinsky, who felt weapons create distrust with local communities. In one way it makes the job of Wildlife Works rangers harder and sometimes deadly in dealing with often violent, desperate poachers seeking to exploit ivory from elephants on the lucrative black market. One of the rangers I met, Ijema Funan, had a visible injury from a past encounter. He has a metal joint in his shoulder after being shot by a poacher. They spoke of a colleague who sadly passed away. But despite the tragedy all remained devoted to their job. The African wildlife was their heritage and pride, they insisted, which had to be protected for future generations.
The company has a partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service who are armed and trained. Wildlife Works rangers help the KWS locate the illegal poachers, who then go in and make the arrest.
I visited Moi District Hospital where Wildlife Works has helped build its laboratory, which means that a young mother with a child for example, would be able to receive a rapid diagnosis locally instead of travelling 178 miles to the next nearest laboratory.
There are also a number of water catchments funded by the sale of REDD+ carbon credits which cuts the distance people have to travel to get fresh water. Local opinion leader James Mboga explains it can be a 10-15km walk to get water. “The biggest problem for women is getting water. Many children missed out on school because they stay with their mums while they get water. Even pregnant women were walking these long distances.”
One of the most moving Wildlife Works activities was a women’s support group in an area of high instances of HIV. Women affected often suffered domestic abuse, engaged in prostitution or caught the virus caring for sick loved ones. “People were just dying,” said women’s group leader Mama Mercy. Her support group walked door to door talking to people about sexual health and now more children in the area are being born negative than positive. Now women feel empowered and are starting activities such as table banking to fund small enterprises in order to become self-sufficient as well as to access funds for essential things like school fees.
“If it wasn’t for REDD+ the community might have collapsed,” Mama Mercy tells me.
Local schools have benefited from water tanks thanks to Wildlife Works and schooling is provided for children of Wildlife Works staff.
One thing I took away from the trip was the holistic nature of the Wildlife Works project.
“REDD+ is a bridge to getting our community its basic needs met and offers all of us a chance for a better future.” Chief Johane Mwambuso Mwazaule from Kasigau told me