A Swedish electric bike is helping Mozambique’s park rangers protect game and reducing the need for fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa’s remotest areas.
AT THE END of 2021, a group of night poachers in a Mozambique national park—using torchlight to blind antelopes—were suddenly the ones left stunned in the dark. Continue reading
For the developing world, refrigeration is growth. In Rwanda, it could spark an economic transformation.
At one in the morning, several hours before fishing boats launch, François Habiyambere, a wholesale fish dealer in Rubavu, in northwest Rwanda, sets out to harvest ice. In the whole country, there is just one machine that makes the kind of light, snowy flakes of ice needed to cool the tilapia that, at this hour, are still swimming through the dreams of the fish farmers who supply Habiyambere’s business. Flake ice, with its soft edges and fluffy texture, swaddles seafood like a blanket, hugging, without crushing, its delicate flesh. Continue reading
… Show me a photo. When atrocities dominate the news, and threaten to overwhelm, I lean on old photographs taken by family members that offer a meditative opportunity. Recently I have found myself leaning on those that transport me to some natural phenomenon I have not myself witnessed. Recently, three years after his last work on the African continent, Seth was on a work assignment in Kenya and took the photo above. That has been my meditative escape mechanism recently, but today the Guardian’s occasional series offers some others, thanks to Joanna Ruck:
For more pictures in the series, click either image.
Disappearing species as a topic in these pages has taken many forms. Hunters of disappearing species, less so. My exposure to this topic is limited to one project that Seth participated in. But the fact that Seth also had experience on a different type of project in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park made this article particularly of interest. Carolyn Kormann, once again, thank you:
The obsessive people who track down disappearing species are their own variety of rare—sparsely found across a wide geographic range, in all sorts of habitats.
In January, 2019, a multinational team of biologists set out into the rain forest of southwestern Rwanda, in search of a near-mythical bat that they thought might be extinct. Continue reading
If we take Robert Frost’s poetic license into the realm of how humans and wildlife might coexist more successfully, then the image above is powerful. Good fences might make good neighbors if they allow wildlife to migrate as needed.
While working in the Patagonia region of Chile, 2008-2010, I saw images like this in the photo to the right regularly. On occasion the sight would be more gruesome. Ranchers had erected fences without regard for the need of guanacos to wander.
During our seven years living in India the human-elephant relationship was often one of worshipful respect, but included too many stories of fences, or worse, as methods farmers used to protect their properties from elephant intrusions. As is the case in Kenya (see the image below) fences are unneighborly. So, we were on the lookout for creative solutions. The following article by Jim Robbins, in Yale e360, is timely and welcome in this regard.
From the U.S. West to Mongolia, fences are going up rapidly as border barriers and livestock farming increase. Now, a growing number of studies are showing the impact of these fences, from impeding wildlife migrations to increasing the genetic isolation of threatened species.
The most famous fence in the United States is Continue reading
Coffee is climbing uphill in Kenya because the climate up there is more suitable. But there are no easy fixes to the climbing temperatures, for coffee or other crops. Hybrids and wild heirloom varietals had our attention already, and are mentioned in this article from the Middle East & Africa section of the Economist’s print edition under the headline “Hot coffee:”
Other cash crops including tea will also be affected
Jeremiah Letting learned about coffee from his father. As a child in the late 1980s, he worked on his family’s one-acre (0.4 hectare) coffee farm in the hills of Nandi county, western Kenya. The cycle ran like clockwork: cultivate, plant, ripen, harvest and sell. “Every year was the same,” he says. “It was timely.” Continue reading
Peat is back on our radar, with this excellent report by Matthew Thompson in the New York Times. It is part of a new series called Headway, an initiative “exploring the world’s challenges through the lens of progress,” which is exactly the founding sentiment of our platform here. So, read on:
Rural Congolese villagers are being asked to protect one of earth’s most precious ecosystems. What can other places contribute to our shared future?
Imagine someone showed up on your doorstep one day and told you that the swampy forest not far from your home contained a rare and precious soil, so powerful that the planet’s future hinges on its preservation. The world is relying on you to keep the soil undisturbed, you’re told, or sinister forces will be unleashed, large enough to doom us all. Continue reading
When we look at these young farmers and the work they are doing we see a greener future.
Thanks to Nina Lakhani and The Guardian for this story:
The island imports 85% of its food but these three farms are part of the agroecology movement that seeks food sovereignty and climate solutions
Puerto Rico was once a thriving agricultural hub thanks to its tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and sustainable farming traditions.
Today, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture and tens of thousands of acres of arable land sit idle. Meanwhile 85% of the food eaten in Puerto Rico is imported, grocery prices are among the highest in the US and last year two in five people experienced food insecurity. “Unemployment is brutal, prices are brutal, migration from the island is brutal,” said Denise Santos, who runs Puerto Rico’s food bank. Continue reading
The phased opening of Humboldt Forum, a museum in Berlin, includes this exhibit, and of course a beautiful book to boot.
An interesting feature, in the form of an editorial on the museum’s website can help put this exhibit in context. The goal of this museum is anti-colonial, among other things, according to the museum’s editorial:
According to the people behind the project, the partial reconstruction of Berlin’s historic palace was an expression of the power to mend, to repair the urban fabric and the historical associations enshrined in the space it occupies.
Which is unusual for a well-funded museum in a wealthy country to say. So, this book looks interesting from multiple angles, and the text describing the book is a hint at that:
The elephant is an admired but also endangered animal. In all times and cultures, the ivory of its tusks has been sought after. What kind of material is it, how is it used in history and the present, and what can be done today to protect the largest land mammals from poaching? This richly illustrated volume undertakes a cultural-historical journey and a current positioning. Ivory fascinates – and polarises. Continue reading
We respect all things natural, but we acknowledge there are phenomena that test our principles. Historic swarms of locusts, for example, make us believe that getting control over their impact is essential for communities where they can lay waste to human endeavor, so we thank Rachel Nuwer for this story from one of the hardest-hit regions:
A hastily formed crowdsourcing operation to contain the insects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia could help manage climate-related disasters everywhere.
Melodine Jeptoo will never forget the first time she saw a locust swarm. Moving like a dark cloud, the insects blotted out the sky and pelted her like hail.
“When they’re flying, they really hit you hard,” said Ms. Jeptoo, who lives in Kenya and works with PlantVillage, a nonprofit group that uses technology to help farmers adapt to climate change. Continue reading
The Guardian shares a photo documentary of a lemons-to-lemonade story with locusts as the lemons. Click the title below, or any image, to go to the story:
The biggest swarms of the insects in a generation have devastated crops and grazing across Africa but are now being turned into sustainable, high-protein animal fodder and fertiliser
To get her fellow-citizens to care about threatened animals, Paula Kahumbu became a TV star.
Seventy miles southwest of Nairobi, the Loita Hills climb toward the sky from the red stone cleft of the Great Rift Valley. Situated beside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the Loitas provide a vital watershed for migratory animals on the plains below. Forest pigs, bushbuck, black-and-white colobus monkeys, leopards, and Cape buffalo find refuge there, along with elephants that come to graze when the plains are dry. The Loita forest, one of Kenya’s last surviving stands of old-growth cedar, is sacred to the Maasai people, who call it Naimina Enkiyio—the Forest of the Lost Child, after the legend of a girl who followed wayward calves into the trees and never returned. Some twenty-five thousand Maasai live in settlements scattered through the lower valleys, where they herd goats and cows in sweeping meadows reminiscent of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The Loitas, rich in medicinal herbs and plants, are an irreplaceable resource for the laibon, the spiritual leaders of the Maasai. Continue reading
Yale e360 brings us this story, a reminder from one year ago when Seth was in the neighborhood:
The Cameroon government has announced it is canceling a plan to log nearly 170,000 acres of the Ebo Forest following sharp criticism from indigenous communities, conservation groups, and scientists. The ecosystem is one of the last intact forests in central Africa and a biodiversity hotspot, harboring hundreds of rare plant and animal species, including the tool-using Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, western gorilla, and giant frogs. Continue reading
While the actual events of the Environmental Film Festival had been canceled, the wonder and value of each entry remains intact. In fact, the DCEFF is offering hundreds of the films for streaming on line.
So many of these amazing projects strike home, but the one featured above has even more so, as Claver Ntoyinkima was Seth’s field assistant during his work doing bird surveys in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.
Claver Ntoyinkima, a native park ranger, shares the secrets of Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as he guides us through the forest. With almost 300 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, and dozens of large and small mammals, Nyungwe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Twenty-five years after the devastation of the Rwandan Civil War, the park is now one of the best-conserved montane rainforests in Central Africa. As Claver walks through the forest we uncover the origins of his conservation values and the history of an ecosystem that survived one of Rwanda’s darkest periods.
Find this and more films here.
In Costa Rica, where tourism has been shut down and our own business interests completely on hold, I have resilience of family farms on my mind, which may seem quite a narrow focus but it is my choice, for now. Even with that narrow focus, as always I enjoy stories about this little country’s contributions to the world (click above). But Costa Rica is not the only little country doing remarkable things, it just happens to be where I live and work.
This hunger for stories about little countries and their phenomenal achievements keeps me searching for stories to share here each day. And I just found one worth sharing. BBC’s website has a story in their travel section today on what they believe will be the five most resilient economies in terms of recovery from the current combined health and economic crisis. They use the 2019 Global Resilience Index to make some baseline inferences and then share their own expert opinion on how this would translate to recovery. I was struck that Rwanda, a country I have been musing about since Seth’s field work there last year, was in their top five:
We felt confident that the Rwandan government would handle the situation way better than in our home countries Continue reading
Jon Lee Anderso, who I am sourcing here for the third time, gives us perspective on Richard Leakey, who surprisingly was only mentioned once previously in nine years on this platform. Both men know their respective worlds. There is plenty of perspective among both, not much optimism, but a determined look forward:
The week before Christmas, Richard Leakey, the Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday. He is lucky to have reached the milestone. A tall man with the burned and scarred skin that results from a life lived outdoors, Leakey has survived two kidney transplants, one liver transplant, and a devastating airplane crash that cost him both of his legs below the knee. For the past quarter century, he has moved around on prosthetic limbs concealed beneath his trousers. In his home town of Nairobi, Leakey keeps an office in an unlikely sort of place—the annex building of a suburban shopping mall. His desk and chair fill most of his cubicle, which has a window that looks onto a parking lot. The space has no adornments other than two framed photographs, each sharply symbolic of the parallel interests that have absorbed most of his adult life: the world of extinct prehistoric hominids and the contemporary natural environment that is being pushed toward extinction by humankind.In one of the photographs, Leakey is three decades younger, a trim man wearing a dark suit and standing amid a group of senior Kenyan officials, including then President Daniel arap Moi, who are gathered next to a pile of elephant tusks. It is a snapshot from 1989, when, as the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Leakey oversaw the public burning of several tons of poached elephant ivory. At the end of the nineteen-seventies, there were an estimated quarter of a million elephants in Kenya, but, when the photograph was taken, only sixteen thousand were left. Leakey wanted to stigmatize the ivory trade by treating poached tusks in the same way that police treated cocaine seized from drug traffickers. His publicity-seeking gambit worked, making global headlines and leading the way for an international ivory ban that went into effect that same year. The killing of elephants went down for a while as well, allowing Kenya’s herds to recover. Today, Kenya has a relatively stable population of about thirty-five thousand elephants.
Senegal shows up a dozen times in our pages over the years, but not one those times is about my own experience there. Strange, because that experience marked my return to teaching, and indirectly led to the work we are doing now with Authentica and Organikos. That is worthy of a post, which I will write another day, for now enjoying a simple story about life on the streets with horses, buggies, their drivers, and the community members who are transported by them:
DAKAR, Senegal — After a visit to the market to buy a box of mangoes, some fish and a length of cloth, Binta Ba, a Senegalese woman, needed a way to get home.
So she looked around for her preferred means of transportation: a horse and buggy.
A ride was easy to find, with dozens of horse-drawn buggies lined up near the market, which was in Rufisque, a picturesque suburb of Dakar known for its colonial architecture.
She climbed aboard a buggy, whose driver then waited patiently for a third passenger to occupy his final seat. When his buggy was full, he took off at a trot, sometimes speeding up to a canter. The riders paid about 50 cents for a 10-minute ride, a fraction of what it would cost to take a taxi.
“Taking taxis is for rich people,” Ms. Ba said. “We prefer to support these people because they are from the community.” Continue reading
Over the last month and a half I’ve been immersed in my Gishwati bird research, so I have not been able to take as much time to write about experiences from the Rwanda Study Tour as much, but now that I’m back in the US, I have some better bandwidth to share media from places like Akagera National Park.
Akagera has the highest bird species richness in all of Rwanda, with literature about the park normally citing either high 400s or low 500s as the total tally. On eBird, there’s a number of different hotspots for the park, but the top three hotspots in the country are all in Akagera, with another two hotspots within the top ten.
For the two decades our company has been managing conservation-focused enterprises. Elimination of plastic has been a passion, and finding ways to reduce its use has been an obsession. While based in India, and working on a project in Ghana, we got a close look at entrepreneurial plastic re-use for the first time. We have been on the lookout for more ever since and this story gives hope for a whole new level of solution:
Plastic garbage collected by a women’s group is being recycled into bricks and used to build schools in West Africa.
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — She left home before dawn. Her four children were still asleep in her cement block house in Abobo, a maze of shops and houses occupied by dockworkers, taxi drivers, factory laborers and street sellers.
She and a friend crossed into the upscale neighborhood of Angré, home to doctors and businessmen. They tossed the plastic castoffs of the consumer class into bags slung over their shoulders as the cocks crowed and the sun peeked over villa walls draped with bougainvillea.
Mariam Coulibaly is part of a legion of women in Abidjan who make their living picking up plastic waste on the city streets and selling it for recycling. Now they are lead players in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country.
They are working with a Colombian company to convert plastic waste — a scourge of modern life — into an asset that will help women earn a decent living while cleaning up the environment and improving education.
She sees it as a chance to better her life, maybe even to rise into the middle class.
“We don’t get good prices” from the current buyers, Ms. Coulibaly said. “This will help us.”
In the past year, the venture has built nine demonstration classrooms out of recycled plastic bricks in Gonzagueville, a scrappy neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, and in two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo. The first schools were built with bricks imported from Colombia. But in the fall, a factory now rising in an Abidjan industrial park will begin making the bricks locally. Continue reading
The next park we visited on the Rwanda Study Tour after Nyungwe was Akagera National Park. Although the park was created in 1934, it’s only been run by a partnership between the Rwandan government and an NGO called African Parks—which helps manage about fifteen parks on the continent—since 2010. At this point, a change in operation style and protection started to help wildlife bounce back as well as increase visitation to the park. Back in 2010, the park hosted around fifteen thousand visitors per year and only made about $200,000 (while losing money), but last year the park received thirty-six thousand visitors and made $2,000,000 (getting out of the red for the first time).