Reforestation Project Takes Root in Kalémie: A Community Effort to Combat Environmental Degradation
In the Tanganyika region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), forests are a vital resource for many local communities. However, deforestation has increased rapidly in recent years, resulting in environmental degradation and limited access to traditional forest resources. To tackle this issue, the Université de Kalémie (UNIKAL), Pact, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the U.S. Forest Service joined forces to help students and community members reforest and restore degraded lands.
Students from the University of Kalemie who took part in the trainings with USFS staff.
Their initial mission was simple: establish a tree nursery to supply seedlings to communities. Through surveys and interviews conducted in four local communities, more than four hundred tree species were identified as potential candidates for the nursery. These species hold economic, social, and spiritual value, as they are used for food, fuel, windbreaks, construction, medicine, and other cultural purposes.
However, a lack of local seed banks made acquiring these seeds a challenge. So, seeds were sourced in small quantities from local forest producers or gathered directly in forests. The tree nursery was established on an experimental farm maintained by UNIKAL, and university students were trained in methods to treat and germinate seeds more effectively and efficiently, as well as in how to care for the resulting seedlings. USFS technician Semenyo Nyakokpa, a reforestation specialist who led the trainings, demonstrated how to experiment with locally available materials to create an optimal growth environment for seedlings.
Seeds were sourced in small quantities from local forest producers or gathered directly in forests. Photos by Lisa Loukounyi.
Experiments involved preparing two distinct soil mixtures, incorporating different ratios of potting soil, compost, rice husk, and gravel, to identify the one that exhibited the most favorable growth for the seedlings. Depending on the type of seeds collected, specific treatments were applied to break their dormancy. This involved methods such as soaking seeds in water at different temperatures, scarifying the seed coat, and using natural solutions like honey and Aloe Vera for plant cuttings. To ensure the health of the seedlings, biological insecticides made from rabbit urine and organic fertilizers were used. Rabbit urine served as both a natural fertilizer and pesticide, depending on the concentration used. This helped protect against pests like aphids, fungal diseases, and whiteflies.
Of the over 70,000 seedlings sewn at the new site, 50,000 have already successfully germinated. But successful reforestation efforts require more than just seedlings, they also need stewards. Almost 150 university students in the agronomy program have been trained in reforestation techniques and plant monitoring so that they can run plant nurseries of their own. Future students will also now be able to study the local plants being grown at the nursery, monitor their growth, and learn more about how best to propagate them. UNIKAL has also been given access to training materials and scientific literature on different themes related to agronomy, natural resource management, ecosystem services, and sustainable livelihoods to help professors and students further their research.
Above: USFS technician Semenyo Nyakokpa teaches students different techniques to break seed dormancy and how to set up and monitor expriments to optimize seedling growth. Below: Clearing the land to begin building the new tree nursery. Photos by Lisa Loukounyi.
Esther Epeneto, a student at UNIKAL, hopes to become an agricultural engineer. The training was a way for her to get hands-on experience and will benefit future students as well. “We installed a nursery with a capacity of 100,000 seedlings on our faculty’s farm, and we received books on natural resource management.”
The DRC has the largest number of food insecure people in the world, with over 26 million people experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity. For Esther, experiences like this and access to more learning resources will help her achieve her long-term goal of working to improve agronomy practices around the world. “I chose to study agronomic sciences to contribute to food security in my country, as well as in the world at large. In the coming years, I hope to see and contribute to, advancements and improvements in agronomy,” she said.
Local peace committees, natural resources management committees, and agricultural cooperative leaders have also been trained in agroforestry practices so that they can provide technical assistance to others in their communities. The project was also able to work with over 170 primary school children and their teachers to learn reforestation techniques as well as talk about the importance of trees and reforestation as one of the measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. The students then planted new seedlings in their schoolyard to remind them of the lesson and create shaded spaces for future students to enjoy.
Seedlings in the nursery are regularly monitored.
While the initial nursery has been finished, the work has only begun. UNIKAL now has a hands-on learning resource for students who want to contribute to the reforestation of their region, and the university plans to expand this space into a botanical garden that showcases the local flora of the region.
Jacques Mukinzi, a natural resource specialist from Pact who helped coordinate this program, believes that despite the challenges encountered in establishing the plant nursery, the endeavor was very valuable for those who took part. “During these trainings, the material was new for most people, and that was exciting for the participants. Climate change is not just an issue for this province, it is a problem for the whole world. Planting a tree and helping it grow is not just a simple act, it is contributing to the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.”
The success of this project has been possible thanks to the collaboration of various organizations and the hard work of the students, teachers, and community leaders involved. With the knowledge and skills acquired during the project, they can propagate local tree species more efficiently and teach others to do the same.
Kyanga Salumu Patient, a student at UNIKAL, feels confident that he can use his new skills to benefit himself and his province. “We have gained a great deal of experience working with the plant production and reforestation program, especially in the production of soil mixtures, composting for fertilizing our plants, performing plant propagation, and many other aspects. In the next five years, I envision myself being able to establish and manage my own nursery, which will bring benefits to the entire community.”
“In the next five years, I envision myself being able to establish and manage my own nursery, which will bring benefits to the entire community.”
The new nursery has the capacity to produce up to 100,000 seedlings at a time. Photo by Semenyo Nyakokpa.
U.S. Forest Service assistance to this project was supported by USAID’s Tanganyika Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation program, which aims to integrate conflict mitigation measures, stabilization, and social cohesion to reduce the impacts of shocks and stresses and strengthen the rural economy for equitable and sustainable economic growth based on agriculture and natural resource management.