By Charlotte Beauvoisin
Hidden in the dense rainforests that stretch across Uganda’s southwestern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo dwells a gentle giant that has intrigued and amazed the world for hundreds of years.
Uganda is home to half of the estimated 880 mountain gorillas alive today, but the great apes are critically endangered. Their home in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and biodiversity hotspot, is a fragile habitat under threat.
People living around Bwindi are among the poorest and most marginalized. They have inadequate access to basic social services, including healthcare and a means to provide for their families. This forces them to depend on the forest for basic needs such as food and fuel wood. But every time people enter the forest, they interfere with the gorillas’ habitat and could transmit human diseases to the gorillas. But lacking viable alternative livelihoods, people continue to poach and cause deforestation in the park.
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a Ugandan non-profit organization featured in the January-March 2017 edition of Swara is supporting biodiversity conservation by enabling humans, wildlife and livestock to coexist while improving the health and livelihoods of people in and around protected areas. It is CTPH’s mission to save the endangered mountain gorilla by improving rural public health and community attitudes towards conservation.
Working with communities, CTPH discovered that there is a growing local economy around coffee farming. Coffee is of vital importance to Uganda’s economy. The commodity accounts for 22 per cent of the country’s export earnings. While there is great potential to benefit from the coffee industry, CTPH found that the impoverished communities that grow coffee on the slopes of Bwindi Forest lacked the resources and the reliable coffee market required to increase their income, improve their way of life and hence reduce encroachment on the gorillas’ habitat.
CTPH has partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Switzerland) to create Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a social enterprise that is saving gorillas ‘one coffee sip at a time.’ Some 75 small-holder coffee farmers in Bwindi have come together to form the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative. They are being taught sustainable farming practices and good post-harvest coffee handling techniques, in addition to being paid a premium for their coffee and having a steady market for their product. Coffee farmers in the cooperative are already reaping the benefits. Hundreds more farmer are expected to join the cooperative in the near future.
The Gorilla Conservation Coffee will not stop there: With every purchase of a bag of coffee, consumers help ensure the survival of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. As a social enterprise of CTPH, sales from Gorilla Conservation Coffee provide sustainable financing for CTPH programmes.
The primary goal of Gorilla Conservation Coffee was the protection of mountain gorillas and their habitat through inclusive growth and support for the local the economy around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Gorilla Conservation Coffee connects the growing economic prosperity of the farmers with gorilla conservation. With the right support, farmers are less likely to damage the gorillas’ habitat.
There is no one solution to gorilla conservation, but Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a community-driven solution that supports local coffee farmers and their families to reach their full potential. Gorillas are unlikely to survive without the support of the local communities with whom they share a fragile habitat.
Gorilla Conservation Coffee is on sale at tourist lodges across Uganda, at Entebbe Airport’s
Duty free shop and the website www.gorillaconservationcoffee.org
For more on Conservation Through Public Health visit www.ctph.org