Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Popenguine, like much of the Sahel, finds itself quite vulnerable to natural environmental degradation due to the side effects of poor and erratic rainfall. Rather than work to combat this degradation, however, local human activity in the region has often accelerated it through activities like overgrazing, deforestation, and the unsustainable harvesting of plants for food and medicine. A common response to this problem from government has been roping off natural reserves in an attempt to protect the region’s biodiversity as a buffer to the natural degradation. However, an inability to get the buy-in of local communities living in the areas in which these reserves are located has often led to confrontational relationships in which community members disregard what they perceive to be newly imposed rules on their land. And more often than not, they continue with habits that they do not necessarily realize are environmentally destructive and a threat to their own well being in the long run, but instead, see as a legitimate continuation of life as they know it.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Wolimata is breaking the practice and assumption that preserving the environment is something for outside government agencies to worry about, and instead, bringing in local communities to take the lead. She started with her very own Popenguine community by targeting women, among whom she found a greater propensity for considering and planning for the future. She organized them into a volunteer organization and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between them and the Ministry of Environment - the very first of its kind in the country. With technical training provided by the government, and the women’s group serving as the first converts, Wolimata set out to demonstrate that taking care of the full spectrum of the environment – from the trees to the water to the animals – can have direct benefits for broader, more visible community needs, like income, health and education. In this way, Wolimata has won over the rest of the community, who now also participate in restoring the environment, and perhaps more importantly, in the process, a more holistic relationship with the natural habitat – not separated from the rest of life and general well being – is embedded within the community, including, very crucially, within a younger generation.