Eritreans from isolated rural communities have been encouraged to exchange experiences and knowledge aimed at sustainably managing their resources.
Following a series of workshops run by IUCN’s Eastern Africa office, isolated rural communities in the region have been able to share experiences, learn lessons and look at ways of tackling pressing environmental issues in their areas.
The national workshops brought together communities to exchange ideas and then write up the findings themselves. In Eritrea for example, the result is a series of leaflets covering specific issues around the country. The publications are aimed at informing communities and helping them think about the sustainable management of their resources as well as the associated benefits or problems.
Some experiences are positive. For instance, the people of Shiketi - some 28 km from the capital Asmara – have come up with ways of ensuring plentiful supplies of animal feed and, unlike, their neighbours they have no concerns in this regard. This is due to the Menguda enclosure, a protected tract of land that provides year-round fodder for livestock. The 150-hectare enclosure was created by the ministry of agriculture in conjunction with the community as a conservation area. Domestic animals were not allowed to graze there and gradually afforestation took root, preventing soil erosion, promoting income generating activities such as honey production and boosting wildlife preservation. Shiketi boasts schools, a kindergarten, a clinic, as well as water and power supplies. Its inhabitants firmly believe the Menguda enclosure project can serve as a good example to other villages.
Other communities have been able to reflect on reasons for their livelihood problems, and try and change negative patterns. One particular area of concern is water catchment in arid northern areas of the country. Many communities felt there was not enough consultation when development projects were implemented in their areas. In She’ib, for example, dams were either poorly constructed or completely absent which made it impossible to channel water properly when the rains came. Some dams were badly maintained, full of sand and stones, leading to the overflow of valuable water. Associated problems included soil erosion and insufficient livestock feed. So the workshops also enabled communities to voice their grievances and press for better interaction with officials.
The project has been replicated in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, and further thematic workshops – such as the effect of HIV/AIDS on the environment - are planned for other countries in the region.
Edmund Barrow, IUCN’s Africa Regional Coordinator for Livelihoods and Landscapes, says the project represents a unique opportunity to bring together rural communities which otherwise would never meet. It also helps communities with political lobbying and advocacy.
“The aim is to create a network of community learning,” he explains. In this way, the communities will be able to pool resources to protect their environments and their livelihoods.