Imagining communities and conservation in Rwanda- part 3
CONSERVATION AND CBT
Greg has fulfilled his dream of starting a process that puts communities at its centre, and that ensures they are the direct beneficiaries of all its actions.
All the activities that go under the name of Eco-tour have been designed to work on local sustainable development through tourism and the collaboration of external partners.
The Igihooho seed bag is one of these.
This project idea came with Greg from Spain in 2016, and is implementing the governmental restriction on use and manufacturing of single-use plastic items, which were banned in 2008 and finally became law in 2019.
For a long time already, these bags have represented a new norm for the region’s communities. They now regularly recycle the fibre of the abundant banana trees, and even before plastic was conclusively banned by law, they were experiencing the benefits and had introduced ecological alternatives for all their tree-planting activities.
All the activities linked directly to the land, like local food preparation, farming with local families and beekeeping, and the botanical tours which can be taken in the Kinigi centre, are working in two directions: generating alternative income as well as educating the locals on the eco-friendly alternatives available, often from the same products that were considered as waste. Recycling, upcycling and other circular economy concepts are available to be explored and applied, I believe.
In Red Rocks currently, the workshops on the use of banana eco-paper production, the Igihooho eco-friendly seed bag and even the banana beer preparation are excellent opportunities to maintain environmental sustainable activities while providing extra income for the people directly involved and, at the same time, bringing benefits to the local environment and to the community as a whole.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?
Greg and Red Rocks Rwanda have plans to include the study and commercialisation of medicinal plants, as well as supporting the seeding and forestation programme. In addition to this, they also have plans to prepare bio gas for homes to substitute wood fuel, as well as preservation and use of compost manure for local farming.
As has been happening in many African countries, tourism has provided an excellent alternative to destructive and environmentally detrimental activities like poaching and deforestation.
The issues are many, and the COVID situation has shown that a new balance probably needs to be found and that adjustments are needed. It is a journey that needs to be explored, but the efforts to do this are particularly important when the goal is the empowerment of local communities through CBT projects rather than top-down projects.
Strengthening these links between conservation and the communities at a local level is what RRI is working on in Rwanda, with the help of national and international allies, universities and associations which are keen to invest in research, capacity building and environmental sustainability with community members.
As declared resolutely by them, all the activities proposed by RRI ‘aim to create alternatives for the local communities and to boost the local economy whilst reducing the over-dependency and over-exploitation of forest products, like poaching, hunting, charcoal burning and clearing of forest for farmland, not undermining the environmental conservation efforts’.
Their goals are many, and of great reach. Other local hubs can be built and gather more local artists, local tour guides and future business owners, while with the support of the projects, farming can become more sustainable and the environment maintained and protected.
Conscious tourism is needed, but education is needed even more.
Everything starts with creating an awareness of environmental conservation issues among the communities in the first place. It is a fundamental work of education and cultural and environmental conservation at the same time, and strong and healthy partnerships are its key elements.
Everyone is welcome to be part of this collective journey!
THE RED ROCKS
When I asked Greg why he has chosen this specific name to carry his dreams, he told me a story to which I related very much, one which brought me back to my childhood and my land of origin.
There are many black rocks populating the Vilunga lands.
Greg found out that they arrived in 1847, carrying with them the ancestral history of our planet.
Once they were burning hot, having been delivered straight from the core of the earth.
They have been laying on these lands for rather a long time, and their colour has changed. But not their power.
Greg’s tourism project is made up of several facets, tours and project overlaps. Several actors are involved, a number of skills are developed, and a range of communities are involved.
However, this project somehow seems to carry an ancestral power. The red colour of the live lava of the volcano is very evident to me.
The Red Rocks Initiative – Rwanda is a hub of opportunities in progress that are steadily building a future for the local communities and future generations.
A hub for community members that come here to sell, learn, meet and socialise, and sometimes just to rest on the hammocks between the tents, enjoying the fresh shadow of the cool trees as a remedy for the sun in the hot months, as Polina admitted with an embarrassed but candid smile.
A big fire is lit at night in the campsite of the Red Rocks, next to the main building.
The light and the warm heat bring together strangers, locals sit next to fleeting visitors, but it does not matter who they are; in the warm closeness of the campfire the red of the volcanic rocks has been brought back to life and shines on all who are present.
(Thank you very much),
See you soon.
[All the information included in this article are based on several virtual interviews carried out with Greg (Founder) and Mabrise (Booking Officer) at Red Rocks Rwanda and three local women artisans: Bertha, Polina and Marie Louise, as well as some desk research].