BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Thanks to an initiative by the International Center for Forestry Research, (CIFOR) women in Uganda’s Lake Victoria Crescent are not only working to reforest degraded land but are also making significant strides toward greater gender equality.

According to Esther Mwangi, a principal scientist with Forests and Governance at CIFOR based in Nairobi, cultural norms prevent rural women from planting trees. Doing so is considered establishing a claim on the land, creating a challenge when it comes to reforestation.

“The issue of land tenure and tree tenure matters a lot because it can exclude half the population: women. So you have just a fraction of the population planting trees when you could easily double that,” Mwangi said.

Women don’t have the incentive to plant trees because you would be investing your labor, but not be able to reap the benefits of that labor.”

Funded by the Austrian Development Agency, (ADA), the project took place in the districts of Mpigi, Rakai and Masako, where the once-forested landscape had been degraded by farming and illegal logging. Villagers trained as facilitators in Adaptive Collaborative Management worked with both men and women through various phases, starting with community meetings where participants came up with a vision of what they wanted to achieve. They then set up action plans for income-generating projects such as bee-keeping, seedling nurseries, fish farms or the restocking of degraded forest.

Tree-planting occurred on farms and in a nearby Central Forest Reserve.

“Uganda has a program for planting trees on degraded forests, which allows individuals and groups to apply to restore a degraded area,” Mwangi said, adding, “There is a set of rules, and a contract is signed for a certain period of time.”

As the projects moved ahead, the village facilitators worked with user groups to monitor what was going on, basically trying to facilitate inclusive decision-making giving women the kind of space they needed, but allowing everyone — men and women — to be heard and to make a contribution, she said.

The facilitators and other actors including non-governmental organizations, district forestry and agriculture officials also provided training, both on specific technical skills as well as on gender concepts through discussion and debates. The goal was to examine gender biases and roles, and to think through the implications of gender-based discrimination.

Five years later, the results of the program can be seen in the more than 50,000 trees now flourishing on 82 acres of degraded forest reserve. Women planted more than 8,500 trees, and many of them now own woodlots. What’s more, women now make up almost half of local executive committee members, compared to just 11 percent previously. In the 2016 elections, 18 women sought political posts and two were elected.

Yet the story of one woman also exemplifies the gains made. Paulina Mukwaya negotiated for some space on her husband’s farm and made the daring choice of planting ficus natalensis, a species which, according to a 2016 CIFOR Info Brief, is “a ‘forbidden’ tree that symbolizes land ownership,” but which can provide income from the sale of bark cloth.

“She said that she never ever had any money for herself but that now she has,” said Mwangi. “This woman really embodies what it is we were trying to do, especially the building of confidence.”

Although the project has come to an end, Mwangi said she plans to seek new support in order to continue with these kinds of initiatives, to scale up and to help women make links to markets and sell their products.

“We began our work with the aim of strengthening women’s rights to forests and trees. At the end of it we had women with stronger rights and trees planted on farmland and on degraded forest,” said Mwangi. “If you start dealing with tenure biases, the exclusion of women, then you can unlock a major potential.”

Photo:CIFOR/John Baptist Wandera

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