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How is Agriculture a Conservation Tool?

Did you know that feeding hungry people is a conservation tool in some cases? It all relates to basic psychology. Do you remember studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in school? The hierarchy is a pyramid, with the most basic and evolutionarily important human needs on the bottom and the idea of enlightenment on the top. The theory goes that people need to fulfill each level of the pyramid below before they can focus on the next one.

For example, people who struggle at the 'Love and Connection' level will most likely have a problem with Self-Esteem, the next level up. Humans are a social species which means that struggling with relationships can cause inner emotional turmoil. People are always working to fulfill these levels — consciously or not.

The first level of the pyramid involves 'Physiological Needs' such as food, water, shelter, etc. We know that COVID-19 has impacted access to food around the world, but nowhere more than in the Global South including sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda. Reduced income, whether in work hours being reduced, companies shutting down, or a decrease in sales. For the Batwa, a complete cessation of tourism meant they had ZERO income for a full year. According to the World Bank, in 2020, 30% of the globe did not have access to enough food, which is an increase of 320 million people from the year before.

So now we have a massive group of hungry people who will do whatever it takes to meet their most basic needs and feed their children. What is the next step that can help people and conserve wildlife?

People poach for various reasons. Yet poaching is a high-risk high-reward endeavor. Poached wildlife meat is seen as a delicacy in some parts of the world and people are willing to pay exuberant amounts to display their clout. Others simply poach to eat. Since killing a wild animal can take several men, it also establishes a type of hierarchy in some communities when someone does it.

Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the act of poaching helps fulfill the second fundamental need of Safety and Security. Another option is just eating the poached meat. Imagine how much food someone could provide a family with a slab of meat the size of a boulder? Poaching provides an answer to fulfilling part of the first level of the pyramid — food.

Parts of wild animals are also used as a medicine in different cultures, including in Uganda. According to a study called “Traditional Knowledge Systems and the Conservation of Cross River Gorillas: a Case Study of Bechati, Fossimondi, Besali, Cameroon” people in Cameroon believed that gorilla parts could be used to cure “...mental illness, rheumatism, impotence, and bone fractures…”. The same report also noted that there is a belief that gorilla bones could be used as antibiotics for children. While poaching of gorillas is unheard of in Uganda, someone did accidentally kill a gorilla when poaching for other wild game, a gorilla charged them, and they killed it in self-defense (our director Wendee wrote an article about this in Ensia Magazine Online).

Poaching, while illegal by definition, gives people access to food or an adequate income which has been restricted in the previous two years. Eco-tourism can fight against poaching but during this time period, travel is restricted. Income is scarce and basic needs must be fulfilled.

In times like this, sustainable, personal gardening is vital. It is much more sustainable and safe to grow vegetable crops for nourishment as opposed to fighting a wild animal that are few and far between and could land you in jail. This is one of the main reasons why Redemption Song Foundation seriously ramped up our agriculture program with the Batwa during the pandemic. We started by simply providing food relief weekly, which lasted more than one year.

During that time, we hired an agricultural expert who trained the Batwa in growing vegetables, including nursery bed creation, transferring seedlings, mulching, weeding, and "earthing" to prevent erosion. We also helped them make compost piles and a rich organic liquid manure. We bought them goats and rabbits and started a "pass on the gift" program where the first two offspring are gifted to a neighbor. The manure from the goats and rabbits is used to fertilize the plants in the garden. So much more to tell!

Help us meet the most basic of needs — food, as well as safety and security — by donating to our agriculture project or general operations! Giving Tuesday, a global day of Giving the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Nov 30, we have dubbed Giving FoodsDay 2021! Help us buy packages of food to eat plus seeds and gardening tools to turn these gardens into businesses!


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