People living in the Ituri depend on forest ecosystem services including: fresh water, fuel to cook their food, home building materials, land for subsistence farming, and bushmeat and plant products to feed their families. The regional population is rapidly expanding and increasing pressure on already limited forest resources. The Okapi Conservation Project recognizes this significant threat and promotes methods of reducing villager dependence on the forest.
Solutions to these issues are complicated. The Okapi Conservation Project experiments with a variety of unique techniques, including agro-forestry and cane rat farming, offering alternative methods to help people sustain their families and improve their livelihoods, while conserving forests and wildlife.
In an attempt to provide alternatives to bushmeat in the region, the project has supported the construction and implementation of cane rat production sites in Mambasa and Epulu. The farmers produce animals, both to initiate other breeding centers in the region, and for sale and consumption. The intent of the program is to engage farmers in the region to help mass produce this species as game meat, to provide sustainable, economic, and eco-friendly animal protein.
The intent of the Okapi Conservation Project agro-forestry program is to reduce the impact of subsistence farming currently being practiced by 45,000 people living in and around the Reserve who are dependent on forest resources. By providing alternative crops (trees, fruits, vegetables) and farming techniques, the Project agroforestry team is able to promote the use of sustainable farming practices in the region while reducing destructive slash and burn agriculture techniques. Read more – agroforestry link.
The Okapi Conservation Project will continue to partner with organizations and donors to support programs which address issues related to forest conservation services for local villages. With appropriate alternative programs in place, communities in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve can have balanced, sustainable livelihoods, meanwhile serving as stewards of the forest environment.