Supporting farmers’ transition to more sustainable crops and the mastering of soil improvement techniques is a long-term investment that protects okapi habitat. Once farmers are producing their own seeds and crops, OCP need only store their seeds and occasionally provide Lucerne seedlings – a tree that puts nitrogen back into the soil to nourish crops. Farmers give back seeds from their first crop and OCP agronomists distribute those seeds to new farmers joining the program. OCP maintains a seed bank that serves a large area as farmers have no way of storing seeds and purchasing them is too expensive. New farmers join the program as farmers move on to become self-sufficient, with OCP supporting about 500 farmers at any given time. In areas OCP has been working without interruption, agricultural zones support the needs of the communities without the need to encroach into primary forest habitat.
In March, construction started on a new tree nursery in Niania and in about 3 short months, tree seedlings will be ready for distribution in the western sector. This will be the fourth tree nursery operated by OCP to provide tree seedlings to communities around the Reserve. During the first 3 months of 2017, OCP agronomists distributed 7,848 tree seedlings and collected 1,000 kg of upland rice seeds and 250 kg of bean to distribute to farmers when the rainy season starts. After the seedlings are planted we are seeing 75-80% survival rate. Students also planted fast-growing Terminalia tree seedlings around the community social meeting hall in Epulu.