A rapidly growing regional human population increases pressure on already limited forest resources. Destructive subsistence farming (“slash and burn”) practiced outside of demarcated agriculture areas in and around the Reserve and a traditional reliance on bushmeat are chief factors in deforestation.

Through our agroforestry program that promotes sustainable farming practices while reducing dependence on forest resources, Okapi Conservation Project helps roll back negative long-term impact on the complex and delicate Reserve ecosystem. By introducing alternative crops (trees, fruits, vegetables) and better farming methods and technologies, the program make villagers’ lives less volatile, healthier, and, in many cases, more prosperous. What’s more, the program’s success is a key to making inroads into pockets of the Reserve that have not previously been receptive to broader conservation efforts. Assisting communities improve their food security decreases the need for young people to be involved in illegal activities like mining, poaching, and logging to help support the needs of their families.

OCP supports five nurseries in and around the reserve in the villages of Epulu, Mambasa, Niania, Biakato, and Wamba. These nurseries provide nitrogen-fixing trees and nut producing trees for farmers in order to promote sustainable agriculture. They also produce reforestation trees that are given to students to plant around their schools, a useful and educational practice teaching forest protection to the youth. All of our nurseries employ local people to hand collect seeds and maintain them.

With the addition of the newest nursery in Wamba, now run by our first female agronome, Therese Bangbeto, OCP now contributes to improving food security in the communities in the northern part of the Reserve. In 2018, we were able to produce and distribute nearly 70,000 trees around the Reserve, far surpassing our goal of 60,000.

In DRC, International Tree Day is celebrated at the end of each year, with the last rains of the year to providing ample watering for the young trees. Celebrations were organized in Epulu each year to involve students in reforestation projects in the area. Their schools are constructed by clearing an area of trees or building on abandoned plots, and once completed, the school sits in an open area subject to the hot sun. By reforesting the areas around schools, trees provide shade from the heat to students and faculty. The trees also provide habitat corridors and food sources for native wildlife. More importantly, involving students in reforestation projects teaches them the importance of conservation efforts and what they can do to help.