IUCN’S Charles Karangwa explains to Forbes why he dedicated himself to forest conservation
As a child, Rwandan conservation finance expert Charles Karangwa ended up in hospital for a month after was attacked by wild dogs displaced by deforestation, now he works to find business models which aim to preserve forests and lift people out of poverty.
Karangwa, says in his role with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) he aims to work with different countries to enable planning across government and other players to restore land that’s been deforested or degraded.
“One thing that we have been looking at is how you make restoration business models to benefit farmers,” Karangwa says.
Karangwa says a good example was in a former Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) forest in Uganda, where these trees were being cut down for charcoal.
“But Shea butter is actually a very expensive ingredient found in lotions, candles soaps and many other things,” he says, ” So we started to work with the community to develop it into a cash crop, which now benefits hundreds of farmers.”
Karangwa says that when he visited years later, much of the Shea forest had been restored, improving water quality and biodiversity at the same time.
“The landscape had totally changed, because the farmers are benefiting,” he says, “You can’t say to a farmer “stop farming for 10 years, we have to find the value chain that will incentivize them.”
Another element of Karangwa’s work is to help the world achieve the Bonn Challenge: a global goal to restore 350 million hectares of degraded or deforested land by 2030. So far, 74 countries, local governments and organisations have committed to restoring 210 million hectares of degraded land.
“One thing the Bonn Challenge is offering is an exchange of knowledge between the Global South,” he says.
Karangwa says that there are many commonalities between Africa’s Great Lakes region and Latin American countries like Costa Rica and El Salvador.
“El Salvador and Rwanda are small countries that have coffee production,” he says, “In El Salvador, they mix the forest with coffee, so that’s something we could try more of here.”
“Its not just about the forest or the trees, its about multiple benefits that result, from improved agriculture to ecotourism to carbon sinks, to bringing back biodiversity.
At one project in Rwanda, they found that as the forest came back, the wildlife did too.
“The small monkeys are coming back,” he says, “A farmer said they hadn’t seen monkeys in 40 years. ”
From the Forest’s Edge
Karangwa says there were two formative experiences as a child growing up at the forest’s edge in rural Rwanda that would propel him to find solutions to deforestation.
“I remember when I was a little child, we had a house on a hill and we would go down to the river to fill up our jerrycans,” he says, “You didn’t need to boil it, you could just drink it from the stream.”
But after nearby forest was cut down for agricultural land, the water quality decreased.
“When I was 10 years old, I saw the water color change,” Karangwa says.
The second inspiration happened when he was set upon by wild dogs on two occasions.
“The forest was cut and transformed into agricultural land and the wild dogs started to come out,” he said, “Because of that lost forest, I was attacked by the wild dogs twice and I had to spend a month in the hospital being treated.”
He says that as a child, he couldn’t connect the wild dog attacks to deforestation, but he can now.
Following his passion for solutions to deforestation took Karangwa to university to study an undergraduate degree in development studies.
“Then I had to do an MBA in conservation finance at the African Leadership University School of Business (ALUSB) so I can support farmers and businesses to access finance for conservation,” he says, “It is difficult to access loans or capital with very high interest rate, hence a need for innovative finance models supporting landscape restoration.”
“I wanted to be more connected with the globalized world and get that exposure.”
Karangwa say he’s now had the change to travel all over the world, to learn and share knowledge about how to restore degraded lands.
Another Rwandan on a personal mission to improve lives is mechanical engineer Christelle Kwizera. She’s now using a network of boreholes and purified water microgrids to give over 100,000 people access to water – especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kwizera, Founder and Managing Director of for-profit social enterprise Water Access Rwanda, says that when Covid-19 hit, it became evident that because of a lack of handwashing facilities and a lack of flowing, reliable piped water, many in rural areas could not wash their hands nor social distance.
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