Elephant dung changing women’s lives in Rubirizi

 Elephant Dung changing women’s lives in Rubirizi
Jovita Kyomugisha, the chairperson for Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group shows off their elephant dung paper gift bags and some of their other products which include paper beads, handmade baskets. The improved cook stoves in the background are also made by the group. (Photo Credit: UNDP Uganda 2015)

Happy faces welcome you to the small building that houses the Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group in Rubirizi district.

The women have taken a few minutes off their work to welcome visitors before they return to work in the different corners of the building. Some are making paper beads on the verandah while others are readying dung for making paper in another corner outside the building.

The women’s group which started in 2005 with ten people has now grown to 30 members, four of whom are men.

Moses Agaba who founded the group says the main purpose was to provide a source of livelihood for the women most of whom are widowed, promote conservation and also rally the community to protect the animals in the Queen Elizabeth National Park which is within their neighborhood.

 “The idea of making paper from elephant dung came from turning a difficult situation into an opportunity. This is because elephants walk into our gardens all the time, destroying crops and incensing the locals so we decided to get what they left in our gardens and make something productive, their dung into paper,” Agaba explained.

Key Highlights

  • The Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group has 30 members, four of whom are men
  • They have received small grants under the UNDP Strengthening Sustainable Environment, Natural Resources Management, Climate change Adaptation and Mitigation (SENRMCAM) project which enabled them to kick start their elephant dung project and also get a new building where they have a bigger showroom
  • The group's efforts were noticed in 2014 when they won the SEED Africa Award, the annual awards scheme founded by UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. It is designed to find the most promising, innovative and locally-led start-up social and environmental enterprises in countries with developing and emerging economies.

He adds that this has enabled the women in the group and the rest of the community to see elephants as contributing to their welfare instead of taking away from. The elephant dung paper is used to make gift bags, cards, menus, signature/visitors books which are usually bought by tourists heading to the national parks in the area.

The group also makes handicrafts, improved cook stoves and briquettes also made from a mixture of elephant dung and other materials which are all a source of income for the group. The group has made over 6million Uganda shillings so far from the sale of elephant dung paper products alone.

“Having this extra source of income means that the group members and their families do not have to go inside the park to hunt for animals for meat or other resources,” Agaba says.

Jovita Kyomugisha the chairperson of group who takes us through their small showroom displaying the items they’ve made says the group has changed her life.

“After my husband died, I used to depend on farming, I would work in my garden, then go and work in other people’s gardens just to get some money for my six children. Now with the group, I know I can get that extra income I need so I work in my garden first then come here to work too,” Kyomugisha says.

Kyomugisha whose husband died twenty years ago is now able to pay school fees for children and also provide for their needs.

The members get 25 percent on every item they make that is sold, 5 percent goes to support orphans whose parents died in the park, whey they would go to hurt animals for meat to eat or sell. 20 percent is re-invested in the group’s on-going projects while 50 percent goes to the groups saving and credit scheme where members can save and also get small loans at low interest rates when they need them.

“ We are encouraging more people particularly women to join the group, and now with the funding support, we have been able to go to homes and train others in making handicrafts which we help them to sell,” Kyomugisha said.

She adds that already, three other groups have been formed through this training, one of the groups is for the youth, the other is for women and the last is for men who are mostly focused on making elephant dung briquettes. “All these activities keep people busy and they have no time to go into the park looking for animals,” Kyomugisha adds.

“They are a hardworking group of women who are very focused on their work, they’ve made this a central attraction for tourists who want to see more than just the landscapes but to interact with the communities,” Isaac Mubasaliwa from the Uganda Community Tourism Association who is visiting them says.

The group has twice received small grants from UNDP Uganda’s SENRCAM project and because of their success as a community based initiative, the group was also the recipient of the 2014 Seed Initiative award.

Their initial funding  from UNDP was 30 million Uganda shillings in 2013 which was used to kick start the elephant dung paper making and elephant dung briquettes, this project saw them collaborate with the Uganda Wildlife Authority which manages Queen Elizabeth National Park in conservation of the elephant which was facing threats of poisoning as retaliation for crop raids.

In 2014, they received 21.3million Uganda shillings which enabled them to build a bigger showroom where they display and sell their items. A backroom in the same building houses a machine they use to make the elephant dung paper.

The Strengthening Sustainable Environment, Natural Resources Management, Climate change Adaptation and Mitigation (SENRMCAM)  project focuses on supporting the efforts and capacities of local governments, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and communities to sustainably manage and utilise natural resources, integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation in their activities so as to build climate change resilient societies. It is crucial for reducing widespread poverty and improving livelihoods especially for the poorest and vulnerable sections of society who depend on natural resource ecosystems.

This is being done through developing, piloting and implementing initiatives in biodiversity and ecosystem management, sustainable land management, efficient energy technologies and reduction in Green House Gas emissions. The project is being implemented by World Wide Fund for Nature Uganda in collaboration various government ministries, local governments and CSOs.

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