Stories from Africa

In-depth (based on site visits with extensive interviews)

  • KenyaThe Green Belt Movement – Tree planting and other projects improve Kenya’s ecosystem and quality of life.

Capsule (shorter pieces which appear below)

  1. Burkina Faso – Zabre – Women’s Agroecological Project – An integrated agricultural project improves the local economy and the status of rural women.
  2. MozambiqueEcological Sanitation – Using music to promote low cost, environmentally sustainable “ecological sanitation,” a process to transform human waste into nutrient-rich agricultural fertilizer.
  3. NigerFarmer Managed Natural Regeneration – Farmers use a simple, natural way to regrow trees and stop desertification.
  4. South AfricaWorking for Water – Removing exotic trees from watersheds brings streams back to life, increases the nation’s water supply, and creates jobs for the unemployed.
  5. South AfricaThlolengo EcoVillage – An African “eco-village” is a model of rural sustainability in a time of rural decline.
  6. South Africa – Walkerstroom Wetlands – Ecotourism – Nature tourism to protect grasslands and wetlands stimulates the local economy.
  7. SudanHydrocarbon Removal from Oilfield Produced Water – Reed beds decontaminate wastewater from oilfields.
  8. UgandaRyan’s Well – A six-year-old Canadian boy starts a movement for safe drinking water in Africa.
  9. UgandaAIDS control – A holistic approach makes Ugandan AIDS control efforts exemplary.
  10. ZambiaTransforming Communities through Sustainable Development – A wildlife conservation and community development program protects biodiversity while simultaneously improving village life in the region.
  11. ZimbabweMicrohydropower – Microhydropower brings low-impact energy to rural villages.
  12. ZimbabweWater Farming – Through “water farming” Phiri Maseko’s farm is a paradise that resists droughts for several years.

Burkina Faso – Zabre – Women’s Agroecological Project

In the three states of Burkina Faso where PLY Women’s Association had projects, Zabre was the focus of the project evaluation. The area is a central plateau, mostly flat, tree savannah, with a long dry season (November-May) and rainy season (June-October). The population is mainly herders and farmers. The land had been eroding, especially on hills, and severely affected by drought and overexploitation by deforestation and overgrazing, mainly due to a concentration of farmers on exhausted lands worked without fallow due to population pressures.

PLY, evaluating the needs of the area in order to begin a project, found that despite women’s central role in socioeconomic life, their contributions were overlooked and they drew few benefits. PLY’s purpose was to improve the status of rural women, support their education and active involvement in development. They realized that improving soil fertility would allow for better agricultural production, giving means to achieve other social and economic goals.

In 1987 they began training sessions with manure and compost kits. The fertilizer was used in community peanut and cereal fields, and later spread to vegetable gardens where it was intensively used.

Enthusiasm over the initial success brought in new members and a dramatic increase in demand for training. PLY requested and got technical and financial support to begin a series of training workshops not only on composting, but on farming, controlled water use, and erosion control using bunds (see also Auroville, India case study) and gully dams, and programs for reforestation, including the nitrogen-fixing tree Acacia albeda.

Results of these workshops include:

  1. Improvement of soil fertility.
  2. Yields nearly doubled.
  3. Many lands previously considered unusable were opened up, as both women and men recovered degraded areas, using strip cropping on hilly areas.
  4. Erosion was controlled.
  5. The technique became popularized, with the number of farmers using it going from 25 to 8,000. This shows the potential for replication.

Since then PLY has diversified into other areas, including programs on education for girls, workshops on health and family planning, literacy classes, creation of cereal and vegetable banks, and income generation projects such as production of shea butter, natural insecticide (from neem oil), soap making, and weaving. Through this income, credit cooperatives were created for purchase of farm equipment. Through working with the villages and interviews to evaluate the projects’ success, monitors say that women are more confident, better educated, and gender relations are improved, with some elevated understanding among men of women’s problems and the need to assist them in domestic chores.

Services or benefits include: Erosion control, food security, income generation, poverty alleviation, improved confidence/status of rural women and gender relations, social relations, waste management, education (formal and traditional).

Back to top

Mozambique – Ecological Sanitation

  • Author: Adapted from the Goldman website (with permission)
  • Posted: July 2008

Using music to spread the message of ecological sanitation to the most remote corners of Mozambique, Feliciano dos Santos is empowering villagers to participate in sustainable development and rise up from poverty. In Niassa province, many villages lack even basic sanitation infrastructure. Without reliable access to clean water and waste management systems, the population is highly susceptible to disease. Santos, who grew up in the region, today heads an innovative program that is bringing new hope to Niassa. With his internationally-recognized band, Massukos, Santos uses music to promote the importance of water and sanitation in Mozambique. His program is now serving as a model for other sustainable development programs around the world.

Sanitation and Poverty

Throughout much of Africa, the lack of proper sanitation poses significant challenges to development. When drinking water is compromised, disease often follows. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all sickness in the world is attributable to unsafe water and sanitation. More children under five die from water-borne illnesses than AIDS. Recognizing both the environmental and societal risks associated with poor sanitation, the United Nations has declared 2008 the “Year of Sanitation” in order to bring further attention to the issue worldwide.

In Mozambique, more than half the population lives in extreme poverty without access to basic sanitation. The northernmost province of Niassa is one of the poorest and most isolated regions of the country. Most of its nearly one million inhabitants live in small villages dispersed throughout the province, which is as large as New England, yet has only 170 kilometers of paved road.

Waste Fuels Sustainable Development

Sanitation continues to be a taboo subject throughout the world, though it remains one of the most pressing problems in poverty-stricken regions. Santos has successfully found ways to discuss human waste management techniques with villagers through both grassroots outreach and music. He grew up in Niassa with no clean water or proper sanitation and is disabled from polio. As an adult, he has focused on improving living conditions in the region. Santos understands that environmental and health problems are interrelated in regions dealing with poverty issues like Niassa. As the director of Estamos, he works directly with villagers to provide community sanitation, promote sustainable agriculture, lead reforestation projects and support innovative HIV/AIDS initiatives. Santos believes that sanitation and water supply issues must be solved in order for other development projects to take root.

Santos and Estamos promote low cost, environmentally sustainable “ecological sanitation,” a process that uses composting toilets, called EcoSans, to transform human waste into nutrient-rich agricultural fertilizer. Typically, a family will use an EcoSan for a number of months, adding soil and ash after each use. The pit is then buried and left for eight months, and the family moves on to another pit. During the eight months all the harmful pathogens die off, leaving a rich fertilizer that can be dug up and used in the fields. The compost not only provides natural fertilizer, but also enhances the soil’s water-retention capacity. Families using ecological sanitation report markedly fewer diseases, a 100 percent improvement in crop production, and improved soil retention. Before ecological sanitation, many villages used costly artificial fertilizers on their crops, and often were barely able to feed their families. By using the compost instead of artificial fertilizer, many are able to produce more food than they need and can generate a small income by selling some of their harvest.

Santos and Estamos believe that no sanitation system or behavior change should be imposed on villagers by an external NGO. As an insider, Santos and his team lead participatory workshops in which villagers come to understand their sanitation options, and, if they like, choose the option they prefer and build it themselves.

Since Santos and Estamos began their work in Niassa in 2000, they have helped thousands of people in hundreds of villages gain access to clean water and ecological sanitation. This is a considerable achievement considering the lack of infrastructure in Niassa’s remote villages. Estamos continues to grow and is now working in three districts in northern Mozambique. In one remote area, a local chief working with Estamos is leading a group of 70 villages to achieve 100 percent sanitation coverage. This achievement would be the first of this magnitude in Mozambique.

Empowerment through Music

Santos’s band, Massukos, incorporates the sanitation message into music, performing in villages across Niassa and at times around Mozambique and abroad. Since Santos began his music-based outreach, people throughout Niassa and Mozambique have begun to focus more on the country’s rural sanitation problems. By connecting with Mozambique’s rich performance traditions, Santos and Estamos connect to villagers in a culturally appropriate way through music and theater. When Santos and the band arrive in a Niassa village, the entire local population often appears to hear them and their message. But the music is not the only reason for Estamos’s success. In July 2007, Massukos traveled to the UK where they released their album “Bumping” and performed at the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival.

Feliciano dos Santos is a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. For more information see the Goldman Prize website.

Back to top

Niger – Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

Rapid population growth and the southward creep of the Sahara Desert make for a desperate situation in the Sahel—the region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Farmers often are able to grow only half the food they need and are too poor to purchase the rest. But a promising new form of agroforestry—farmer managed natural regeneration—is counteracting desertification and increasing food production.

Farming in the Sahel has always been difficult due to frequent droughts, hard soils, and harsh winds. Deforestation made these problems worse. Between 1950 and 1980, the trees and shrubs in Niger’s agricultural zone were almost totally destroyed due to drought and human population pressure. Deforestation worsened droughts, strong winds, high temperatures and evaporation, and poor soil fertility—i.e., desertification. Crops were buried under sand during wind storms and had to be replanted up to eight times per season. Natural pest predators such as birds disappeared along with the trees, and insect attacks on crops became extreme. Poor crop yields and high population growth led to chronic hunger and periodic acute famine.

Public awareness of desertification increased during the severe drought in the Sahel between 1968 and 1973. In the mid-1970s, stopping desertification became a top priority for governments and aid agencies. Niger’s national government took over tree ownership and care from the people; fines were levied on anyone caught cutting down a tree. Reforestation projects were undertaken with the help of international organizations. But for the most part these reforestation programs were complicated, expensive, and not particularly successful.

Then in 1983, Tony Rinaudo, a missionary from Australia, made an important discovery: What appeared to be desert shrubs that were cut in preparation for the growing season were actually sprouts from tree stumps. There was an “underground forest” or “virtual nursery” of stumps, roots, and seeds that did not require any planting at all. Thus the idea of “farmer managed natural regeneration” (FMNR) was born. The principle is quite simple: instead of chopping off all the tree sprouts, a farmer selects one to five stems per stump to protect and trims off the rest. Excess shoots and side branches are regularly pruned; the cut branches provide leaves for mulch or fodder, and the twigs provide firewood. With regular pruning, the central stems grow rapidly and soon become trees. The farmers choose how many trees they want per hectare, and of which species.

“All that was needed was to convince farmers to change the way they prepared their fields,” says Rinaudo. Acceptance was slow at first. The few people who tried it were ridiculed and had their trees stolen. A breakthrough came in 1984, when an international conference on deforestation increased awareness of the link between deforestation and climate. A severe drought and famine shortly thereafter reinforced this link in people’s minds, and a “Food for Work” program encouraged farmers in 95 villages to try FMNR. About 500,000 trees were protected in 1984-1985, and farmers were surprised to see that their crops actually grew better among the trees. Crops benefit directly from tree leaves providing more organic matter and moisture retention in the soil (and in the case of nitrogen-fixing trees, more nitrogen as well). Changes in the microclimate—e.g., reduced wind speed and evaporation, lower temperatures and higher humidity—are also beneficial. Farmers typically plant only once as windblown sand is no longer a problem. Where tree leaves serve as fodder for livestock, their manure improves the soil even more. The leaves of the baobab tree, used in cooking, can be sold for cash. The trees also provide firewood, fruit, and medicinal products.

When the Food for Work program ended, over two thirds of the trees were chopped down, but those who chopped down the trees came to regret it as the benefits disappeared; FMNR soon began to spread again. According to Rinaudo, “district-wide exposure to the benefits of FMNR over a 12-month period was sufficient to introduce the concept and put to rest some fears about growing trees with crops. Gradually more and more farmers started protecting trees, and word spread from farmer to farmer until it became a standard practice.” Progress accelerated in 2004, when (after some encouragement from USAID) forestry laws were changed to allow tree ownership. In addition, village and district chiefs established locally agreed upon codes and rules governing trees.

After 20 years, over 3 million hectares across Niger’s agricultural zone feature trees, ranging from a few dozen to over 200 trees per hectare. Satellite images can even discern the border between Niger and Nigeria by the difference in vegetation. FMNR is credited with increasing Niger’s farmers’ cereal yields by 500,000 tonnes per year, and increasing per-household income by US$200 per year. Despite continued population growth, Niger’s per capita production of millet and sorghum has remained constant.

Apart from the actual presence of living tree stumps, roots, and/or seeds, Rinaudo notes some crucial conditions for success:

  • Simplicity
  • Early returns
  • Low cost
  • Support from project staff
  • Appropriate national and local rules

Others say Tony Rinaudo himself is a key ingredient, as the “charismatic leader” of FMNR.

World Vision and other non-governmental organizations have been promoting FMNR across Niger and in other African countries as well. The technique is now practiced in Chad, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Mali.

Tony Rinaudo is a Natural Resource Management Specialist with World Vision Australia (


Back to top

South Africa – Working for Water

This innovative, multiagency program combines one of the most ambitious and expensive IAP (invading alien plants) eradication initiatives ever undertaken with a social welfare program aimed at poverty and other legacies of apartheid. It is a model for combating IAPs in other parts of the world, and the program’s director is also chair of the GISP (Global Invasive Species Project).

IAPs are a major threat to ecosystems not only in South Africa but internationally; for example it is estimated IAPs cost the US $7 billion a year. In South Africa, American pine, Australian blue gum tree and other species of trees and aquatic plants from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia were introduced intentionally for commercial forestry, or accidentally through agriculture and development. Originally covered in low-biomass fynbos (or native shrub) vegetation, some 8% of South Africa’s landscape is colonized by vast swaths of woody vegetation. While it may seem counterintuitive to restore a watershed by removing trees and aquatic plants, these IAPs consume 9% of the nation’s runoff, drying up watersheds, reducing biodiversity, triggering mass extinctions of native plants, and contributing to soil erosion.

With these issues in mind, the newly post-apartheid South African government launched the program “Working for Water” in 1995. It was deemed less expensive to clear hillsides and riverbanks of invasive species than to build new dams, and the government began a job creation scheme, employing 21,000 people, targeting those with reduced job opportunities, to do just that. These included the poor from the townships and settlements, the disabled, ex-prisoners, youth (under 23 years), and those with HIV/AIDS, more than half of whom were female.

Working with various government agencies, other programs were launched:

  1. Access to child-care facilities for each project, with donations of toys coming from local charities.
  2. Educational workshops on HIV/AIDS, family planning, health care for workers.
  3. Development of micro-enterprise to optimize use of cleared wood, including crafts, furniture, mulch, charcoal and smoke chips. Training was given to develop entrepreneurship opportunities at all levels from design to marketing of products.
  4. Biological control of invasive species.
  5. Wetland rehabilitation projects.
  6. Fire control programs, and rehabilitation of an area devastated by fire.

On the sites, work is challenging and sometimes dangerous, and pay is low, but the program has garnered public support, political will, and funding at a time when competition in the new political regime for social welfare funding is fierce. At the policy level, reforming water management is central to South Africa’s economic and political reconstruction, and policies like this one are being created to redress past injustices, inefficiencies and environmental abuses.

Services or benefits include: Poverty alleviation, water regulation, erosion control, social relations, economic opportunities, education/services for women, disease control.

For more information visit the World Resources Institute.

Back to top

South Africa – Thlolengo EcoVillage

This is a good example of an eco-village in Africa, and a model of rural sustainability in a time of worldwide rural depopulation.

Thlolengo was started in 1991 by permaculturist Paul Cohen. Located some two hours northwest of Johannesburg, this village of 50 integrates traditional African design, modern technology, some of Cohen’s ideas developed from his study of system dynamics and ecological design sciences, and lessons from other parts of the world.

The context is post-apartheid rural South Africa, where various forces (the legacy of apartheid, increasing consolidation of farms, industrialization, lack of land tenure, eroded family structures because of husbands migrating to cities) have left rural farmers disconnected from the land, and increasingly dependent on urban centers for employment and survival. It has three components:

  1. An onsite residential training/research facility, with gardens for botanical research (and over 100 species of medicinal plants), food production, water harvesting and sanitation and energy efficient buildings, as well as a seed library for the surrounding region.
  2. A residential village, designed with permaculture principles with respect to housing layout, and farming, with the surrounding lands managed for erosion control with strategic trees and gardens.
  3. A primary/secondary school which offers basic education for 120 kids in the surrounding area.

Village life is modeled after the South African “lelapa” or homestead, which is the family house with the surrounding support system for natural waste treatment and food security. Houses, built with local materials, can be made more cheaply if the owner supplies labor (“sweat equity”). The cost of these houses are only half the price of the government-subsidized housing, and of much higher quality. Houses are designed for passive solar heating, which can heat water for cooking and bathing.

Services or benefits include: Rural regeneration/ soil services, sense of place, replicability, education systems (traditional and formal)

Back to top

South Africa – Walkerstroom Wetlands – Ecotourism

The town of Walkerstroom is three hours southeast of Johannesberg in the heart of the last great stretch of grassland in South Africa (possibly Africa). Its population of 6,500 people has been declining with the cancellation of a railroad originally planning to run through the town. Due to this outmigration, about half of the houses were derelict and empty. There was no tourism, nearly three-quarters of the businesses had closed down, and the main employers were government services. Neither the grassland nor the nearby wetland had any legal protection. As local activist Elena Kotze points out, the townships suffer “the urban woes without the advantages of urban areas,” including high unemploymennt, no services and few prospects for the future except to leave for the cities, further impoverishing the townships.

Ancient upland grasslands once covered about 60% of Africa. Africans use many indigenous plants and animals in traditional medicines, many of which are unique to South Africa’s grassland, making it an irreplaceable gene pool which could supply both traditional and pharmaceutical products sustainably. Its natural collection and slow-release of rainwater also feeds three of the country’s major rivers. While some pristine areas remain, some 60-80% of these grasslands have been transformed by timber plantations, open-pit coal or gold mining, sprawl, or cropland.

When Elena Kotze and her husband arrived in Walkerstroom in 1989, she began to take an active interest in finding ways to protect the local grassland and wetland, and to rejuvenate the economy. The grassland supports great diversity of flora and fauna, including many species of birds, and here she saw potential for birding enthusiasts. She opened up a guesthouse for tourists, much to the amusement of locals. Shortly after, many of the derelict houses began filling up with birding tourists. A second guest house opened in 1992, followed by several more. A cheese factory, cafes and local craft shops soon followed, and today there are five guest houses/lodges, seven bed and breakfast cottages, a butcher, bakery and art gallery. Kotze has been encouraging local industries that use local resources, for example paper production by reeds, pressed wildflowers, pottery, basket making, and production of value-added agricultural products such as cheese, salami, jams, pickles, wine, beer and chutneys. For tourist guides, learning first-aid skills as part of their training elevated their value and status to communities who lacked access to basic medical services. They also had to learn about the wetlands and grasslands as well as local culture and history, which bridged a widening gap between the older and younger generations, and helped to build pride and a sense of connection and stewardship for their natural and cultural heritage.

Kotze and her husband have also initiated work to have 1,000,050 hectares of grassland declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She has helped to create the umbrella organization GRASS (Grasslands Require Active Support to Survive) that brings together government agencies, non-government organizations, youth groups, etc. to carry out research (in particular surveying, mapping and land-use patterns) and campaigning. GRASS has been accepted by all departments and agencies involved, and has attracted the interest of the National Water and Forestry Affairs Ministry for potential replication (integrated catchment management and civil-society-government parterships are popular politically but Walkerstroom is the first living example of this). Out of this grew the Ekangala Grassland Trust, which is a campaign for formalization of the Grassland biosphere reserve under UNESCO. This idea has some popular support as towns outside of the reserve are asking for inclusion.

Another project Kotze has been involved with is the creation of the Walkerstoon Wetland Reserve. The wetland has always been critical to economic survival of local herders, who would burn some of the grassland to ensure a green grass supply. In the years before the reserve was designated, none of the crowned crane chicks fledged, but after burning was restricted in designated areas, reed beds have increased and the number of crane chicks who fledge has increased dramatically.

While many problems still remain, Kotze notes the dramatic change brought in with the recent economic revival, which has also prompted the creation of a business forum and a cultural association. This has brought in new people and new skills from outside, which has reversed the spiral of outmigration and brain drain.

This is a good example of how tourism can prompt local people to learn more about their own natural and cultural heritage, inspiring a sense of pride and stewardship over its future. It is not known from the information whether the area is accessible financially and culturally to tourists or limited to well-off educated white birders from Europe or other parts of South Africa. If this is upmarket or niche tourism, there is the question of risk of gentrification of the town, and the segregation of industry with most of the menial service jobs going to local people. Also, local people feel tourism isn’t enough to support the town’s economy.

Back to top

Sudan – Hydrocarbon Removal from Oilfield Produced Water

  • Author: Submitted by Rebecca Jackson
  • Posted: March 2012

In 2003, British environmental engineering firm Oceans-ESU Ltd. was commissioned by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) to undertake the construction, management and maintenance of reed beds in Heglig, Sudan. The reed bed functions as a means to clean produced water by removing oil contamination.

Beginning in 2004 with a pilot system receiving 16,000m3 of water per day, treatment capabilities and toxicology were extensively studied for 18 months by the Sudanese Commission for The Environment and Safety. Despite the final capacity increasing to over 40,000 m3 of water per day during this time, the Commission judged that the system was approved as the best environmentally friendly acceptable techniques for removal of oil contamination from produced waters.

During the study, and continuing to the present day, treatment consistently achieved the required Sudanese Standard for Discharge to the Environment, with combined free and dissolved hydrocarbon contamination levels below detectable levels for almost all outlet samples.

In 2007 GNPOC, with technical consultancy from Oceans-ESU Ltd, began a roll out implementation of the technology across the 41,600 km2 concession areas, predominantly at nine locations, adjacent to the oil gathering processing facilities. Final commissioning of the systems was completed during 2010, after a two year construction programme with build costs in excess of $250M.

The treatment systems have not only ensured that GNPOC achieve compliance for discharge of vast quantities of treated water to surface waters, but also allowed local agencies to establish over 40 km2 of sustainable forestry, providing value crops and employment to the local community. In addition, the treatment systems have consistently proved to have no toxicological effect on the local environment, rather providing areas where biodiversity increases by 400% over areas that are greater than 2 km from the treatment sites. As well as re-establishing wetland habitats in Sub-Saharan Africa, the systems host resident and migratory populations of four species that are on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

In 2011 under the system management of Oceans-ESU Ltd, the systems successfully treated 41 million tonnes of contaminated water to a world class discharge standard, in reed bed treatment systems with a combined area of 6,400 ha. Bioremediation of produced water with reed bed technology has now been adopted in some form by all the oil operating companies in both republics of the former Sudan, with Oceans-ESU Ltd’s technical consultancy enabling continued sustainable produced water management.

For more information on Oceans-ESU reed bed projects and other environmental remediation, visit

Back to top

Uganda – Ryan’s Well

When six-year-old Ryan Hreljac heard about the many children in Africa who do not have clean water to drink he decided to do something to help.

Ryan, from a small town near Ottawa in Canada, listened as his teacher explained that $70 would provide a well and became determined to raise the money. That night he told his parents that he needed $70. His mother, Susan, said he could do extra chores around the house. Ryan vacuumed, washed windows, and, with amazing determination, patiently worked, saving every dollar in an old cookie tin. It took him from January 1998 to the end of April to collect $70.

Susan took him to Watercan’s office to hand over his donation. Executive Director, Nicole Bosley explained that $70 would only buy a hand pump. It would take $2,000 to drill a well. Undeterred, Ryan replied, “I’ll just do more chores then.”

When he had raised $700, Watercan invited him to meet Gizaw Shibru, director for Uganda at Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, who actually dug and maintained the wells. Shibru asked Ryan to choose the site for his well. Ryan wanted it to be near a school and they pinpointed Angolo in North Uganda, a village whose closest water was 5 kilometers away.

In July, 2000, Ryan and his parents visited Angolo. Ryan looked about in amazement at the 5,000 children lining the route to the school, calling “Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!” “They know my name!” he cried in astonishment. “Everybody for a hundred kilometers knows your name, Ryan,” said Shibru.

They arrived at the well next to the school’s vegetable garden. It bore the inscription “Ryan’s Well, formed by Ryan Hreljac for Community of Angolo Primary School”. Ryan’s penpal Jimmy led him to cut the ribbon and the celebrations began.

After this project was completed, Ryan had a new goal: “I want everyone in Africa to have clean water.” Since, Ryan has collected more than 2 million dollars, and financed more than 120 water and sanitation projects in 9 African countries. Friendships have grown and innumerable people have been inspired by his example.

“I’m just a normal boy,” Ryan says when anyone asks about his achievements. Although many people would disagree with this statement, it is very true. He plays soccer, basketball and hockey. He enjoys reading, playing Nintendo and swimming as well. He has friends in the elementary school he attends, including dedicated volunteers like Jack who, like Ryan, plans to be a water engineer when he grows up. He loves to visit his Nana and his cousins in Ontario’s Niagara region and his grandparents near Deep River, Ontario. Ryan plays with his brothers Jordan and Keegan and with dog Riley. He has been writing to his African pen pal Jimmy Akana, who you may have seen with him on the cover of Reader’s Digest.

Throughout, Ryan’s family has been very supportive of his efforts to get clean water to Africa. Older brother Jordan sets up most of Ryan’s audiovisual presentations and little brother Keegan has licked hundreds of stamps for thank you letters and notes that have been sent around the world.

Ryan has received many awards and has been speaking at United Nations summits. But the best example that youth make the difference is shown by the fact that it is in schools, where children are not just applauding, but learning from Ryan’s experiences and are inspired to take action, join the quest and collect money in support of Ryan’s Well Foundation, caring for their local water resources and learning more about global issues.

His website offers materials to include his story in classroom activities.

Visit –

Back to top

Uganda – AIDS control

As one of the first African countries to experience the HIV/AIDS epidemic and one of the first to show declines in infection rates in 1996, Uganda has become a model of how a nation with limited resources and health care services can manage and control an epidemic of unprecedented scale. When the first cases of HIV/AIDS began to appear in 1982, some 50% of the country had access to health care and less than 30% had access to safe water. The disease was initially limited to people who traveled frequently such as long-distance truck-drivers or prostitutes, and was clouded by mystery, rumor and superstitions such as witchcraft.

HIV/AIDS went from being a disease to an epidemic, and in 1986 Uganda’s health minister publicly announced the situation during a World Health Organization conference in Geneva. This marked the beginning of political frankness which created conditions for the mass public education campaigns that followed. (This could be contrasted with the Chinese government’s handling both of SARS in 2003 and its own AIDS epidemic, where existence of both diseases has been denied or downplayed, allowing them to spread in a culture of ignorance and misinformation.)

Uganda took a multi-pronged, pan-sectoral approach which was both centralized and decentralized where appropriate. It mobilized all levels of legal, political, administrative, health, non-profit, for-profit, research institutions, international donors, and international institutions (WHO etc):

  1. It launched massive education campaigns, aimed at de-stigmatizing the disease, targeting different age groups about issues related to their age or situation, including delaying sexual relations, use of condoms, avoidance of casual sex, and fidelity. This was coordinated through mass media but also decentralized through folk media, religious organizations, educational institutions, community groups and non-governmental organizations. Initially the strategy was to instill fear in the public, but it became clear that this had only limited, short-term success and authorities learned that the approach had to be made more hopeful and positive.
  2. Health authorities were given support by government and international donors to screen blood banks, and to improve services related to detection, testing, counseling, and make them widely available, especially to the poor, who might be doubly stigmatized and less likely to seek help. Drugs for opportunistic infections were also made available to patients free of charge.
  3. Understanding AIDS/HIV was a gender issue with womens’ participation as its basis; improvements were made to the public education system to make it more available to all, especially girls. At the legal level, female lawyers banded together to change laws and punishments related to rape and statuatory rape. Credit facilities targeted towards women were established, enabling women to start small businesses.

In 1992 the Uganda AIDS Commission was established to coordinate and harmonize efforts from all corners. While the epidemic is far from over and will continue to incur high, long-term costs, Uganda is seen as an international leader in controlling HIV/AIDS. Reasons for its success are linked to these factors:

  • coordination
  • decentralization
  • a holistic, integrated approach
  • a clear understanding that HIV/AIDS was much more than a public health issue
  • flexibility which allowed for creativity and innovation while improving institutional conservation
  • openness
  • active participation of women

For more information visit the World Health Organization

Back to top

Zambia – Transforming Communities through Sustainable Development

  • Author: Adapted from the Goldman website (with permission)
  • Posted: July 2008

In Zambia’s North Luangwa Valley, where rampant illegal wildlife poaching in the 1980s decimated the wild elephant population and left villagers living in extreme poverty, Hammerskjoeld Simwinga – known as Hammer – is utilizing innovative sustainable community development strategies to restore wildlife and transform this poverty-stricken area.

Heading up the North Luangwa Wildlife Conservation and Community Development Programme (NLWCCDP), Simwinga protects the biodiversity of the North Luangwa National Park while simultaneously improving village life in the region through micro-lending, education, rural health programs and women’s empowerment.

Simwinga began working in the region with the US-funded North Luangwa Conservation Project in 1994, when local economies relied heavily on income from poaching. He helped villagers form “wildlife clubs” that used small business loans to provide basic goods, services and legal jobs as alternatives to working for the poachers. Each wildlife club was run as a free enterprise; village entrepreneurs were expected to repay their start-up loans.

Through the wildlife clubs, villagers opened small general stores and grinding mills, offering employment to millers, mechanics and bookkeepers. The program also assisted subsistence farmers with seed loans, transportation and technical assistance to help them grow protein-rich crops with better yields so they did not have to depend on meat from wild animals. Simwinga tied the entire project to protection of the wildlife, thus supplanting an illicit economy based on poaching with a legal one.

Simwinga’s tireless efforts have led to a dramatic transformation of the region. Income has increased one hundred-fold among the villagers and family food stocks have doubled. As a result, illegal elephant poaching is now 98 percent controlled and bush meat poaching is minimal. Wildlife has returned to the area, including elephants, hippos, Cape buffalos, and puku. Even critically endangered black rhinos have been reintroduced in the North Luangwa National Park by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

The program now reaches more than 35,000 people and serves as a model for other sustainable development programs throughout the African continent.

Government Interference and Continuing Need for Support

Simwinga began his community development work with the North Luangwa Conservation Project (NLCP), a US-funded organization founded in 1986 by Dr. Delia and Mark Owens that trained local game scouts and worked with villages to rehabilitate and conserve the 6,200-square-kilometer North Luangwa National Park. In the 1980s the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) set regulations on, but did not ban, trade in ivory, resulting in years of massive elephant poaching in Africa; half of Africa’s 1.2 million wild elephants were killed between 1979 and 1989 and North Luangwa’s elephant population dropped from 17,000 to 1,300.

As the successes of NLCP’s work became apparent in the mid-1990s, powerful government officials and others capitalizing on poaching saw their profits dwindle with the slowdown in the illicit ivory and meat trade. In 1996, Zambian government officials arrived in Mpika and seized the NLCP offices; the entire project came to a halt. Within weeks the project was reopened but after a year of uncertainty, NLCP was turned over to a new management organization. They were unable to fund all of NLCP’s initiatives and quickly dropped support for all village development programs.

But Simwinga was undeterred. He worked tirelessly to keep the community development program moving forward, funding the project partially through loan payments from villagers. For almost a year he worked alone with the communities, regularly walking 30 kilometers between villages. Slowly he pulled together a substantial Zambian non-government organization, NLWCCDP, and attracted small funding to keep the work alive. His challenge now is to manage the ever-growing demand for the project in neighboring regions and bolster financial support from the international community.

In 2007, Time Magazine named Simwinga one of their “Heroes of the Environment.”

Hammerskjoeld Simwinga is a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. For more information see the Goldman Prize website.

Back to top

Zimbabwe – Microhydropower

In Africa, the high costs of extending the national power grid to rural areas means villages resort to low-quality energy sources, for example, single-use batteries or kerosene lamps for lighting (expensive and environmentally unfriendly); for cooking, wood or maize cobs are burned, which can cause potentially fatal indoor air pollution.

In 1992, Zimbabwe suffered a devastating drought, which motivated rural regions to look for ways to improve water security. In the eastern highlands, which border Mozambique, where Shona ethnic peoples live, residents along the Nyamarimbira River had long been seeking solutions to both their water and power problems. Only 15% of the population has access to the power grid. The region does receive high annual rainfall (except during droughts), which means streams flow year round, even in the dry season. But water sources involve long walks (usually by children) on steep or rugged terrain. Teachers said children were spending more time fetching water than studying. Microhydropower was hoped to be an integrated solution to address both needs.

Successful microhydropower (MHP) projects near the Tangwena community inspired them to start their own MHP system. They requested support and technical assistance from the Intermediete Technology Development Group (ITDG), a UK-based non-government organization promoting and developing appropriate technologies in development. ITDG began assessment workshops, and offered technical support for the project, but it was agreed that the project would be locally managed, with elected members of the committee overseeing it.

Smaller in scale than conventional hydropower, MHP uses a low dam from a small river or stream to divert a portion of it into a channel, which runs along the contour of a hill to a tank, which then runs straight downhill to a power station. The water is driven through nozzles which jet the water onto a turbine, to which a generator is connected to convert the mechanical energy into electricity. The electricity is transmitted to houses in two ways: either by a “mini grid” of cables connecting to houses, or through recharging batteries for a fee at a charging station (usually old car batteries). The water is then again available for for irrigation and household use.

The project was completed in 2002, when Zimbabwe was facing fuel shortages, political and social unrest, price escalations, and inflation. The results:

  1. 300 households, 500 pupils and teachers of Tsatse primary school have improved access to electricity.
  2. A community-owned mill, one of the creations of the project, is used to grind maize to make sadza (a staple of the region). This local milling is said to be cost-effective and increases food security.
  3. Increased electricity in the school has benefited not only children but teachers, as previously turnover was high and it was hard to retain teachers for long periods; now teachers report job satisfaction and are staying longer.
  4. Water purification is reducing the incidence of water-borne diseases.
  5. The need to travel long distances for water is eliminated.
  6. 30 hectares of farmland is irrigated, which has raised yields and farmers’ incomes, as well as food security, as food can be grown year round.
  7. Predictably, while men dominated the planning and meetings, women were estimated to have contributed 70% of the labor. This is not a quickly addressed issue, but effort has been made by ITDG to give more opportunity for women. Now, there is a female chair, which has helped to gain more active participation and contribution during meetings from women.
  8. Enthusiasm over the results has inspired neighboring Ngurunda and Magadzire to request assistance from ITDG for starting similar projects.

Services or benefits include: sustainable energy source, self-sufficiency, education opportunities, food and water security, social relations, gender relations, regulation of diseases.

Back to top

Zimbabwe – Water Farming

  • Author: Eric Schneider
  • Posted: March 2009

Phiri Maseko turned his farm into a paradise that resists droughts for several years. How? Through water farming!

Zimbabwe is known for water scarcity and droughts. Yet, at the farm of Zepheniah Phiri Maseko, crops grow quickly and bountifully, even in drought years, and the abundance on a modest three-hectare homestead is enough to support a family of 15 and raise cash for other expenses. It is a lesson in deep spiritual belief: “When I visit farmers, I say, ‘You must commit yourself to the soil.'” Zepheniah Phiri Maseko is a farmer whose innovations in soil and water conservation have drawn international attention and visitors from around the world.

To say that Phiri’s success as an innovator is purely the result of his creativity and hard work would be to oversimplify. A deeply spiritual man, Phiri is driven by a commitment to honoring and conserving land and water for its spiritual value. To him, faith in God translates into a deep respect for the bounty that can be drawn from nature. Phiri tends to view natural phenomenon such as the interaction of soil and water, the properties of plants, and even his own innate abilities as an engineer, as gifts. His work extends from this set of personal values, and he encourages others to respect the soil and water as the source of life.

Phiri’s farm is located in a hilly area outside the small town of Zvishavane. This communal area consists of several farms that border his own, leaving each 3-hectare plot with little room for expansion. Above Phiri’s farm, a ruware, or rocky mound, poses a unique challenge. When heavy rains fall, this rocky area channels the water down the hill, carrying soil with it and causing major erosion. Phiri, however, has managed to transform this challenge into an advantage. It is there, just below the rocks, that he has developed structures that achieve what he calls water “planting.” Below, in his fields, this water can be “harvested” to supply enough water to all his crops, trees, and vegetable beds without the need for conventional irrigation. With his terraces, pits, sand traps, ponds, and tanks, Phiri is consistently able to control more than 50 percent of the runoff from rain, while in most countries it is only possible to store and control 20-50 percent of the total runoff, according to water expert Sandra Postel. In her 1998 publication, “Pillars of Sand,” she describes the immediate link between ability to control run-off and food security. Phiri is able to accumulate enough water in a good rainy season (at least three heavy rainfalls) to see him through two years of drought.

The evidence of this abundance of water is revealed in the oversized stalks of maize, two-story mango and banana trees, and lush vegetable gardens that grow on or between each crop area. These vegetable plots grow sweet potatoes, beans, paprika, carrots, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, cabbages, and more, which provide for his family and can be sold throughout the year. Such variety is unique to small-scale farmers, who usually rely on one cash crop like maize, cotton, or tobacco. With his approach to cultivation, Phiri is able to avoid the need for artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

A well also supplies pure drinking water and is a resource to other farmers in times of need. The fish pond behind Zepheniah’s house provides a home to fish for consumption, as well as to a variety of bird species that use this lush area as a natural haven. The ponds are lined with reeds, sugarcane, bananas, kikuyu and elephant grass, which protect the banks. These ponds, and the lush foliage nearby, attract a variety of birds and wildlife, transforming this small farm into something of a wildlife refuge. A waterhole serves as an indicator of the water table. Each time it fills after a rain, it shows that enough water has seeped through the soil to replenish the underground store. If this occurs three times during a rainy season, Phiri’s farm will be supplied with water through up to two years of drought.

Not content to enjoy the fruits of his labor alone, Phiri has made his farm into a living university for other farmers, attracting them from farms throughout the region. Many of the strategies employed by Phiri have their roots in various traditions and technologies from around the world. Others were developed through Phiri’s own relentless zest for experimentation. But what truly sets this farm apart is the employment of every possible strategy to prevent runoff, as though the water itself were as precious as gold, and each drop counted. Once farmers dedicate themselves to conservation, Phiri says they will naturally see increased yields.


Zepheniah Phiri
The Zvishavane Water Project
P.O. Box 118
Zvishavane, Zimbabwe
Phone: 263 513250;

Adapted from

Back to top