The indigenous people of the rainforest are its natural stewards. This premise fuels BCI’s approach to conservation, and has yielded incredible results. BCI is dedicated to protecting bonobos while also benefiting their human neighbors. By listening to local insight, addressing local concerns, and fostering local leadership, BCI is helping spread a conservation ethic across the Congo Basin.
One of the primary goals of the Peace Forest is helping local communities find economically viable alternatives to bushmeat hunting and slash-and-burn agriculture. Many local residents are employed directly on the reserves as field team members and reserve management, demonstrating that conservation has both environmental and economic benefit. BCI and partners also engage in sustainable agriculture initiatives, microcredit for new businesses, and support for local enterprise, providing supplies, equipment, and training for Congolese entrepreneurs.
Peace Forest residents consider access to health care to be their most important need. BCI and partners have built, staffed, and equipped a pilot health clinic in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve. When fully operational, the clinic serves a community of 10,000 people—and provides a model for future clinics in other areas
BCI helps foster the next generation of Congolese conservationists through educational initiatives. BCI provides training for field teams and scholarships for students pursuing degrees in conservation biology and related fields. Along with local partner Vie Sauvage, BCI founded the Djolu Technical College for Conservation and Rural Development, the only institute of higher learning within a 40,000 square mile radius. It received official accreditation in 2012.
Bonobos live in peace and harmony within a matriarchal society. Inspired by the bonobos’ example of honoring and respecting females, BCI promotes programs that benefit women and help support the community at large. A growing body of research shows that societies prosper when women are empowered, educated, and economically engaged. BCI is providing organizational and management training to women, who often have not had the same educational opportunities as men. BCI and partners also believe deeply in supporting women’s business enterprises. We have helped women earn income through a variety of projects, including soap-making, bringing salted fish to market, and garment production.
Peace Forest communities enjoy the benefits of improved infrastructure, including new buildings and updated communication technology. Community conservation centers become a hub of local activity, and HF radio and VSAT internet connect communities to each other and to the outside world. Transport is notoriously difficult in Congo Basin. Peace Forest sites gain access to trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles, allowing people, goods, equipment, and information to move much more easily through the dense rainforest.
The Coalition for the Community Conservation of Bonobos (CCCB), a legally recognized network of local NGOs and other Peace Forest participants, is already paving the way for indigenous leadership. By encouraging communication and cooperation, the CCCB gives Peace Forest communities a united voice and the ability to have a real impact on policy.