INTRODUCING THE GREEN MAMBAS
Wild Tomorrow Fund is very proud to introduce The Green Mambas. The project aims to uplift this group of strong women from the nearby community by creating and supporting their women-owned and run ‘green’ business. By working on projects such as alien plant control and plastic pollution removal from wildlife reserves, the Green Mambas are able to earn much needed additional income while also building positive connections between conservationists and local communities.
Although South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world, the environment and its fragile ecosystems are under threat due to deforestation, poaching, and lack of adequate financial support for biodiversity protection from the South African government. South Africa also faces many development challenges. The World Bank last year deemed South Africa the world’s most unequal society with unemployment, poor education programs and a collapsing public health system all playing a role.
People who live in the rural communities that surround nature reserves are struggling financially due to inequality, very high rural unemployment rates, and the oppression and marginalization of rural women. We believe that the Green Mambas program is an exciting opportunity to support both wildlife conservation and economic development for women in neighboring communities. By working on wildlife reserves that surround them, these women will be receiving direct household income to support themselves and their families. In addition to earning an income, the Green Mambas will also receive training in new ‘green’ skills, learning how to co-operatively run their own business, gaining both confidence and independence.
The Green Mambas pilot project began late last year by selecting fourteen women from the neighboring Mdhuku community, the majority of whom are single mothers with multiple children. They were then trained in alien plant removal and ready to get to work on their first project at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Ukuwela Conservancy! They rolled up their sleeves and worked hard, showed consistent dedication to the project as well as gratefulness for this new opportunity. This proved to be a win-win scenario because they cleared invasive plants more cost-effectively and with a lower environmental impact (using 95% less herbicide) than our previous year.
This was the first step in putting together the Green Mambas team, and we are expanding this project by training and employing the women in a wide variety of other self-managed operations. They have already begun more alien plant clearance, focusing on Chromaelena infestations (Chromaelena odorata) at Ukuwela, with additional alien plant species to be combatted on their next round of plant control work. Ecosystems in Southern Africa including our at our Ukuwela and Mfuleni reserves, are vulnerable to fast-growing invasive plants because they can fuel wildfires, negatively impact the productivity of land, diminish wildlife and domestic animal grazing areas, cause erosion, and degrade delicate wetland systems. It is staggering that at a national scale, alien plants cost South Africa an estimated $500 million USD per year and use an estimated 7% of the country’s water supply. As you can see, the removal of these plants is extremely necessary.
The Green Mambas have also helped remove tons of plastic agricultural waste that was illegally disposed of by a pineapple farmer who previously rented the land. To date, volunteers have removed over 10 tons of plastic, and recently the Green Mambas removed an additional 3000 large bags full of dumped plastic!
Another important skill that they are currently being trained on is firefighting/burning training. The vegetation system on a savannah requires annual burning to function naturally. Along with most other wildlife reserves, we perform crucial annual controlled burns, which requires a trained ecologist and a support team. The Green Mambas will be trained to become a support team to help with controlled burns on our Ukuwela Reserve and hopefully other reserves in the future.
Next on the agenda for the Green Mambas are potential projects including Marula tree harvesting, a community chicken program for the production of free-range sustainable eggs, wild honey cultivation, litter removal from communities, and fruit trees for their home gardens and better nutrition. There are so many possibilities for the expansion of sustainable green work for the Green Mambas, creating sustainable livelihoods.
The Ukuwela Reserve has hundreds of wild Marula trees, and their fruits and nuts offer several culinary uses. We will allow these women to harvest the nuts and fruits for them to create products to sell at market and in local tourist gift shops. Additionally, Wild Tomorrow Fund believes that there is a market for “artisanal” honey, made by local groups such as the Green Mambas. Ukuwela could sustain multiple hives, and we hope in the future to be able to train the women to construct and manage the hives, as well as harvest the honey.
As the Green Mambas have already proven themselves by clearing alien plants on the Ukuwela and Mfuleni Conservancies, we believe that their skills will soon be sought out by other nature reserves. Because they have proved to be more environmentally and economically friendly than traditional methods, we hope and expect that they will be in high demand! This project will be beneficial for the Green Mambas for the long-term, as they can take their new skills to other jobs and create a steady income for themselves, bringing money, knowledge about conservation, and confident leadership skills into local communities.
Our vision for the future is for the Green Mambas to form a legal co-operative entity, and to slowly will take over managing, marketing and other functions of the projects until they are completely independent and sustainable. Many of these women have never owned their own bank account – so these steps are truly changing their lives, and positively impacting their families, dependents and the community.
If you would like to support the Green Mambas and our community development work, please consider making a donation below.