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Environment case studies

All around the world groups are responding to environmental problems in a variety of ways

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Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Our environment – Footsteps 20

How to become more aware of environmental issues and develop sustainable ways of living

All around the world groups are responding to environmental problems in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples…

Bainings Community Eco–forestry Project

The extensive forest of Papua New Guinea provides many of the everyday needs of the people. It also supports some of the richest and most varied wildlife in the world. In the last 30 years, an important timber trade has developed. Nearly all the harvested timber is exported without processing. The huge forest resources are being logged at an alarming rate, particularly by Malaysian and Japanese loggers. Papua New Guinea is unusual in that most of the land is owned by the people as clans and tribes. These landowners receive some compensation for the timber removed, but the payments are small and the damage done is great and permanent.

The Bainings people live in the hill areas of north central New Britain. The Community Eco-forestry Project has set up an ecological trading company to encourage sustainable harvesting of the forest. The Project aims to…

  • increase awareness among local people of the wealth and diversity of the forest
  • improve the welfare of local people through environmentally sound methods of managing natural resources.

Some of the activities that local people are doing include…

  • surveying and mapping the vegetation and wildlife (see Community Action and the Environment page)setting up small village-based saw mills to selectively harvest forest trees for timber
  • marketing galip nuts and palm products
  • rehabilitating old subsistence garden plots with tree planting
  • butterfly farming for sale to collectors.

Community Action Groups, Western Uganda

Uganda, like many less developed countries, faces many environmental problems. Most of the population is concerned about these problems and will put effort into helping solve them, when possible.

I carried out a study in the western part of the country where I found communities had organised themselves in groups – mostly dominated by women and young people who are taking positive measures to prevent continued damage to their local environment. They are involved, for example, in…

  • Establishing tree nurseries to provide seedlings for woodlots and tree plantations to reduce the shortage of wood for fuel and other wood products.
  • Proper cultivation methods – contour ploughing when the area is hilly, strip cropping and bund cultivation – all of which help to prevent the loss of soil through erosion. They also mulch their gardens to reduce loss of water.
  • Sharing their concerns with the community and teaching them about environmental issues. They also give advice on environmental matters through workshops, seminars and conferences.

In this way these communities have tried their best to keep their environmental problems to an acceptable minimum. They are held back, however, by the economic status of the nation and the lack of organisation and properly trained technicians or environmentalists.

Beatrice Akoth

The Samitis of West Bengal, India

Women everywhere are local experts in cultivating subsistence and certain cash crops, identifying erosion problems and understanding the uses of forests and trees. They know whether the wood of each species is best for boiling water (a fast, hot fire), cooking beans (a slow, cool fire), firing bricks (a long, hot fire), curing tobacco or brewing beer. They know the medicinal properties of trees and whether they are resistant to termites.

In West Bengal, settlers and logging companies cleared forest areas, causing the loss not only of forests but also of soil fertility. The indigenous Santhal tribes were forced to migrate seasonally. Many people lost their land – especially women, who had fewer traditional rights to land. The women began forming samitis or groups to protest at these Government policies. Eventually they received support from various groups and were given eroded and abandoned land. They began to reclaim the land by replanting it with local plants used by the tassar silk worm. They developed other interests, including producing cups and plates from sal tree leaves, making ropes from grass, cultivating fodder for dairy cows and planting tree nurseries to establish new forests.

One samiti group member stated…

‘We have learned that actually it is the land that owns the people. We have worked hard to give the land a green cover, and in return it has clothed us with authority. We are advancing together. The journey has begun.’

Karlyn Eckman from Forests, Trees and People Newsletter

The Amazon Conservation Awareness Program

The continued destruction of the Amazon rain forests is just one example of environmental destruction seen all around the world. The forest soils keep their fertility for many hundreds of years. However, when the forest cover is removed, the soils do not hold their fertility for more than two years. If managed in a sustainable way, the Amazon Basin could provide more animal protein than from all the land now used for beef production.

The Amazon Conservation Awareness Program was set up by YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in Brazil, to help conserve the natural resources of the Amazon. It provides an education for people of all ages in understanding and conserving these resources. It is hoped that a large area of land in Rondonia, Brazil, can be established as a natural reserve. The area lies next to two tribal lands and the surrounding land is being claimed by settlers moving in from other areas. The reserve would therefore be very important as a ‘buffer zone’, standing between the traditional tribal way of life in the rain forest and the often destructive farming methods of the new settlers. It will protect the tribal people’s way of life from the direct effects of the settlers’ way of life. YWAM hope to use the area as an ‘extractive reserve’, where forest products such as timber, fruits, meat, firewood, oils, medicines and thatch, are harvested without damaging the forest.

An education centre has been built in the area, providing courses for new settlers, tribal peoples, schoolchildren, students and tourists. The subjects taught include agriculture, agroforestry and small industries – all helping to increase understanding of the environment. Young people will be trained as conservation patrol and advice officers.

YWAM hope the long term benefits will include…

  • improved employment
  • wise use of natural resources
  • preserving the traditional cultural practices
  • improved health and education
  • growth of Christian groups and churches
  • introduction of sustainable methods of agriculture
  • a population which is environmentally aware.

Les Batty

Eldoret Rural Development Programme, Kenya

All of us need to care for and protect our surroundings. According to God, the earth was created in such a way that mankind could get food without destroying the environment. We need to reflect on what has caused environmental problems in our areas and, if necessary, design new ways of farming and living which will help to restore our environment.

In our integrated rural development programme one of our priorities is the protection of the environment. We teach the subject of agroforestry at every meeting, lecture, discussion, workshop and seminar. During practical demonstrations we always make sure that a tree is planted to mark the occasion.

People need to be taught the importance of our environment. Involve the community from the beginning. Let them participate in sharing their concerns, planning and setting up environmental protection programmes. Avoid introducing ideas which threaten the source of food or money. Always try to introduce environmental protection that will eventually bring some kind of benefit to those involved – for example: forest products or food.

Since we began introducing the idea of agroforestry in 1987 we have seen the environment here improve as people combine growing crops with growing trees. People say that their crop production has increased for various reasons – mulching (from the leaves of trees), wind breaks, control of soil erosion, recycling of nutrients, etc.

We should all protect our environment because none of us is likely to avoid the effects if we destroy it.

Ezekiel Sitienei

Umudike College of Agriculture, South Eastern Nigeria

This college has set up an Environment Working Group of staff members. The group has set itself two main tasks…

  • To review all the courses taught and to increase and improve the teaching on environmental issues.
  • To examine all the activities at the college (on the farm, in the kitchens and hostels, in administration, in transport, etc) and to minimise their impact on the environment.

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