Jane Goodall on environmental activism and people-centred development

I began the work with chimpanzees in
1960, having spent most of each year with them, learning and studying and writing
papers… And then in 1986 – so the very first time we brought together the
different scientists who, by then, were studying chimpanzees in different parts of their range in Africa – and it was a was a very shocking experience, because
we had a session on conservation and in every single case, forests were
disappearing, chimpanzee numbers were plummeting… There was the beginning of
the bushmeat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food, there
was the invasion of foreign logging companies and mining companies – and there was also the catching of chimps and snares, the shooting of mothers to catch
babies for the live animal trade… And when I started working in Gombe, there
was no need to be a conservationist. There was nothing… It was
all there! It was after I began, it was in the 70’s that the real onslaught on the
natural world began in Africa. So when I began, I don’t think
environmentalism was even a concept. It came to a head when I flew over the tiny
Gombi National Park in 1990, in a small single-engine plane – and looked down. I
was utterly shocked to see a little island of forest surrounded by
completely bare hills. When I began in 1960, that little patch of forest was
part of an unbroken… We called it the Equatorial Forest Belt, stretching from
East Africa right to the West African coast… And as I looked down and realized there were more people living there than the land could support, too poor to buy
food from elsewhere, overused farmland, infertile soil, people struggling to
survive… That’s when I realised that if we didn’t do something to improve their
lives, we couldn’t even try to help the
chimpanzees. After this shock, flying over Gombe, I was
fortunate enough to meet a man called Georg Strunden – who’d worked for the
European Union for, I think, 15 years in agriculture – and so we sat down and
talked about what could be done and made a plan to help the villages around
Gombe, 12 of them, in a very holistic way. Instead of walking into the villages,
like so many well-meaning but unfortunate people giving aid, Georg
picked a team of local Tanzanians – there wasn’t even a PhD among them – but they’d all worked with NGO’s in forestry and education and health and so on… and
they went into the villages and they sat down with the elders and asked them what they thought we could do to make their lives better… And that’s where we started.
More food, which meant restoring fertility to the overused farmland,
better education, better health facilities… And the villagers came to
trust us, so we were able to introduce water management programs – and then what I sincerely believe has been the most important intervention: micro-credit
programs, particularly for women. So in these 12 villages, we set up these
micro-credit programs. It was for groups of five women – two men could join, they mostly didn’t, because they didn’t like to be outnumbered by women. The
women had to choose environmentally sustainable projects – that was the one
key, and if they succeeded, and they paid back the money, then they could take out
a bigger loan if they wished. At the same time, we were providing as many
scholarships as we could to keep girls in school after puberty – and to do that, it
meant that we had to find money to build hygienic latrines, offering some privacy
to the girls… and we also provided family planning. As this became so
successful – we moved out, so now we’re working in 52 villages – and we can affect, not just those around the tiny national park, but moving out into areas where
there’s still some remnants of groups… and down south, which is where most of Tanzania’s remaining 2,000 chimps are, outside any protected area. I think one of the magic things is – each
of the 52 villages has provided one or two, depending on the size of their
forest, men who trained to be forest monitors and they – even if they can’t
read and write – they learned to use smartphones and they go into bare
forests – and they’re very proud – and if they see an illegally cut tree, you know,
they press the button and they make a photograph, or if they see an animal trap,
or a cartridge on the ground, or on the other side, if they see a chimp
nest or a leopard, then all of this gets uploaded to this platform on the cloud –
Global Forest Watch – so everything’s transparent and the decision-makers in
the villages can no longer pretend they don’t know what’s going on in their
forest, so it’s made a huge difference and there’s no more bare hills… And they
have set aside a large area around Gombe to act as a buffer zone between the
chimps and the villages. The trees have come back there and we’re still working on corridors of forest to link the chimps of Gombe who
were completely isolated cut off. Last year we had the huge success, two females came in from outside, bringing much-needed genetic material with them – because there’s less than 100 chimps at Gombe. When I started, I was wanting to live
with the chimpanzees and learn about their behavior and write books about
them. I didn’t even want to be a scientist, because when I was growing up,
girls weren’t scientists – certainly not that kind of scientists, you know… You
were a nurse, or you were a teacher, or you were perhaps a missionary’s wife –
might be the closest you got to what I dreamed of, living with wild animals… And
I went to that conference, you know, I had my PhD by then. I was a scientist and I
left as an activist. When I left it, I dont remember even making a decision – it was just a change, and there was no asking myself “well can I bear to live in
this different way?” It was just something saying: “I don’t
know what you can do, but you’ve got to try and do something.” So one thing
led to another, and a person who was basically wanting to be out in nature
alone and very shy, has become the Jane Goodall of today…And you know, there are
times when you really feel – come on. How much longer can we keep on fighting? But then I remember I’ve got grandchildren, and I think – no. We have to go on. We just have to make a change.

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