“Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent”: African Faith Leaders Launch Conservation Commitments

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Faiths guide and direct the way we think, behave, and live our lives. But the power of faith is not solely spiritual. Collectively, faith-related institutions own almost 8 percent of total habitable land surface and constitute the world’s third largest category of financial investors. Their determination to address climate change or to protect wildlife has enormous potential to influence the fate of natural spaces and species.  

With funding from USAID’s Biodiversity Analysis and Technical Support (BATS) program of the Bureau for Africa, the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group supports engagement with faith communities on conservation. Through this initiative, ABCG works with its members the Jane Goodall Institute and World Wildlife Fund-US, as well as the UK-based  Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

Imam Kasozi, Uganda at NNP
Immam Ibban Iddih Kasozi, Vice National Chairman of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly, enjoying God’s creation at Nairobi National Park (c) J.Morgan/ WWF

From 18-20 September 2012, ARC hosted the “Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent: African Faith Commitments for a Living Planet” conference during which faith groups from throughout sub-Saharan Africa launched their long-term plans for conservation. These plans are compiled in a volume of the same title. During the workshop, more than 100 participants gathered at the All Africa Conference of Churches Archbishop Desmond Tutu Ecumenical Centre for three days of celebrating the long-term conservation plans, as well as discussions of engaging faith communities, developing partnerships, sustainable agriculture, education, tree planting, the role of women, and illegal wildlife trade.

Celebration and storytelling were important components of the conference. Martin Palmer of ARC emphasized the importance of celebration in all faith traditions, and so the conference began with joyous recognition of the work and commitments of each faith group. Guest speakers included the President of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Acting Ambassador of Norway, the UNEP Africa Region Permanent Secretary and school children from Muslim and Christian eco-schools in Nairobi. Tree seedlings were blessed with Muslim, Christian and Hindu prayers and were presented to Kenyan leaders at the conference.

Faith leaders celebrate their commitments to conservation (c) N. Bailey /ABCG

The plans focus on faith-based responses to the issues of agriculture practice, sustainable use of land and water and education on the environment in faith schools. They include:

Tree planting and agroforestry are important parts of many faith plans. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania intends to set up 26 tree nurseries training over 200 women in tree nursery establishment, tree planting and agroforestry.

Many faiths have strong commitments to sustainable agriculture. One of these, the Abaja Ba Kristo (the Servants of Christ) agro-pastoral centre, run by a women’s religious congregation in Karongi Region, Rwanda, proposes expanding its farmer training in sustainable agriculture.

Water. sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects are also very important to many faith groups, as is environmental education from a faith perspective. ARC is working with the Kenyan Organization for Environmental Education and other faith groups to development an education for sustainable development toolkit for faith primary schools in Kenya that incorporates faith values, using eco-schools as a strategy for the curriculum of faith-based schools.

Islam, Christianity and African spirituality all have important ways of relating to the environment, and many faith groups have goals for education and community engagement. Mosques in Uganda are promoting Green Fridays – designated days for discussion and action on the environment. In addition, more than 10,000 Christian and Muslim congregations in Ghana will hold awareness creation workshops on environmental protection.

For more information on the faith commitments, click here: http://www.arcworld.org/projects.asp?projectID=563

Illegal Wildlife Trade
Hajjat prays
Christian, Muslim and Hindu faith leaders pray for protection of wildlife and park rangers at the site of the 1989 ivory burn at Nairobi National Park (c) J.Morgan/ WWF

With support from USAID through ABCG, WWF and ARC announced a first-ever partnership with faith leaders from across Africa to unite against the killing of endangered species caused by illegal wildlife trade. In an unprecedented move, 50 African religious representatives from different faiths and countries have come together to call for the end of illegal wildlife trade, which is annihilating the continent’s elephant and rhino populations.

WWF and ARC have worked with leaders from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and traditional faiths to align around the wildlife crisis facing Africa. We have held several meetings including a wildlife safari in Nairobi National Park to discuss the role of religion in Africa to halt the trade. The leaders gave a moving tribute to all of the wildlife exterminated due to the trade. They also prayed for the wellbeing of local communities and for the many hundreds of rangers that have lost their lives protecting wildlife across Africa.

Please visit www.abcg.org to learn more about our work. We are grateful to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Biodiversity Analysis and Technical Support (BATS) program for their support of these efforts. USAID logo


Natalie Bailey
Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group
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