The group was founded in 2005 to provide a source of livelihood for widowed women, and to promote conservation education in the community, which borders Queen Elizabeth National Park. The project is witness to the wisdom in turning a hardship into an opportunity. Because of the village’s close proximity to the national park, wild animals frequently wander into the village and destroy crop gardens. Most notorious are the elephants, which the villagers sometimes poison and kill in retaliation for destroying their plants, hoping to make some money from the quick sale of ivory tusks. Park rangers have killed many of the village’s men while poaching inside the park, which only creates more widows left with the burden of looking after many children.

The Kataara group turned the reality of living so close to the elephants into an opportunity, by using their dung for the production of all manner of items that they sell. An elephant consumes about 250kgs of food every day, and produces in excess of 80kgs of dung per day, so there is never any shortage of dung to use. The group has also been granted access to the protected areas of the park to harvest elephant dung and supplement the dung that they collect around their village. Because elephants digest about only half of the food that they consume, their dung has a very high fiber content that is ideal for making paper.

The process of converting dung into paper is time and labour intensive, involving cleaning and heating of the dung and pounding it repeatedly with recycled newspapers, before screening and drying of the fibres for several hours. The dung from one elephant can produce up to 115 sheets of paper daily. Dung is also mixed with mud to make energy intensive cook stoves that require less firewood for cooking.

Located next to the women’s workshop is a showroom where visitors can take their pick from elephant dung paper gift bags, beads, greetings cards, post cards, necklaces and books, and cook stoves.

Beginning with only 10 members, the group now has over 50 members, focusing on two main activities; conservation and ecotourism, and construction and promotion of energy saving cook stoves and briquettes.

A success story

  • 25% of each sale goes to the member that made the item, 5% goes to support children that lost their parents to poaching, 20% is re-invested in on-going projects and the bulk 50% goes to the group’s saving and credit scheme that offers
  • The village is now a buzzing tourist centre, hosting visitors from all over the world who stop by to interact with the community and purchase souvenirs from the showroom
  • Fewer villagers venture into the park to hunt animals and the widows are better able to feed and send their children to school because the project gives community members an extra source of income to supplement what they make from subsistence farming.
  • The group has spawned several other groups including some for men that focus on making and selling the improved cook stoves.
  • The village’s carbon footprint has been substantially minimised because villagers that use the improved cook stoves require less firewood and therefore cut down fewer trees and encroach less on the national park land

Location – Kachwamba in Rubirizi District, bordering Queen Elizabeth National Park

Katara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group was the UNDP 2014 winner of the SEED Africa Award that rewards promising, innovative and locally led start-up social and environment enterprises in countries with developing and emerging economies.

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