Batwa Tea Project
At East African Discovery we donate part of our profits to community projects, close to where we are based near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our latest project is supplying tea to the Batwa, to provide a sustainable, long-lasting income to the community.
For those who don’t know, the Batwa are a pygmy tribe, indigenous to the forests of Bwindi. After Bwindi was gazetted for conservation in the ’90s, the Batwa were forced out of their ancestral home. Whilst this was the right choice to protect the forest and the wildlife it supports, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas, the Batwa, traditionally hunter-gatherers, have struggled to adapt to life outside of the park ever since.
We have tried several projects over the past few years, including supplying goats for breeding, mattresses, family planning and financial planning education, with mixed success. We have found it difficult to find something that the Batwa engage in and is sustainable. Often, if we supply them with something that can be sold, it will be sold at a reduced price for a quick profit and they are reluctant to participate in education projects, when they had a steady stream of donations made by tourists.
The Batwa where gifted land after the park was gazetted, but unfortunately, they do not have the knowledge of how to use the land effectively.
Over the past couple of years, we have been supplying vegetable seedlings and teaching the Batwa how to grow and harvest their own food. This has been of great benefit to the community and has helped us build trust.
The Batwa are often reliant on donations by tourists for cash, but during the pandemic this income stream obviously stopped as the borders were closed. The Batwa really struggled to get by during this time, which has made them realise the importance of diversifying.
Tea is the best and most established cash crop in the area, so it makes perfect sense for us to invest in this and the Batwa were extremely receptive to the idea. They already had the land they weren’t using; we just had to supply the seedlings and hire a couple of local tea growers to teach them how to plant, maintain and harvest the tea.
Tea can be harvested every 2 weeks so there is little need to financially plan and there is also an established infrastructure in the area for selling the tea. We planted 2000 seedlings as a trial, and it has gone great so far. The plants are growing well and the Batwa are maintaining them. We plan to expand the number of plants in the next planting season.
What was special to see was that one of the Batwa members brought a chicken round to our office to say thank y
ou for the work that we have done. After many years of trying and failing with various projects, it finally feels like we have built a relationship where we can make a real difference in the Batwa community, and we are excited about how we can continue this relationship and development going forward.
Ben is the managing director of East African Discovery. He first came to Uganda in 2013 as a volunteer, working on various conservation and community projects. He has spent the years since becoming a tourism expert in the area and continued his conservation and community work through EAD.