Earth Month 2024: A Climate-Smart Future

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Honouring Earth Day by Advancing Women’s Leadership

An Akashinga staff member holds a plastic bottle that was used as a flotation device for the tonnes of homemade fishing nets that fishermen lay along Lake Kariba’s 1000 km shoreline in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Davina Jogi)

This April 22, Earth Day 2024 rallied behind the theme Planet vs. Plastics, with a call for a 60% reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040.

The shores of Lake Kariba, on Zimbabwe’s northern boundary, are littered with the detritus of the legal and illegal fishing industries; long discarded monofilament fishing line tangled up in weeds, plastic bottles, and marine waste have accumulated over many years. While Akashinga Rangers at Songo Camp work with local communities to clean up the waste and recover kilometres of illegal fishing line, the impact of plastic on landscapes and ecosystems may not always be clear from the outset.

Ultimately, plastic pollution is a climate and human health issue. At Lake Kariba, where waste is left to degrade in the environment, plastic may be ingested by wildlife, while microplastics and the toxic chemicals they produce may enter the food chain. Plastic pollution also threatens livelihoods by impacting the tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industries.

What is clear is that women in these communities often feel the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss more keenly than men. Women face disproportionately higher health challenges – microplastics have even been found in the placenta of newborn babies. Women are also less able to migrate from such remote areas when faced with economic and climate challenges due to caregiving obligations, lack of financial assets, and lower educational standards.

In the conservation industry, men outnumber women 100:1; consequently, women have been excluded from decisions that affect their wellbeing. Akashinga is working to change this by broadening our focus from the protection of animals to restoring biodiversity, protecting the ecosystem, and creating leadership development pathways for women.

A child carries discarded fishing nets and other rubbish during a community clean up organised by Akashinga in the fishing villages along the shoreline of Lake Kariba. (Photo: Akashinga)

In a recent virtual conversation hosted by Beth Novogratz, Founder and President of Species Unite, Akashinga Rangers Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto and Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura explore the significance of empowering women in leadership roles within local communities and fostering the growth of future female conservationists.

Whether it be tackling plastics or poaching, Akashinga strives to involve people in the protection of our planet. As Nyaradzo speaks about the opportunities she has accessed through her training, education and networking as an Akashinga ambassador, she emphasises that her cohort of female leaders are now inspiring a whole new generation of women rangers.

In honour of Earth Day 2024, listen to the conversation and hear Nyaradzo’s challenge for all women around the world to take the floor and get involved in the climate change discussion, “You can build a better future…you can change your future.”

LEAD Ranger Runs Field Ranger Selection in Zimbabwe
Hopeful Akashinga candidates perform an endurance run during a selection course held at Phundundu, near Nyamakate, Zimbabwe. (Photo: Akashinga)

Selection and training to become an Akashinga Ranger is a highly competitive process that puts candidates through physical and mental extremes to test a person’s character, spirit, and readiness for enduring the frontlines of conservation. “That’s why we get the name The Brave Ones,” says Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura, “because we survived all that.”

As Akashinga expands its operations, this March and April, 200 applicants across Zimbabwe’s Binga and Hurungwe districts were pre-selected for their own chance at earning the moniker. An initial series of interviews, medicals, and basic physical tests quickly narrowed candidates down to 44 and 16 applicants at Phundundu and Songo respectively, and in April, the LEAD Ranger team arrived to support Akashinga staff with running a 5-day selection course.

For four days candidates were presented a series of physical tests, from 8 km timed runs to daily push-ups, pull-ups, and endurance walks carrying 15 kg packs, substitute rifles, and two litres of water. They also had to keep up with lessons including first aid, drill, and knot-tying, despite interrupted nights that included being woken every two hours to carry out various tasks. Blessing Chirombe, Head of the LEAD Academy at Phundundu, explains that the intention is to observe individuals’ responses to physical hardship and determine their attitude to relevant job tasks and authority structures as well as their aptitude for teamwork and leadership.

This was further explored on the final day of assessments and interviews in front of a panel whose questions gauged skills and field knowledge, willingness to learn, work experience, and respect for the bush.

At the end of the course, 15 candidates from Phundundu and 5 candidates from Songo were selected for three months of ranger training to start at the end of April. They will be joined by two female Hurungwe Rural District Council (HRDC) rangers who also passed selection, as Akashinga prioritizes its partnerships with other local conservation stakeholders.

Overall, LEAD Ranger Head Instructor, Ruben de Kok, who has carried out hundreds of selections across Africa, was impressed by the calibre and “toughness” of women on the course, who not only compared favourably with male candidates but were some of the strongest contenders he has ever witnessed.

Deputy Ranger Supervisor Petronella Chigumbura featured in Vital Voices Exhibit at United Nations
Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura, Akashinga Deputy Ranger Supervisor, as depicted in the Vital Voices exhibition by artist Erin K Robinson (left) and in the field during a night operation at Phundundu (Photo: Davina Jogi)

To honour Women’s History Month in March, Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization dedicated to empowering women leaders worldwide, hosted an Art Exhibit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

With support from the UN Office of Partnerships, the Portraits of Progress: Women Powering the Global Goals exhibit highlighted the need to invest more deeply in women change makers who are key to solving the world’s greatest challenges. The interactive storytelling exhibition inside the U.N. Visitor’s Gallery featured portraits and first-person recordings of women leaders from around the world who are driving creative solutions that collectively advance 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As Akashinga works to respond to 15 of the 17 SDGs, Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura was chosen to represent Goal 15: Life of Land and had her portrait painted by artist Erin K. Robinson.

Sergeant Chigumbura shares how she is addressing the SDG she represents:

“I don’t want to see any cruelty inflicted on any animal. It pierces my heart. It’s my top priority to save wildlife. If we don’t catch poachers, nothing will be left for the next generation. Whenever we make an arrest, I feel that the animals are being defended and getting justice. Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.

Educating the community on how important wildlife and nature is can be a great step toward saving more animals. Supporting community members with different projects, since most poachers are driven by poverty and hunger, can help them sustain their families. Incorporating modern, technologically advanced equipment to monitor wildlife movement and a poacher's actions will also help rangers save more animals.”

All the Vital Voices Portraits of Progress can be viewed here.

Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto Represents Akashinga at 2024 Skoll World Forum
Akashinga Biodiversity Officer, Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto, at the Skoll World Forum. (Photo: Akashinga)

The Skoll Foundation invests in, connects, and champions social entrepreneurs and innovators to advance bold and equitable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. At its annual gathering, held this year in Oxford, UK from April 9 – 12, some of the world’s most influential thought leaders came together to exchange ideas for a better world.

At the start of the week, Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto represented Akashinga as a panelist at The Sidebar's Climate and Environment event. She led the discussion, alongside David McNair (Executive Director, The One Campaign) and two other panelists, Estherloy Katali (Managing Director, African Community Centre for Social Responsibility (ACCESS)) and Liby Thomas (Executive Director, Gram Vikas).

During this pivotal event, Sergeant Hoto participated in a vital conversation focused on innovative solutions and actionable strategies for a sustainable future. The discussion centred on the idea of a 2% plan for people and planet, or as McNair explains in this article, “the idea that governments should spend 2 percent of GDP on 'People and Planet': investments that protect the environment and contribute to human development.”

“By attending the Skoll World forum I was provided with an invaluable opportunity for networking, learning and collaboration,” reports Sergeant Hoto. “I also gained insights into innovative approaches to social change and had the chance to explore new ideas, partnerships, and strategies to address complex issues such as poverty, environmental sustainability, healthcare and climate change. I have been empowered to become more effective agent of positive change in my respective field as a biodiversity officer.”

Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto representing Akashinga as a panelist at The Sidebar's Climate and Environment event. (Photo: Akashinga)
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