White River Workshop

It’s been a while since I got a real update up here because it’s been a busy couple weeks.

I was in Nelspruit, in South Africa, two weeks ago for the opening workshop and launch of the agro-forestry project. The workshop included all sorts of stakeholders – forestry company managers, government officials, agriculture and environment experts, people who work with TNS or other NGOs affiliated with the project, someone from USDA (where the funding is coming from), a gender consultant, tourism people… you can start to sense how many components this project is aiming to touch and also how broad the objectives are right. I guess it helps to give a better sense of how much of a need there is to really get going.

The workshop had the goal of bringing of these stakeholders together to begin to communicate and also to start to share our different visions of what a successful forestry industry project would look like in 20 years. Now, TNS does not plan to be managing this project for 20 years – but in 20 years, what do we WANT these communities to look like? The facilitator pointed out that we started by saying “A successful forestry industry will be _____ in 2030” and when we finished we were saying “Poverty will be lessened and community development will be further along in 2030 by a successful forestry industry.” He commented that it was interesting that we started off with the forestry industry as the objective and ended with development as the objective and forestry the means. This seems to make perfect sense to me though I do think it was worthwhile to facilitate that process and show how all of our thinking shapes this project. Also it’s always worthwhile to be clear about what we all think development means!

Generally the workshop was interesting but also the mixture of Portuguese and English was definitely a challenge for me. There was simultaneous translation available but when we were all moving around it wasn’t really easy to get to a pair of headphones. Anyway, it just meant that there were many more people whose names I didn’t quite catch or their positions… Though it was still very interesting to both hear people’s perspectives and also watch the different ways people present them!

At the end of the week we spent the afternoon at Kruger Park. Since many of forestry areas will also be in parts of the country that are protected as National Parks the goal was for people to see how a successful park is run and managed and then also to have some time in the park with animals. It was amazing. We were more rushed than the times I was in parks in Zambia – but I added rhino (white, I think) and cheetah to my list! The cheetah were two young ones just standing in the middle of the road with a little traffic jam of vehicles behind them. It was pretty incredible. Every time I’m in one of these game parks I’m blown away again by how amazing it is to be around these wild animals.

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