Making environmental awareness trendy, the story of Mailes Zulu Muke
Efforts to create environmental advocacy to increase sustainable management of the earth’s eco-systems and natural resources have picked up momentum worldwide, over the past few years.
ZAMBIA: Efforts to create environmental advocacy to increase sustainable management of the earth’s eco-systems and natural resources have picked up momentum worldwide, over the past few years.
But support for environmental protection has been deeply rooted even in traditional African systems since time immemorial, where the continents’ forefathers observed sustainable utilization of natural resources as they understood that they needed to live in harmony with the environment to conserve it for the benefit of future generations.
But with time, and as civilization and population expansion became more prominent in recent decades, there has also been widespread activity such as industrialization thereby depleting the ozone layer, more agriculture and commercial activities leading to more trees being cut to give way for fields and infrastructure development respectively, thereby making the emissions of greenhouse gases even higher.
This has ignited increased worldwide environmental awareness efforts not only by men but also by women.
One such woman is Mailes Zulu Muke who started her environmental awareness journey in 2004 in Zambia, at a time environmental awareness efforts in that country were still insignificant.
Through The Save the Environment for People Agency SEPA, an organization that she founded, Ms. Muke engaged households in smaller groups within the communities in the North-Western Province of Zambia, particularly in Zambezi District, where the Zambezi River starts from.
The organization tackles a wide range of environmental and climate change issues in Zambezi District to date, although, through partners, awareness activities are carried out throughout Zambia and in other parts of the African Continent.
According to information supplied by SEPA, North Western Province in Zambia has a population of 727,044 out of which 368,903 are women while 358,141 are male. From 2001 to 2020, North-Western Province lost 470 hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 5.1% decrease in tree cover since 2000.
Coupled with the unsustainable utilization of the Zambezi River through overfishing among other activities by the communities surrounding the natural resource, the rate at which trees were being lost in the entire province was worrying.
The over-dependence on the Zambezi River by surrounding communities prompted Ms. Muke to create awareness on the dangers of overfishing as it could lead to the depletion of some fish species, or the cutting down of trees along the river bank for charcoal production which could disturb the rivers balance and cause an environmental catastrophe in the future.
“The Communities needed to be educated on how their behaviors could lead to catastrophic climate change effects. People required targeted climate change information and awareness failure to which these activities would continue, and restoring the forests would be difficult.” She said.
With assistance from the Global Environment Facility under the Small Grants Program in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme SGP/GEF/UNDP, Ms. Muke implemented the Protection of International Waters (Zambezi River), which involved the planting of 8,000 fruits trees and offering alternative means of livelihood for communities through the rearing of small livestock such as goats as well as fish farming.
Ms. Muke said, “I believe the environment should be protected for current and future generations. For me, passion comes first."
Having read and heard about scientists’ advice on the impending devastating effects of climate change which would be more severe in the future, Ms. Muke walked on foot for 14 years to educate the people on how to save the environment.
Through her efforts, Ms. Muke still engages authorities and key stakeholders in rural communities to be their ambassadors in protecting the environment.
From 2004 to date SEPA has planted over 3,000,000 million trees in communities along the Zambezi River and government offices elsewhere, in collaboration with 20 schools, private homes, and other partners.
When the two-year construction of the Chavuma-Zambezi Road connecting North-Western and Eastern Provinces was completed in 2013, Ms. Muke initiated a project to plant trees to replace those that were cut during the making of the road.
For SEPA, it was important to apply holistic approaches to sustainable management of forests so that the livelihood challenges that communities on the Zambezi River were having did not compromise the multi-national natural resource.
Ms. Muke’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in Zambezi District as the Irish Aid came through and donated a Land Cruiser to enable her to reach out to larger communities to sensitize them to save the environment.
Heightened activities that came as a result of the land cruiser inspired more people to come on board and more initiatives in the district were identified, prioritized, and supported by the Civil Society Environmental Fund for Six years.
Partners who have committed to support her works include the Finish Danish Embassy among others, resulting in the creation of a Civil Society Environmental Basket Fund.
In 2019, Ms. Muke championed the implementation of the project empowering youths with small livestock through piggery.
The Continuance Development Fund supported the project and today, the youths are selling their pigs instead of cutting down trees for charcoal.
In 2020, Ms. Muke successfully implemented a project called Women Land Rights and Natural Resources in the Extractive Industries sponsored by Irish Aid, to promote women's ownership of land for their survival.
This is the program that Ms. Muke has been working on from 2020 to date and the project continues to encourage Women’s participation in the Extractive industry by building capacity and empowering them with knowledge in good governance care of the environment.
Because of her hard work, Mailes is recognized by Central Government, supported through funding or asking her to give talks at local and international fora on environmental issues UN/COPS, AU, SADC Great Green Wall Initiative.
In addition, she was the first person to represent Zambia at UNEP governing board as an observer.
She participated in the formulation of the Gender climate change policy in Zambia, and other policies such as the mines act and many more globally.
In addition, she has been engaging with Traditional Leaders to take care of the Environment but also encouraging other CSOs in the country and abroad to champion environmental issues in the rural communities in Zambia.
Through her years of service in environmental circles, ms Muke has been recognized and awarded several times.
She was crowned a woman of distinction by private radio company Radio Phoenix- Zambia in 2010, Times of Zambia Woman in 2012, and was awarded the best community leader by Mwape Pear Awards of New York in the USA in 2019.
She was further recognized as a Woman that has contributed to African Innovative Sustainable Environment on the African Environment Day commemoration of Wangari Mathai Day in Sierra Leone in 2019.
With this among other achievements within the environmental circles, Ms. Muke’s story should inspire others that hard work pays off. And For Ms. Muke,
The hard work definitely paid off.