Have you ever wondered that elephant dung can be reused by people? On my last visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park, i got to witness the women of Rubirizi of Uganda making a fortune out of it. It is such a rare thing to encounter the elephants roaming in a community but in an area like Katara, Kichwamba in the district of Rubirizi on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park; this is not a rare occurrence. Unlike the past when the communities would appear in lamentation of the elephants’ enormous destruction of their plantations, it is now a jovial mood if the elephant is seen passing by. Through an initiative named Katara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group, the efforts to utilize the elephant dung to contribute to sustainable development have started to yield fruits.
Initially, the elephants posed a threat to the community and the locals felt like killing them so as to get away with their ivory and compensate their destroyed crops despite its illegality. In fact, most of the family heads in the area were shoot-dead in the park while poaching and this created widows and orphans in the community. Initially the community would make paper along with other handicrafts like mats, trays, small bags, baskets, photo frames and beads from the raw materials extracted from the swamps, the park and the Banana stems. When some of these materials grew scarce such as banana stems because of its continued destruction by elephants, the community members had to devise other methods so as to keep the business going.
An International NGO named Worldwide Fund for Nature offered to train over 35 members in 2005 on how they can utilize the elephant dung to make paper. The results were amazing as the elephant dung could be put into use to produce paper which is then used to make beads, books, shopping bags, post cards, necklaces, arm bands and greeting card. These items have been of interest to the Uganda safari undertakers and are sold out a price of 5,000/= and above.
The community shares the outcomes of the project where the 25% is extended to the product maker, the 5% is extended to support the widows and orphans of the families whose heads lost their lives in the park as a result of illegal hunting, other 20% is ploughed back to the business while the 50% is extended to the local saving and credit scheme where the community members can secure loans of up to 5% interest per year and also earn dividends.
The members walk through the areas especially the gardens where the elephants are believed to have passed the previous night and then dung is collected. Uganda Wildlife Authority also extended a memorandum of Association outlining where the community can gather the dung. The dung is then cleaned by putting it in water where it is also heated for a count of four hours to dissolve the water. The already heated dung in then subjected to washing to get rid of dark colors after which it is put into a crushing machine to produce a soft material. The boiling and cleaning enables the members to remove all the non-fiber items including pebbles, mud, dirt and leaves remaining with fiber only. At 90 – 100 degrees Celsius boiling point, no bacteria is left to survive. The fibers are then mixed with other irregularly available materials like recycled paper such as newspapers in order to make the paper in the making strength and good bonding.
After the mixing, the process that follows is called screening and it is where the actual paper is made using the framed screen. Here, the mixture is poured in a large sink/basin filled with water submerging the framed screen. From here, the paper maker catches the sinking pulp fibers using the framed screen and then the fibers are spread manually across the entire surface evenly. This is followed by drying where the screen is pulled out the basin with water dripping through the screen and then the screen is placed up right to dry naturally by the sun something that takes about 7 – 8 hours depending on the sheet’s thickness. After drying, the outcome product is extracted from the screen and given to the group tailors to craft various items from it.
It should be noted that an elephant can produce around 70kgs of dung per day since it consumes 200 – 250kg of food and its dung do not have ad smell unlike it is sick. And since the elephants digest around 45% of the food consumed, the waste product contain great fiber which can easily translate into paper and surprisingly an elephant has the capacity to produce enough dung for 115 sheets of paper every day. You can visit such local communities on a tour in Rwanda and Uganda, one of the few countries that have embraced pro-poor tourism in Africa.