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PRESS RELEASE: Faith leaders gather in Nairobi to develop eco action plans helping millions in Africa

March 28, 2011:

AACC meeting, Nairobi

Faith leaders representing millions of Christian and Muslim followers in sub-Saharan Africa are meeting in Nairobi this week for a two-day conference on developing faith-based environmental action plans.

The meeting is organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a UK-based non-governmental organisation that works with all the major religions of the world to help them develop environmental plans based on their own beliefs, practices and teachings. It is a continuation of ARC's Long Term Commitments programme, started in a partnership with UNDP.

The Nairobi meeting is hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches, an ecumenical body representing more than 120 million Christians in 39 African countries.

ARC director Martin Palmer said: “Both Christianity and Islam have as a foundational belief that there is a Creater God. For too long, both faiths have over emphasised the centrality of humanity at the expense of the rest of God’s Creation.

"The way to the heart of Africa is through faith and faith will be the engine that changes the way Africa’s environment is managed by its own people" - ARC director Martin Palmer
“However, theological study of both the Bible and the Qu’ran over the last 15-20 years has revealed unequivocally that there is a scriptural mandate for both faiths to protect the richness of God’s Creation.

“Now, this rediscovery is leading to profound practical action – everything from restoring habitats and planting trees to reducing energy use and training the young in environmental care and protection.

“With 90 per cent of Africa’s population being either Christian or Muslim, it is perhaps surprising that it is only now that the major international NGOs and organisations are realising what we at ARC have known for decades – that the way to the heart of Africa is through faith and that faith will probably be the engine that changes the way Africa’s environment is managed by its own people

“This is a truly historic moment where faith, conservation and civil society meet and begin to change the world for the better.”

The Nairobi meeting begins tomorrow (Tuesday 29) and will focus on sustainable land and water management, with a particular emphasis on forestry, food, farming and education.

Delegates include Christian and Muslim faith leaders from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. They will be joined by two key Hindu observers; Hindus are present in 26 African countries.

Also present will be representatives of key secular agencies, including USAID, ICRAF World Agroforestry, Centre, TerrAfrica, UNEP's Billion Trees Campaign, the World Bank and the International Small Group and Tree Planting Protramme. Inspired by 31 faith groups that announced long-term action plans on the environment at ARC’s Windsor Celebration in November 2009, the Christian and Muslim faith leaders have committed to develop their own plans to support their communities, many of whom are already experiencing environmental crisis.

In Africa, adaption and mitigation are not just buzzwords but a matter of life and death. Climate change is predicted to deal a devastating blow to a continent already suffering more than its fair share of poverty and malnutrition.

For example, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent by 2020 in some African countries, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The faiths have a pivotal role to play in Africa, as landowners, educators and sustainers of community.

They are also some of the most influential voices on the continent, as the Kenyan Minister for Agriculture, Dr Wilson Songa, himself acknowledged at a meeting at the AACC last November when he admitted that farmers trust faith leaders more than the government.

Speaking at a conference on food security and advocacy, Dr Songa said: “Here in Kenya it is said that farmers trust most the Church, followed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers take the Church very seriously – you are the most trusted. Let me sincerely appreciate the role of church-based organisations.”

The Nairobi meeting has been made possible through funding from the Norwegian Government and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

It marks the beginning of USAID Africa’s engagement with ARC and is also part of a bigger programme of work on sustainable land and water management in Africa which ARC has been asked to undertake by the World Bank.

The involvement of two such key agencies indicates the growing recognition of the importance of working with the faiths to tackle environmental degradation and climate change, said Martin Palmer.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has released a White Paper, From Practice to Policy to Practice: Connecting Faith and Conservation in Africa.

ENDS

More information:

ARC director Martin Palmer is available for comment. Contact Susie Weldon in Nairobi on 00 254 (0)7322 62730 or ARC in the UK on +44 1225 758004

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