How can connectivity help support gorilla conservation and coffee farmers’ livelihoods?


How can connectivity help support gorilla conservation and coffee farmers’ livelihoods?

As you’re sipping your morning coffee – maybe in a little independent café in a big city – did you know that, thanks to a social enterprise in a rainforest in southwestern Uganda, you may be helping gorilla conservation in East Africa?

OK, so let’s start at the beginning.

Uganda has one of the last remaining populations of endangered mountain gorillas in the world. There are around a thousand in the wild, with half of these in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, southwestern Uganda. This area is covered by one of the country’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests and is a popular spot for tourists. Here they can go gorilla trekking, which brings in important income for the local communities living on its boundaries.

But the relationship between gorillas and the human communities is not always a happy one. With population pressure in already marginalised communities comes encroachment on habitats – both villagers going into the park for food and resources, as well as primates coming to feed on crops. Due to their close proximity, infectious diseases can pass between humans, gorillas and livestock, including Covid-19. Poaching for bushmeat in the park is also a problem, which escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic while the park was closed to the public. The potential for interaction between humans and gorillas increased, leading to disease transference.

So how can we help gorillas and humans coexist?

Just a 20-minute walk from the gorilla trekking start point at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is the gorilla health and community conservation centre of not-for-profit, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). The organisation was founded in 2002 by award-winning Ugandan conservationist and vet, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka. She recognised that for human and gorilla populations to coexist successfully, primary healthcare needed to improve. So for the past 20 years, CTPH has been running a series of projects working with both gorilla and human communities, including gorilla health monitoring, youth engagement and participation of women in activities.

But what’s that got to do with coffee?

Many farmers living adjacent to the forest grow coffee, but Dr Gladys and her team discovered that they weren’t getting a fair price for their produce. Other than coffee farming and tourism, there are few livelihood opportunities for these marginalised groups. And without a fair price for their coffee crop, this impacted on their ability to support their families and access healthcare and other social services. Many resorted to taking food and wood for fuel from the national park, thus increasing the risk of disease transference to gorilla populations.

And so in 2015 Gorilla Conservation Coffee was born. This social enterprise enables coffee farmers to have a viable livelihood through access to the markets. And because the farmers are earning a better living, their need to enter the forest for food and firewood is reduced, resulting in reduced threats to gorillas and their habitats.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee pays farmers living around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest $0.50 per kilo above the market price. For each kilo sold by the enterprise, $1.50 is donated to CTPH’s work supporting gorillas and the communities living nearby. They currently work with around 550 farmers, one third of whom are women. It should be noted that the involvement of women is crucial – often they are excluded from formal income generation and economic opportunities yet hold responsibility for the basic needs of their households.

But help for the coffee farmers does not stop there. The project also offers training in sustainable coffee farming and processing, which improves quality and increases yields. And it’s paid off. In 2018, the coffee was ranked in the top 30 in the world in the coffee-buying guide, Coffee Review (

One of the places you can buy the coffee is a hotel and NGO for women who have suffered domestic violence – Ride 4 a Woman in Buhoma, Bwindi. In addition to selling coffee and providing accommodation, the women also make crafts to sell to tourists, giving them with an income, whereas previously some had been making ends meet by burning charcoal or taking bushmeat from the forest. With this project, they now appreciate the benefit of tourism – they gain employment plus recognise that protecting the gorillas and working with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is beneficial to them and their livelihoods. And when there are no tourists, they can still earn a revenue from the coffee.

How does connectivity help?

If you were to discover that Sir Tim Berners-Lee visited a telecentre in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park ran jointly by CTPH and UWA, then you’ll realise how seriously they take connectivity and the opportunities that arise from access to the internet. The telecentre, opened in 2007, offered a community portal in the local language, links with schools in the community and the USA, and web and IT skills training to the community (it is interesting to note that more than 40% of community members trained in computer literacy were women). A couple of years prior to this, a similar centre had been opened in Bwindi.

In 2007, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, sent the first official email from the QENP Telecentre.

In 2022, the telecentre at Queen Elizabeth National Park – at Queen’s Pavilion Crater Drive Gate – remains open as an UWA Visitor Information Centre/CTPH Telecentre for tourists to use as an internet café if required. But with the abundance of smartphones, the telecentre in Bwindi is no longer necessary. However, the need for connectivity and accessibility is still very much a feature of Gorilla Conservation Coffee’s model.

It’s important to the social enterprise that the coffee is ‘traceable’ in order to shore up the sustainable brand narrative, and then to be able to share that to a wide audience. After all, that’s what makes them so special. Creating this brand awareness is key to the success of the coffee and by default the livelihoods of the communities (both human and primate). Extensive use of social media platforms and podcasting, for example, are part of the coverage, targeting tourists and potential partners. Tourists get to hear about the coffee story, then may book both a ‘coffee safari’ (meeting the coffee farmers and learning how it is grown and processed) and a gorilla trekking experience at CTPH.

With connectivity and the abundance of smartphones comes other advantages to the community. Smallholder farmers can pay school fees online. Tourists can scan QR codes to buy fresh produce which can then be sent to their home addresses to arrive when they return from their travels. The incredible experiences of gorilla trekking and meeting the coffee farmers can be shared on social media. And farmers can see their coffee being sold and consumed far beyond the boundaries of their farms and locality.

This ‘giveback’ model covers all the bases – gorillas, humans and the health of both. But you don’t even have to visit the gorillas in Uganda to take part, you can buy the coffee! The beauty of this model is that it could also work anywhere in the world where there are gorillas (eastern and western lowland gorillas, for example), chimpanzees or other species that coexist alongside cultivated land.

As can be seen here, reliable access to the internet can have significant impacts, way beyond what you might imagine. And this is why World Mobile continues on its mission to connect the unconnected.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the World Mobile ecosystem and our mission, check out the links below:

Dr. Gladys wins the 2022 Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize!

We are so pleased to share the exciting news that our very own Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health and Gorilla Conservation Coffee, is one of three winners of the 2022 Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize!

The Prize is awarded annually to outstanding leaders from any country and any discipline; leaders who not only have a substantial track record of accomplishment, but are also likely to continue to make extraordinary contributions to human welfare.

In a press release issued on Wednesday this week, Dr. Gladys was announced among the 3 winners for her persistent, innovative leadership in developing new approaches to human/wildlife interaction at a time when the danger of zoonotic diseases is rising worldwide.


“I am truly honored and humbled to be a recipient of this year’s leadership prize.”
Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka

The other winners include Yevgenia Albats, a Russian investigative journalist and Sam Muller, a jurist in Netherlands. Read more about the prize and this year’s winners here.

“Converging crises are challenging all our societies.  If we ever needed great leadership, it is now,” said Mr. Alan Stoga, the Tällberg Foundation’s Chairman.  “What these three extraordinary individuals—working in dramatically different contexts on different kinds of problems—demonstrate is the power of courageous, creative, persistent leadership.”

“What do a journalist, a veterinarian and a jurist have in common?  Great leadership skills and the willingness to challenge the status quo with innovation and energy. The world needs as much of that as we can find,” concluded Mr. Stoga.

Join the virtual celebration of the 2022 Tällberg-SNF-Eliasson Global Leadership Prize winners on December 13, 6:00 PM EAT/ 10:00 AM EST. The virtual event will combine interviews with the winners, a roundtable conversation about leadership, and interactions with the audience. Register here to join.
Thank you very much for all your great support to our work.

Gorilla-strength coffee?

An extraordinary wildlife vet in Uganda has come up with a scheme that not only helps
endangered gorilla populations in the country, but also coffee farmers and other members
of the communities that live around their habitat. Report by Jack Dutton.

Coffee Conserving Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi -NDEGE NEWS

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, best known for its Mountain Gorillas, with just under half of the World’s estimated 1063 remaining endangered Mountain Gorillas, is also home to Gorilla Conservation Coffee, Uganda’s only premium and specialty coffee expressly created to protect the magnificent Mountain Gorillas.

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka – Science and Innovation Laureate 2021


It might have been the neighbor’s monkey which came downstairs to join her for piano lessons, or the wildlife club that she started in primary school in Kampala, Uganda. But from a very early age, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, this year’s Champion of the Earth for Science and Innovation, knew she wanted to work with animals.

“Basically, pets were my first friends,” said Kalema-Zikusoka, a wildlife veterinarian by training who would go on to spend three decades helping to safeguard some of the world’s rarest primates, including endangered mountain gorillas. Much of her work has been in impoverished East African communities that border protected areas, where she has helped improve healthcare and create economic opportunities, turning many locals into partners in conservation.

“Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a pioneer in community-led wildlife conservation,” said Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “In many places, economic pressures can cause friction between humans and animals. But her work has shown how conflict can be overcome when local communities take the lead in protecting the nature and wildlife around them, creating benefits for all species.”

Supported by her family, Kalema-Zikusoka embarked on a global educational adventure, earning degrees in Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States. In her early 20s, she returned to Uganda for an internship in, what would eventually become the locus of her future work, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park located in the country’s remote and impoverished southwest.

It was the beginning of gorilla tourism in Bwindi and Kalema-Zikusoka, then a young vet student, found that conservation wasn’t a simple process. “There were people focused on tourism and on community conservation,” she recalled. “There were wardens and rangers and the Peace Corps and lodges and by the end of my time there, I understood how complex tourism and conservation were.”

Kalema-Zikusoka would become the first-ever wildlife veterinarian for the Uganda Wildlife Authority. There, she began to apply what was a new approach to working for wildlife – one that centred on improving lives and livelihoods in the remote villages that surrounded Bwindi.

“(That allows) humans to enjoy a better quality of life and be more positive about conservation. When you show people that you care about them and about their health and well-being, you help them better co-exist with wildlife.”

That would become the guiding principle behind the organization that Kalema-Zikusoka founded nearly 20 years ago: Conservation Through Public Health. It has expanded its model of village health to protected areas near Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as to two non-protected areas of Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda. In addition to promoting hygiene and good sanitation practices, the teams also support family planning.

Appreciating the interplay between humans and wildlife, and the spread of zoonotic diseases between the two populations, was critical for Kalema-Zikusoka as she took on a greater role in providing guidance to the Ugandan government’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Global lockdowns hobbled the tourism industry in Uganda’s southwest, forcing some to return to one particularly problematic vocation: poaching. That threatened painstaking advances made in restoring Bwindi’s mountain gorilla population, whose numbers have steadily increased to more than 400.

This represents nearly half of the population of the endangered species still living in the wild.

Conservation Through Public Health provided fast-growing crops to families, allowing them to at least grow enough food to feed themselves. They also left the community with an important message. “We told them, you have to continue to protect wildlife because it’s helped you this much. This is your future.”

Conflict between people and animals is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most iconic species, according to a recent report from World Wide Fund for Nature and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). In many countries like Uganda, the conflict, coupled with health risks of COVID-19 has further imperiled endangered species.

Kalema-Zikusoka worked with national park staff to encourage visitors and rangers to wear masks, not just to prevent transmission amongst themselves of COVID-19, but also to protect the gorillas, who can be infected by human-borne pathogens. That work would evolve into protocols designed to limit the spread of zoonotic diseases – contagions that jump between humans and animals – and training for local health workers designed to combat COVID-19. Now 21 countries in Africa – including the 13 states that are home to dwindling populations of great apes – have signed on to the guidelines.

“We are really adapting the model of preventing zoonotic disease to COVID-19 prevention,” said Kalema-Zikusoka. Conservation Through Public Health also looks at ways to diversify income streams for local communities sharing space with wildlife. The organization’s latest project is Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a social enterprise. Staff teach farmers near Bwindi how to grow top-notch coffee beans while conserving water and using organic fertilizers. “We are now working towards impact investment,” said Kalema-Zikusoka. “It’s all about the importance of sustainable financing for conservation.”

Recognized globally for her work, Kalema-Zikusoka, says that she hopes she will inspire young Africans to choose careers in conservation. “There is a lack of local representation among conservationists. Not many are from the places where endangered animals are found,” she said. “We need more local champions, because these are the people who will become decision-makers for their communities and countries.”


The United Nations Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth and the Young Champions of the Earth recognize individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have a transformative impact on the environment. Presented annually, the Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honour.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Visit to learn more.

We need more local champions, because these are the people who will become decision-makers for their communities and countries