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Women, youth and researchers integrate to tackle water scarcity in Matatiele

In this article by Joris Tielens, the researchers from the Water-Energy-Food Nexus governance for social justice project worked together with residents and local youths known as "ecochamps" to identify solutions concerning clean water, energy and food. These ecochamps were youthful members of the community who had been working for a local NGO known as Environmental and Rural Solutions. The ecochamps and residents played a pivotal role in the research. They were involved in conducting surveys as well as result and information generation and dissemination for knowledge utilization generated from the project. One of the ecochamps, Nkarabeleng Matabane, indicated that the research empowered the residents and improved their agency in identifying and solving their problems. Saul Ngarava, one of the co-investigators, highlighted that the ecochamps were particularly unique in that they come from the community and act as a conduit in identifying community problems and solutions. Some of the solutions have involved cutting down wattle, a tree invasive species, which has reduced ground water which is a major source of water. Ecosystems services such as fences and firewood energy have also been realized from clearing the wattle, including grazing land regeneration. Other environmental protection activities such as use of reusable diapers has also been promoted through the project.

The project PI, Marjenneke Vigje, reiterated that one of the objectives of the project was to empower young people and women in management of water, energy and food, and therefore contribute to social justice. Such an approach was also essential in reducing the cultural and social shocks between the researchers and the community. Thus, the ecochamps were trained in every stage of the research and were also instrumental in coming up with implementable solutions.

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