On the top of Africa

If you've ever fancied ticking the highest peak in Africa - Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro - off on your bucket list, pick up some tips here from those who've gone before.

At Health24 we're all for travel that's good for you and the planet, so when we heard Woolworths was sending a team to bag the highest peak in Africa – not just for larks but for the environment – we wanted to know more.

The Sands of Kilimanjaro?
“As wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun” is how Ernest Hemingway described the famous summit in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, but this shining image could soon be consigned to history. The mountain's ice cap is rapidly shrinking, most likely a victim of a complex combination of deforestation of its slopes, and climate change.

The aesthetic degradation of the peak could negatively affect tourism to the area, but the loss of the glacier as a water source is even more serious.

Woolworths says the aim of the expedition earlier this year was “to help raise awareness about climate change and the effect that the melting ice glacier is having on coffee farmers in Tanzania, the very farmers who grow the organic coffee Woolworths sells.”

Woolworths’ Sustainability Manager Justin Smith, who was part of the Kilimanjaro summit team, fielded a few questions from us just before leaving for Tanzania:

Q: There's growing criticism of environmental ‘awareness-raising’ events, especially those in far-flung locations that require consumption of jet fuel and other resources: some feel these don't make enough of a real difference to justify the input they require. How would you respond to such a challenge as regards this expedition? How does it go beyond awareness-raising, to concrete action?

This expedition started out through the development of a relationship with our coffee farmers on the slopes of Kilmanjaro, in particular in assisting them to set up a coffee shop in Moshe Town as a growth point for their business. Working with these farmers, the Woolworths team learnt how dependent they are on water from the Kilimanjaro glacier for the their shade-grown coffee, and how the melting glacier may affect their future livelihoods. As a result, we felt strongly that we wanted to highlight the impacts of climate change on this iconic African landmark as well as on our farmer-partners.

The travel emissions from the trip are being offset through a community tree planting programme, and Woolworths has done significant work to reduce energy usage and transport emissions in its own operations, as well as influencing its suppliers to do the same.

Q: How can consumers use choice and buying power to help the cause?

They can do this by getting their daily fix of Woolworths organic coffee, which provides direct benefits back to the farmers who grow the coffee. More broadly, by supporting organic farming for future products at Woolworths.

Q: What kind of physical training did the Kili team need to do?

The team did a lot of hiking, which was a bit easier for the Cape-Town based members of the team as there are so many fantastic hiking trails nearby.

Q: We like to encourage healthier, eco-friendlier travel options, and many readers will be interested in attempting Kilimanjaro themselves. How can they best do this responsibly, and promote sustainability and conservation in the area?

I would suggest booking the expedition with a tour operator that has a sound environmental policy, and one that is creating substantial local employment.

– Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated October 2011

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