Villas&Golfe Angola
· Environment · · T. Maria Cruz · P. Rights Reserved

Fernanda Renée Samuel

«The subject of Environmental Education urgently needs to be introduced at all levels of education»

PMmedia Adv.
She scarcely draws a line between work and leisure. Much of her toil is carried out in the field, at the beach, together with OTCHIVA volunteers and fishing communities and researchers. Environmentalist Fernanda Renée has fun while she works, as «most of my friends and family are with me on the wetland restoration and conservation programmes, and in particular mangroves». The impact of climate change has been Renée's focus. She enjoys reading, which inevitably leads her to more specialist reading on environmental issues, and in moments of reflection, she chooses walks along the beach, while watching flamingos and other migratory birds. She portrays herself as «daughter of the sea and worker of the sea». Meet the youngest member of the Council of the Republic, who lives and breathes the concerns of the environment like no one else. 

You are one of the global names when it comes to the defence of the environment. How do you feel to be among these leading names and how important is the environment for you?
First, I feel blessed to have made the right choices with the help of people with a lot of wisdom and good faith. While I was an official at the Ministry of Environment, I had the opportunity to take part in working sessions at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, where I met the Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Economy and Sustainable Development, Josefa Sacko, an Angolan with great vision, who told me that the future of the continent involves preserving its rich biodiversity and that this will only be possible if we educate the younger generations. Another great boost that allowed our work to be known and recognised was the selfless commitment of journalists, such as Alves Fernandes, Álvaro Vitória and others, who have become members of the great family of volunteers and organised all the national and international media, knocking on doors and lobbying for the cause of OTCHIVA. Thanks to them, the national authorities became aware of the essence and size of our work and some entities got involved wholeheartedly, such as former Vice-President of the Republic, Dr Bornito de Sousa; former Minister of Fisheries, Dr Antonieta Baptista; Chief of the General Staff of the FAA, General João Santana, «Lungu»; President of the Police Women’s Network, Chief Commissioner Elisabeth Ranque Franque, «Bety»; as well as several accredited ambassadors in Angola and representatives of the United Nations agencies. But I have to say that the greatest support has always come from the volunteers and the communities, who are the true guardians of the mangroves. So, I feel encouraged and committed to this cause. Now it is no longer just Fernanda Renée, but the whole of Angola, since the nation’s Highest Representative, President João Lourenço, has put environmental problems, protection of the coastline, conservation of species and the energy transition at the centre of the government’s priorities. 

The mangrove ecosystem is one of Angola’s pearls. 
I learnt very early on that mangrove ecosystems are the nursery for about 80% of marine life; this is where fish, crustaceans and molluscs reproduce; mangroves also represent natural barriers against strong waves, typhoons, tsunamis and other natural disasters; they also act as a barrier to stop solid waste washed up on beaches by rainwater. Today, science confirms that mangroves can absorb five times more carbon dioxide (CO2) than mainland forests. Therefore, my professional world and the world of leisure are intertwined and constitute a world of hard work, knowledge and entertainment, but without losing focus.

Was there any particular reason why you did not go into Production Engineering for Petroleum Exploration and Production and made the environment the focus of your life?
I didn’t actually get to work in the oil industry, although I did a curricular internship at the end of my studies. But today the whole world is increasingly aware that saving the planet requires drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels. And, in addition to the commitments made by the government, based on UN recommendations, it is encouraging to note that it is the Oil & Gas multinationals that are most committed to the production of clean energies, with particular emphasis on wind energy and solar or photovoltaic energy, as well as biofuels and green hydrogen.

«The whole world is becoming increasingly aware that saving the planet involves drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels»

You have won several awards. What was the award that affected you most? 
The first was from Odebrecht, on The Contribution of Engineering to Sustainable Development. I had just graduated and my monograph was immediately awarded, what made a deep impression on me. Other awards followed: in February 2020, during the African Environment Day celebrations in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I was awarded the African Union’s Diploma of Merit. At the end of the same year, UNESCO joined the African Union to distinguish several Angolan and foreign personalities and institutions that have supported OTCHIVA’s efforts. I was also a finalist in the UN Young Champions of the Earth Awards and in the Earth Prize, promoted by Prince Harry. Now, the World Young Champion Award for Wetlands Conservation, which I won recently in Geneva, Switzerland, is very special because, besides being one of the highest distinctions awarded by the Ramsar Convention – an institution of the United Nations Organisation –, it has the characteristic of engaging our country. For this reason, we must all work together, government, civil society, private sector and communities, because in terms of wetland conservation, the world expects much more from Angola. 

Your work has been recognized by the UN. Did you ever imagine being at this level at such a young age?
I and the other members of OTCHIVA are dreamers, but we learnt very early on that only through hard work could we achieve our dreams. I never dreamt of awards or newspaper covers, but I always believed that we wouldn’t be alone all our lives crying out in the wilderness. I knew that someday our voice would be heard and our message understood. That’s why we are an open organisation, without formalities, everybody can take part in our campaigns: students, professionals from any field, military personnel, police officers, firemen, entire families... In short, we have no limitations for anyone who wants to join us in cleaning up beaches, reforesting mangroves, reporting predators who dump rubble and rubbish on beaches. Above all else, we have a very serious commitment to the communities, because the mangroves are their main source of livelihood, and the members of the fishing communities, once supported and empowered, become the main protectors of the mangroves. Our work also contributes to reducing hunger and poverty and increasing the income of families who make their living from fishing and especially from harvesting crustaceans and molluscs. 

As Angola is rich in flora and fauna, how can we make people aware that it is necessary to take care of the ecosystem?
We need to adopt assertive public policies with appropriate legislation. From basic sanitation to reinforcing surveillance, both on the coast and in inland forests. With so many young people unemployed, Angola could form a real army to save mother nature, with thousands of environmental inspectors, young men and women, well trained and qualified to prevent and combat poaching, indiscriminate tree felling, fires, soil and river pollution and trafficking in protected species. But firstly, appropriate legislation with heavy fines must be passed. The subject of Environmental Education urgently needs to be introduced at all levels of education, from pre-school to university. And it is also important to improve local development and anti-poverty programmes, bearing in mind that poverty and ignorance are enemies of the environment.

«With so many young people unemployed, Angola could form a real army to save mother nature»

There is much talk about the presence of waste in the ocean, massive deforestation, pollution... In your eyes, how will we find the ecosystem in 20 years’ time, for example, if no action is taken now?
It is estimated that there are currently more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans. That’s the equivalent of a rubbish truck full of plastic being dumped into the sea every minute. And these figures are from before 2020. That means that if nothing is done, by 2024, the amount of plastic in the oceans could triple. 

You are the youngest member of the Council of the Republic. How did you face this challenge?
It is a great challenge. At the beginning, it wasn’t easy because I’m not really into offices, nor formalities. My work is usually in the open air, barefoot, the sea breeze in my face. Having to perform a ceremony, in front of His Excellency and alongside older people, politicians, businessmen, academics, religious leaders and distinguished figures in society, was, and is, a great responsibility. But I quickly realised that it is also a rich opportunity to soak up the experience of the elders and learn the best ways to channel the concerns and contributions of environmentalists and the whole of society so that the President of the Republic and his assistants can adopt the best solutions in response to the problems of the people. 

We are celebrating the 13th anniversary of Villas&Golfe magazine, in Angola. What have these last 13 years represented for you, in your life and in the country?
13 years ago, I was just a little girl, a student struggling because the destruction of the mangroves of Lobito, due to the fervour for construction and to the anarchic occupation of the beaches, had caused the disappearance of the flamingos of my childhood. I wanted to be an adult, so that I could stop those monstrous machines and relocate the poor people who sought refuge on the beaches. Since then, a lot has changed. We founded OTCHIVA to have a legal and well-organised instrument for fighting. As time went by, the country woke up to the need for serious measures regarding environmental sanitation and the protection of the extensive Atlantic coast. The Ministry of the Environment regained autonomy and it is hoped that it will be endowed with resources equal to the great challenges of the present and the future. And, today, there are increasingly environmentally friendly investments, such as the Mangais Golf Resort, in Barra do Kwanza, where exceptional tourism is already a possibility, with golf courses in perfect harmony with wildlife and beaches with crystal clear waters, providing sports and leisure activities in a healthy environment; charming excursions and accommodation conditions of high standard, without forgetting the rich gastronomy with local and international delicacies. 
Maria Cruz
T. Maria Cruz
P. Rights Reserved