Bridging the Gap with Carbon Champions

If you had by chance been in a meeting or gathering in one of the village communities in Makame Community Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) during July and August of 2017, you may have met a young man or woman telling the assembled crowd about the new and innovative project that will help the Masai cattle herders of the area to protect their seasonal grazing lands through receiving revenue which will support local livelihoods and contribute to development activities.

Carbon Tanzania, a partner in the NTRI led and USAID-funded Endangered Ecosystems of Northern Tanzania landscape project, is in the process of developing an internationally certified forest conservation project in the Makame CWMA that will lead to communities receiving long-term revenues to compensate their efforts in protecting large tracts of grassland-rich dryland forest that they rely on for seasonal grazing. As a pastoralist people, their livelihoods are connected directly to the health of their cattle, goat and sheep herds, and these animals in turn require year-round grazing and browsing resources in order to provide meat and milk to the Masai communities. In Makame CWMA the villages have committed to a land-use system that reflects closely their traditional grazing patterns, setting aside large woodland areas which can only be used at specific times of year for grazing – these areas are called ronjo in the Masai language, Maa. This commitment to habitat protection within a legal structure presents an opportunity for the villages to earn revenue from the generation of carbon credits based on the carbon stored and locked up in the Acacia and other trees in these ronjo woodlands.

Communication challenge

This system of results-based payments for forest conservation is known as REDD+ and is now an integral part of global climate change mitigation efforts since its inclusion in the Paris Agreement of December 2015. The challenge for innovative conservation organisations like Carbon Tanzania is that the mechanism and methodologies required to qualify for revenue payments are highly technical and complex, and are not easily accessible to community members who are ultimately responsible for implementing the by-laws that provide for the legal protection of the ronjo grazing lands.

Carbon Tanzania has met this communication challenge by designing a “Carbon Champions” programme which utilises young educated community members to disseminate the goals and requirements of the REDD+ project process throughout the participating communities of the Makame CWMA. This training and education process was implemented in two stages, the first was a series of workshops where potential Carbon Champions were identified and trained in the key points of a REDD+ project and its obligations for participating communities, and a second stage during which these individuals became trainers themselves and spent time in their villages passing on their knowledge to community members about the project’s aims and activities. To support this process Carbon Tanzania produced an information manual in both KiSwahili and Maa, which can be used as a reference document for the participating communities and their leadership groups as the project activities are rolled out.

The Carbon Champions travelled throughout the five villages within the Makame CWMA and spoke to individual households, community gatherings and more formal leadership groups alike. This grassroots engagement is essential if our long-term approach to habitat conservation is to be truly sustainable – the villages themselves are the rights-bearers in terms of the resources in question, and as such they are the ultimate authority over what happens to their legal resources. Without the active involvement of all community members, not only the leadership groups, such an ambitious plan would be prone to failure.

What is “REDD+” in Maa?

One of the greatest communication challenges in community-based forest conservation specifically, and rural development in general, is the language barrier. To address this issue, Carbon Tanzania dedicated time and effort to finding a very specific facilitator for the training element of the Carbon Champions programme. Thanks to a long-established personal relationship of Carbon Tanzania Director Jo Anderson with Sangoyan ole Dorup, a Masai traditional leader in the Ngorongoro Highlands we were fortunate to be able to engage the Edler’s son, Saningo Kimani to conduct these crucial training sessions. Jo has known Saningo for 20 years through his work in community tourism in the Ngorongoro area and Saningo has in that time gained a Masters degree in Education. This academic track record, combined with his fluency in Maa, the language of the Masai, made him an ideal choice for this exercise, and as expected the young Carbon Champions were thoroughly inspired by Saningo during their educational sessions. There really is no substitute for speaking to people in their native language.

NTRI Partnerships prove critical

The initial concept and eventual design of our Carbon Champions programme was inspired by and founded on the work of two of our NTRI partners in the landscape. The idea of training native-born community members to spread the word about project goals and activities came from Pathfinder International who themselves have a “Health Champions” programme that utilises locally trained people to educate and sensitise individual households in practices that can dramatically improve family health.

We were also indebted to another partner in the NTRI group, Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) for facilitating access for our Carbon Champions to the many Women’s Forums within the target communities. It was critical for Carbon Tanzania to access these groups because in Masai society women are the key element in the household and how it operates in relation to natural resource use, especially day-to-day activities such as fuelwood collection, house construction and providing food for their families.

Impact Assessment                              

The long-term impact of this Carbon Champions programme will be reflected in the overall success of the project over its 30 year lifespan – better habitat protection through community led by-law enforcement. But in the short term, Carbon Tanzania will be assessing the immediate effects of the training and information dissemination exercise through a follow up training session in Year 3 of the EENT project cycle. Trainees will receive further training from Saningo who will also assess how effectively the Carbon Champions have internalised and understood the key aims and requirements of our innovative approach to community forest conservation.

Written by Carbon Tanzania Co-founder – Jo Anderson


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