Integrating Conservation with Development in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem

In early July I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the greater Mahale ecosystem at our newest project site, Ntakata Mountains. This landscape Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) project is being developed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, complementing their long-term vision for the landscape.

The long trip from our base in northern Tanzania was exciting enough as we crossed through areas of the country seldom seen, but what I saw as we surveyed the prospective project area left me feeling there was a real opportunity for community based conservation, and like elsewhere in the country, an urgent and important need to integrate conservation with development.

Once westward we started to foray through Miombo woodland, beautiful dryland forests dominated by Brachystigia and Julbardnia trees, (the term ‘miombo’ derives from the local name for the hardwood Brachystigia bohemii, or “Mninga” in Swahili). These dryland forests have a canopy of 25-30 metres, rich in biodiversity. Throughout the journey we also saw signs of deforestation and degradation which served as a stark contrast to the tranquil intact Miombo and a reminder that these ecosystems are at serious risk. The worst environmental impacts seemed to follow roads and human settlement areas, and though a lot of these areas were once very remote and virtually untouched, roads are coming in and people from surrounding areas and even countries are flocking here. It was striking that virtually everyone that we came across had recently moved to the area from somewhere else and that poverty seemed comparatively extreme and pervasive here. This juxtaposition of poverty and a rich and relatively pristine environment will almost certainly lead to rapid destruction and mismanagement of natural resources if alternate income sources and development pathways are not available, and that’s why where here of course.

Our planned REDD+ project in the Greater Mahale Ecosystem could create just that alternate situation, allowing both the natural environment and its human inhabitants to thrive in a mutually beneficial way. The landscape is also quite large compared to our other projects. This is both a challenge and an opportunity in terms of increasing the real world impact that Carbon Tanzania has on the ground, in the ecosystem, and in the lives of community members.

During the site visits to prospective participating villages the reaction to the planned implementation was full of curiosity and skeptical excitement, it felt like a good starting place as we build working relationships over the coming decades. It was exciting to see the meetings facilitated by our partner Tuungane, itself a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and Pathfinder International, as they have a long history and deep roots in the region. We know that when stakeholders strengthen each other’s work and utilize existing expertise the chance of success is greatly magnified. I came away feeling as though we had begun to embark on what would likely be our most challenging but simultaneously most ecologically important endeavor yet!

Written by David Beroff


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