Creating the Foundations for Successful Community Based Conservation

As the Carbon Tanzania operations specialist, I have just had the privilege to participate in a whirlwind tour of the 12 villages and 2 districts that make up the new Yaeda-Eyasi Landscape REDD project, an expansion of the award-winning Yaeda Valley Project.

For the eight year lifetime of the Yaeda Valley REDD Project, Carbon Tanzania has worked with three village communities to protect approximately 32,000 Ha of dry savannah woodland and has delivered over USD400,000 to these communities, revenues generated from the sale of verified carbon credits produced as a result of keeping carbon locked up in protected, wildlife-rich woodlands that also form the cultural homeland of the Hadza hunter-gatherers.

Yaeda Valley Community Scout

During this time, as neighbouring communities have heard about, seen and understood the mechanism and benefits of our forest conservation model, we have often received invitations and requests to extend the project to these communities as they sought to “buy in” to the process. The expansion of the project was very much driven by these direct, community led approaches.

This trip was focused on building the foundations of the project with a focus on indigenous rights and leveraging local natural resource management to create direct financial benefits for the communities. This took the form of introductory meetings with the project villages and communities focused on free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). “Free” means no manipulation of the self-directed local process; ‘prior’ ensures consent is sought in advance of activities; and “informed” indicates that locals receive and understand information on the proposed activities and any potential impacts.

This process guarantees that the project is done in partnership and with respect for the communities.

On this trip I was accompanied by our partner Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), who facilitated the planning and gazettement of the 12 village land use plans (VLUPs) and a further 18 CCROs (Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy) that confer the critical legal land tenure and rights on which the project is built. 

Visiting indigenous Hadza hunter-gatherers and traditional pastoralist communities is always special for me, and this visit was no exception. It was particularly powerful for us to arrive in these villages for these first meetings and to immediately realise that the community already knew about the successes of their neighbours in implementing a carbon project, and said they had long been waiting for “carbon”, reflecting the interest that had been expressed over the preceding years. In some of the villages the leadership asked why we took so long to arrive, and some went as far as requesting us to skip all the preliminary explanations and get on with the contract for signing already! It was encouraging to hear first hand that our success in the area has led to these neighboring communities having been sensitized to our work through positive word of mouth community experiences. When these requests repeatedly arose, I kindly explained that despite our mutual desire to move forward and expedite progress it was crucial that we followed the project procedure to ensure respect was payed to the participatory FPIC process and to all members of the indigenous community. 

FPIC meeting with Endesh Village

As the meetings progressed, the communities, as they often do, asked pointed, searching and poignant questions about all aspects of the project. This emphasizes our own learned experience that indigenous knowledge and the way it informs stewardship of natural resources is highly intuitive to rural communities. By contrast this instinctive understanding is lacking among my more formally educated friends and peers. Though I’ve now seen this phenomenon countless times, it’s always takes me aback and reinforces the fact that indigenous leadership, knowledge and rights are fundamental to successful, sustainable, and lasting landscape-level natural resource management.

As I gear up to head back to the field for the next stages of project development I look forward to the experiences and insight that I will undoubtedly be granted through time spent with these communities who are at the forefront of climate mitigation, conservation, and development through business partnerships.

Written by David Beroff – Carbon Tanzania Operations Specialist