Overcoming Communication Challenges with Carbon Champions

Two subsistence farmers living in the remote Ntakata Mountains of western Tanzania are discussing the REDD project that is now protecting their Village Land Forest Reserves.

“Why do people want to pay us to keep our forest standing and storing carbon?” 

“I don’t know. How does Carbon Tanzania harvest the carbon to sell to businesses in Europe?”

It has been 3 years since the Ntakata Mountains REDD project was developed and a year since the first revenues from the project were received, so a new set of questions are beginning to arise, questions that are different from the ones we received during the initial project development. The farmers and their community value the forest for the ecosystem services it provides but they are curious as to why outsiders are now interested in their distant forest in western Tanzania in addition to how carbon is generating the revenue that is now flowing into the community. It is our job as the project developer to try and answer these questions.

The Ntakata Mountains project area is a vast and thickly forested landscape, roughly the size of Dorset in the UK but with a fraction of the infrastructure, so communication is regularly a challenge.  This challenge of communicating to a large audience of people who are from various backgrounds and whose settlements are spread over a vast landscape is an obstacle that many rural development initiatives have had to overcome.

Our REDD project development model relies on community partners, in this case the 8 forest owning villages of the Ntakata Mountains, to implement the key field work activities. Carbon Tanzania employs one project manager as a link between our Arusha based technical team and the communities, so how were we to communicate the project outcomes to 17,000 people spread across 216,000ha of dense forest and numerous valleys and peaks? Our approach was to work with a handful of community members to train them on the key goals and outcomes of the REDD project and on how to then share their knowledge with the wider community – these community members became known as Carbon Champions.

Carbon Champions

The Carbon Champion program was a success when we initially developed the project in 2018 and now that the program has grown and progressed new questions have arisen, so we decided it was time to remobilize the Carbon Champions.

Carbon Champion - Valeria Peter Evarist

Valeria Peter Evarist is a Carbon Champion who lives in Lwega village in Mwese ward where she has lived for 24 years. Valeria knows where each pathway leads, she knows intimately the people she has lived amongst her entire life and she understands their concerns. She has the knowledge and ability to talk to farmers, mothers, shop keepers, nurses, teachers, doctors and students and to answer all of their questions relating to the project.

As a Carbon Champion, Valeria spends her day visiting community members where they are most comfortable – in their homes, on breaks during work hours or at more formal gatherings. She answers questions about the project and on forest conservation in general. Being a member of the community Valeria finds most people feel at ease to be open with her and are trusting of her approach and responses.

We asked Valeria what some of the communities most pressing concerns are. “While many community members already value the forests there is a knowledge gap when it comes to the more technical issues of how Carbon Tanzania measures the carbon sequestered in the trees as a carbon credit and how that translates to the revenue that is starting to flow into the community to be used for community development projects. 

This method of results-based payments for forest conservation is a relatively new project model in Tanzania which naturally leads to caution in some and optimism in others. Valeria says “there are some who ask, why are we, the people of Ntakata, being paid to be a part of this project and not others, elsewhere in Tanzania? But we are also starting to see some of my neighbours realise the potential and ask how other individuals can get involved in protecting their privately owned forests using REDD.”

While the Carbon Champion’s aim is to inform and keep communities updated on the project outcomes, we have found the process an important learning tool for us too. Through the program we have been able to gain a better understanding of the community with whom we work, an element crucial to the success of the project.

To read about the Carbon Champions program at the Makame Savannah Project click on the following blogs: