Designing a project area around our closest living relative whilst creating land security and economic opportunity.
As I sit here, perched on the top of a rocky outcrop, looking over seemingly endless rolling hills of Miombo woodland east of Mahale National Park in western Tanzania, its quite easy to feel as if the nearest human settlement is many miles away. But it’s not long before the distinct thud of an axe on hardwood wakes you up to the fact that those first small steps of deforestation are well under way.
The Carbon Tanzania team are here in the Greater Mahale ecosystem looking at the potential for developing a new REDD+ project, but why here? Mahale Mountains National Park covers an area of 1613 km2 and lies on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika approximately half way down its length, some 120 kms south of the main Tanzanian port of Kigoma. The park was gazetted by the Tanzanian Government in 1985 primarily to protect a large population of the Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi) that exists throughout the forest which borders the lake shore on the western flank of the Mahale Mountains. But these charismatic primates also occur throughout the Miombo woodlands to the east and south of the mountains, and that’s where we come in.
Along with our partners, The Nature Conservancy, who have been working in the area for the last 5 years, we are embarking on an ambitious program to complete a series of Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFR) that border the newly gazetted Tongwe West Forest Reserve. So why here? Firstly it’s to protect the largest known intact range of Eastern Chimpanzee in the world, and if you know anything about Carbon Tanzania, you also realize that the way we do this is by ensuring that we focus on people.
Satellite analysis shows us that deforestation in the area has been increasing over the last 10 years, driven, as is the case in many parts of Tanzania, by economic migrants looking for land. It is in these situations that REDD+ can be an effective tool, and by utilizing strategic partnerships our aim is to create a series of community protected areas, VLFRs, that not only ensure that these communities own their land, but also that they are able to earn revenue from deciding to protect it. As we know, land security and economic opportunities are the key to ensuring the future of Africa’s wildlife, and in the case of our closest relative, it’s no different.