The Power of People Led Conservation

Think globally, act locally – the power of people led conservation

We have said it before, and we will say it again, nature conservation is not about large charismatic animals and endlessly beautiful wild spaces, it’s about people and communities. This is especially true in Africa where people live out their lives in close proximity to natural habitats and their associated wild animals. Carbon Tanzania committed early on its journey to focus on designing our approach to the economic needs and cultural priorities of local resource-owning communities.

In September our Project Operations Manager spent three weeks visiting 12 communities in the Yaeda and Lake Eyasi Valleys in northern Tanzania (you can read his blog here). The meetings with each of the village leadership groups lay the foundation for an ambitious expansion of the existing Yaeda Valley REDD Project which will eventually protect over 120,000Ha of community managed woodland, generating approximately 150,000 emission reductions. The sale of these carbon credits will provide revenues for the communities to both secure these culturally and economically important resources, and to channel funds into social development programmes into the future.

meaningful long-term global conservation outcomes rely heavily on the willingness and ability of indigenous people to manage these precious resources.

Why does Carbon Tanzania concentrate on resource-owning local communities when planning and designing our conservation interventions? Globally important conservation areas are rightly celebrated for their stunning wildlife spectacles (the Serengeti National Park) or their sheer size and grandeur (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), but these parks and reserves are protected through national level policies and legal channels.

Meanwhile significant, ecologically important areas still fall under indigenous people led management regimes. This means that meaningful long-term global conservation outcomes rely heavily on the willingness and ability of indigenous people to manage these precious resources. And that means creating conditions where these stewards of nature are genuinely involved in the design, development and implementations of activities, governance systems and revenue sharing mechanisms that lead to the protection of natural resources.

Hidden Gems

Our commitment to partnering with local resource-owners to achieve effective conservation is founded firmly in research and empirical findings. A 2018 Nature paper used spatial analysis to look at the areas in which indigenous people’s lands overlap in some way with protected areas with ecological value. The figures are striking: “Indigenous Peoples manage or have tenure rights over at least 38 million km2 in 87 countries or politically distinct areas on all inhabited continents. This represents over a quarter of the world’s land surface, and intersects about 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes.”

National Parks and Reserves will always play a critical role in conserving key elements of the global ecological estate, but it is clear that without creative and economically practical solutions for indigenous peoples to manage their natural resources, the costs of which they almost always bear directly, many core protected areas could find themselves cut off from their wider ecosystems.

Yaeda Valley across to the escarpment
Yaeda Valley across to the escarpment.

Carbon Tanzania has always sought to partner with local communities who bear the responsibility for the management of natural resources, specifically forests, that provide important ecological connectivity between core protected areas in the form of national parks and reserves. This means that while the areas under management may not rank for size when compared to areas that are overseen by national governments, the conservation impacts are amplified out of proportion to the area being managed as they add to existing efforts.

our work is rooted in the experience and learnings of a global community of community-based natural resource professionals and practitioners.

People and planet

With the global interest in “Nature-based Solutions” to climate change becoming prominent in both the conservation world and the corporate world where net-zero commitments by global players such as Amazon, Microsoft and Apple have explicitly included the need to invest in nature, it is more critical than ever to understand what “investment in nature means”. With such large and ecologically important areas falling under indigenous stewardship, intelligent, nuanced and innovative approaches are needed to secure these areas. While Carbon Tanzania can celebrate creating some unique successes in this regard with its Yaeda Valley Project, our work is rooted in the experience and learnings of a global community of community-based natural resource professionals and practitioners.

The case for understanding the human perspective in forest conservation is made in another paper from Nature Sustainability. The lead author notes that “To calculate the true value of a forest, we need to know how people benefit from it.” A common critique of projects that fund nature conservation is that they seek to put a pure monetary value on nature, and this approach fails to capture the entire ecosystem value. The article goes onto note that “People need to see themselves—their values and needs—supported in conservation efforts. Often, research will try to assign an overall dollar value to nature without thinking about who will be benefitting from it.”

Ecosystem services - wild honey
Ecosystem services – Hadza man collecting wild honey

Carbon Tanzania also seeks to avoid valuing nature in purely monetary terms, but we do ensure that there is a clear financial incentive for the hard work and decision-making processes required to implement effective forest protection. The real secret to our project model is to align these financial incentives with pre-existing cultural beliefs about, and traditional uses of, forest resources.  

I’m for Carbon!

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” – a much misquoted saying. However the experience of Carbon Tanzania, working with forest communities and following science and good practice bears this out. The raised hands and cries of “Carbon, hoye!” from village leaders and community members in our recent FPIC meetings is testament to this fact, and we now look forward with excitement to our newly expanded project in the Yaeda Valley and new project developments planned for 2021 in other parts of Tanzania.

Written by Jo Anderson – Carbon Tanzania Director