Not long ago, I was walking in a place that I have visited many times before in northern Tanzania—the Randilen Wildlife Management Area. This is a community-owned and run conservation area that forms a key refuge for wildlife during seasonal movements between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park, two of Tanzania’s most famous protected areas. It is used by elephants, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, lions, and several other animals that move across the park boundaries onto surrounding lands.
But that day in Randilen was my frst time spotting six lions all together in that area. I had never observed lions there before, but now suddenly I was seeing six in a single place, and on foot no less. It was a thrilling encounter and a marker of real conservation progress on the ground. Randilen is just one example of wildlife population recovery thanks to local action and leadership, supported by collaborations at the landscape scale. Moreover, the return of wildlife is happening alongside improvements in well-being and economic security for the local communities.
For the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative (NTRI), a collaboration of different organisations working across the landscape, this is what successful conservation is all about. NTRI works to support local leadership and forge stronger links between different organizations around a shared, common vision for the landscape. In Randilen, community management efforts are being supported by two NGOs—The Nature Conservancy and Honeyguide, an innovative Tanzanian organization that specializes in improving local management and business planning so people can beneft from their wildlife and resources.
A threatened landscape
The northern Tanzania rangelands are witness to some of the world’s largest mammal migrations, including thousands of zebra, wildebeest, and other species that migrate between famous protected areas like the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park or the Mt Kilimanjaro National Park. The rangelands are also home to the Maasai pastoral communities that have resided here for countless generations. Their lifestyle and norms guided them to use natural resources sustainably, meaning that there was a healthy balance between levels of resource consumption and regeneration.
Now with development pressures increasing across the landscape, including the construction of new roads and power lines, major towns like Arusha have spread into surrounding rangelands. Consequently, these areas have started to witness an influx of people and increasing competition for natural resources. This has created many conficting resource interests: more people need land for farming and settlement, others need pasture to graze livestock, and occupying the same space is the wildlife that supports a billion-dollar tourism industry in northern Tanzania. As resources decreased, we began to see an increase in conflict.
Working together to achieve big changes
To tackle this problem, local conservationists began to think about optimising existing efforts to work with communities, with the help of additional resources, increased coordination, and collaboration. For example, local organizations like Honeyguide, the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016), and Tanzania People & Wildlife were already working to develop new approaches for promoting coexistence between people and wildlife. Meanwhile, international conservation groups like Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) were supporting these efforts as well as working with the government.
Given the range and scale of conservation challenges, it became evident that an individual or an organisation could not hope to address them alone. We began to view the landscape as one large system, with wildlife moving from one national park to another through communal lands and farmed areas and settlements. Thus, we realized the need to operate collectively at the landscape level, while acknowledging that most organisations at the time were operating independently in silos.
Those insights led to the formation of the NTRI in 2011. It is a consortium of ten organisations: Oikos, Tanzania People & Wildlife, Carbon Tanzania, Honeyguide, WCS, Dorobo Fund, Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), Pathfnder International, Maliasili, and TNC. We are united around a common goal and vision, with different backgrounds, skill sets, and resource access, coming together with a common strategic approach to work with indigenous peoples and local communities in the rangelands to tackle these challenges.
NTRI partners pursue several key strategies to address conservation challenges in the landscape. A key one is to help the communities with land use planning as well as securing ownership of their land and rights to its resources, in order to protect both the land and people’s rights, and keep the landscape connected to allow livestock and wildlife to continue moving freely across it.
Second, we support and strengthen management and governance strategies that address the drivers of habitat degradation and fragmentation. Third, we work to add economic value to livestock and wildlife enterprises to incentivise sustainable land use and promote equitable sharing of benefts.
Working as a consortium brings many advantages. For example, in addition to the conservation organisations, one of the partners, Pathfnder International, brings expertise in addressing health and environmental conservation in an integrated way, further enhancing the group’s ability to bring in expertise, experience and resources from different angles.
Working as a consortium has also allowed us to support innovative approaches to beneft both people and nature in the landscape. Makame, another community-owned and managed Wildlife Management Area (WMA), has weathered the total loss of tourism earnings caused by COVID-19 because it has a new and growing revenue stream selling carbon offsets.
Multiple efforts from multiple angles are needed for a project like that to succeed: law enforcement to protect the community’s assets, in this case the vegetation storing the carbon; community buy-in to conserve a portion of land and avoid deforestation in that area; strong governance and management; revenue to carry out all the necessary carbon assessments, and a partner who would enable the communities to access carbon financing. Collaboration between NTRI partners such as Carbon Tanzania, UCRT, TNC, and Honeyguide has been key to this pioneering initiative that is now helping restore and protect over 350,000 hectares of rugged woodland and savannah.
The combined impact of all our partner organisations working together is greater than the sum of its parts. Through the NTRI partnership, over 900,000 hectares are now under improved natural resource management, with a little over 15 percent of degraded rangelands already in a better condition, and the functionality of two crucial wildlife corridors maintained, giving wildlife access to 440,000 hectares of connected habitat. By sustainably managing rangeland resources, two WMAs and 48 villages have improved their ability to adapt to challenges resulting from climate change.
Approximately 47,000 people have beneftted from various conservation activities, including beekeeping, leather crafts, village game scouts, crop protection, rangeland monitoring and management, holistic grazing management, and early work for invasive species control and management. We have helped establish 80 COCOBAs (community savings banks) in 21 program villages with 2,221 members who have a total benefit share collection to date of more than $500,000.
The NTRI partners have learned many lessons so far about how to develop and sustain collaborations amongst different types of organizations in a complex, dynamic, and changing landscape.
First, for effective cooperation between multiple stakeholders at different levels, there must be an acceptance
of collaboration as a way forward, guided by effective and concrete ways of engaging them. There must be tangible benefts to the collaboration for all the parties involved.
Second, developing a common vision that everyone buys into is key for working towards shared objectives.
Third, partnerships succeed when, in addition to shared goals, plans, data, and other information, partners deliberately align or adjust their actions to achieve mutually agreed on objectives.
Finally, it is important to recognise that organisations work at different paces as well as value individual contributions, regardless of the magnitude. Every partner has a role to play as a piece in the puzzle, and diverse pieces are needed to solve the challenges of landscape-scale conservation in East Africa today.