The success of conservation is in community hands
I grew up in Arusha, northern Tanzania. A town close to the famous Serengeti plains and Kilimanjaro National Park, Arusha is at the epicenter of wildlife activities, with tourism and conservation a leading activity and source of income. As a child, I had a passion for wildlife and a great desire to work as a tour guide or park ranger. My interest led me to pursue a Diploma in Wildlife Management at the College of African Wildlife Management – CAWM — based in Tanzania on the slope of Mount Kilimanjaro.
During my education I realized that there are more opportunities for me to pursue in the field of conservation than just being a tour guide or a ranger. I became motivated to educate others about conservation after realizing the major threats to our natural resources from human pressure. I felt the need for people to understand that it’s the responsibility of everybody to conserve our heritage. That’s why I became an ambassador for sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of all. My goal is to create broad awareness of the wise use of natural resources, and to engage communities in reversing and abandoning activities that are harmful to our environment. The way to do this is to reduce our over-dependency on natural resources.
HANS EDUCATING COMMUNITY ABOUT TREE PLANTING. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HANS NGOTEYA.
For the past three years I have been working with local communities bordering Katavi National Park. This has helped me understand that the only way we are going to achieve our conservation goals is to associate the wise use of natural resources with benefits for the communities living adjacent to the park. For people to survive, their daily needs must be met. Where there are no alternative livelihood strategies, people have no choice but to pursue other means of survival to meet their daily needs — which sometimes involves unlawful acts that leads to ecological damage.
HERDING CATTLE NEAR A CONSERVATION AREA. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HANS NGOTEYA.
For example, in Katavi National Park in western Tanzania, the nearby community has been encroaching by allowing their livestock to graze illegally in the park, which leads to the spread of diseases between domestic animals and wild animals, and also the illegal clearing of areas inside Mpimbwe Wildlife Management Area to open new land for cultivation.
As any human beings, communities living alongside protected areas have basic needs, but they are faced with limited economic opportunities to help them do that. Especially for those living in remote areas, where government assistance programs have not yet reached them, there is often no option other than to depend on what nature can provide, especially biological resources.
Research shows that the most damage to the environment is in rural areas, which are the places with the richest biodiversity. This is because people depend mostly on cultivation and herding, which requires extensive land. Additionally, as time goes by, the population grows, but the land area remains the same.
New generations need land for cultivation and grazing for their livestock., and quite often the only option available to them is in the protected conservation areas since there is no any other option and the only place with land is in protected areas. This explains why in the region south of Katavi National Park, communities are refusing to support the idea of having part of their land to continue to be protected for conservation (Mpimbwe Wildlife Management Area), since they don’t receive the benefit of it. They would rather cultivate or use the land for their livestock to feed, since that’s beneficial to them.
Clearly, unsustainable use of our biological natural resources remains a big conservation challenge in many Africa countries, especially in the face of growing pressure from the communities living nearby. If we are to achieve our conservation ambitions, the needs of these communities have to be met, which means we need to develop and implement effective livelihood strategies for people.