Community-based conservation in Tanzania: are we really committed to making CWMAs a success?

Paulo Wilfred

Strict protectionism or ‘fortress’ has long been a popular approach towards protecting Africa’s wildlife in the face of multiple pressures, such as land-use change, or bushmeat hunting. However, from the late 1980s, conservationists began to realise that ‘fortress’ conservation does not always effectively safeguard biodiversity and can raise serious ethical issues. Loss of habitat outside of protected areas (PAs) was leading to isolated pockets of PAs, and heavy-handed enforcement was undermining support for conservation. Moreover, there was growing concern about the impact of conservation on people’s quality of life.  Consequently, greater emphasis was placed on community-based conservation (CBC) as a complement to ‘fortress’ conservation. CBC initiatives have so far been implemented in many African countries, with rather mixed success. In general, CBC literature suggests that CBC models can be effective if they can deliver on their promises, and local communities are happy with them.

Community wildlife management areas in Tanzania. Adapted from Tetra Tech ARD and Maliasili Initiatives (2013,
Figure 1. Community wildlife management areas in Tanzania. Adapted from Tetra Tech ARD and Maliasili Initiatives.

Here I am going to be talking about community wildlife management areas (CWMAs) in Tanzania (Figs. 1 & 2), where I Lecturer in ecology and wildlife conservation at the Open University of Tanzania. Conservation practitioners and researchers suggest that the CWMA initiative still has a long way to go to achieve its objectives. Key factors underlying the poor performance of CWMAs are highlighted in the literature (e.g. Kiwango et al., 2015; Bluwstein et al., 2016 & 2017; Moyo et al., 2017; Wright, 2017; Lee, 2018). I am going to talk about the four most important of these factors.

Firstly, the limited diversification of resource use as trophy hunting is almost the only source of revenues in CWMAs. Yet a large proportion of the revenues from this activity goes to the government. This perpetuates food and livelihood insecurity in rural areas and angers community members who give up the land they depend on voluntarily for conservation purposes (e.g. Makame and Enduimet CWMAs, Salerno et al., 2016). As a result, they develop more negative attitudes towards conservation and wildlife and the choice to intensify illegal behaviours becomes a tempting option.

Secondly, conservation activities in CWMAs are largely supported by NGOs, and when the NGOs pull out the CWMAs goals become dreams that may never come true. Ipole and Uyumbu CWMAs in western Tanzania are good examples. These were among the few seemingly successful pilot projects in the 2000s, but now things are getting worse rather than better for them precisely because the donor support they used to enjoy had dried up.

Figure 2: Paulo (second from left) with some villagers from a member village of Ipole Wildlife Management Area in western Tanzania.
Figure 2: PW (second from left) with some villagers from a member village of Ipole Wildlife Management Area in western Tanzania.

Thirdly, there is no genuine willingness to involve local communities in making important decisions related to the use and management of wildlife, so much so that CWMAs are perceived as nothing but extensions of state-owned protected areas. This is partly a result of the government’s lack of trust in natural-resource dependent communities because a great majority of them have limited conservation awareness, not to mention their lack of skills and capacity to manage or own wildlife-based enterprises. There is generally no sense of ownership of wildlife in CWMAs amongst community members. On the other hand, wildlife is seen as destructive to crops, livestock, and people’s lives.

Fourthly, the country’s population is growing rapidly. Indeed, Tanzania is already one of the world’s biggest contributors to global population growth, with populations expected to double by 2050 (United Nations, 2015). This is very bad news for conservation, especially because the population in rural areas is more than 70% of the total human population in the country (ESRF, 2017). Owing to the fact that the livelihoods of the rural population depend primarily on subsistence agriculture (Kimaro and Hieronimo, 2014), land-use conflicts between agricultural activities and conservation will continue to undermine the anticipated role of CWMAs both in buffering PAs and protecting wildlife corridors. For example, Caro et al. (2009) argued that the vast majority of the wildlife corridors in Tanzania are in critical condition largely as a consequence of land-use impacts that accompany the increasing demand for agricultural and settlement lands, and other ecosystem services to meet the needs of the increasing human population. This is actually one of the main reasons why the Wildlife Policy of Tanzania (2007) placed a strong emphasis on CWMAs.

Impalas in a game reserve

Now, over 15 years after the formal inception of community-based wildlife management areas in Tanzania, it’s worthwhile to start asking ourselves whether we are committed to making their goals a reality. The point, here, is that there is a real need to rethink our conservation priorities and to renew our commitment to CWMAs before it is too late. So far there are around 30 CWMAs in the country, but far less than half of these are in fact effective. We need to address a number of issues immediately to guarantee effective and sustainable CWMAs. The bottom line is communities around CWMAs are desperately trying to get out of poverty. Therefore, we have no choice but to tackle their livelihood challenges. For example, these people need guaranteed food security and access to affordable health and education services, all of which are dependent on the availability of reliable income from either agricultural production or natural resources through mainly CWMAs.

We can take away lessons from other countries which have shown some success in combating income poverty based on CBCs. For instance, CBC models in Namibia (Weaver and Petersen, 2008; Dressler et al., 2010; Mufune, 2015), Zimbabwe (Harrison et al., 2014; Muposhi et al., 2016; Ntuli et al., 2018), Botswana (Mbaiwa et al., 2011; Chevallier and Harvey, 2016; Mogende and Kolawole, 2016), and Kenya (Keane et al., 2016; Ogutu et al., 2017; Williams et al., 2017; Liang et al., 2018) have managed to generate employment opportunities and other tangible benefits, regardless of the fact that they experience partially decentralised natural resource management, just like our CWMAs. Underlying factors influencing their achievements include extensive investments in ecotourism projects; conservation authorities’ determination, sense of responsibility and commitment to CBC goals; effective institutional arrangements and benefit sharing schemes; and supportive land-access and use policies.

Striving to reduce dependency on external donors or NGOs while strengthening the local capacity to invest in small- and large-scale ecotourism enterprises cannot be overemphasised. It is, of course, true that donors and NGOs can be crucial stakeholders in the preliminary stages of CBC projects (e.g. CBC cases provided here), but the long-term sustainability of CWMAs will only be assured if local communities are empowered to take charge of their management and use of natural resources therein.

Giraffes in a game reserve

I believe that the most important first steps towards achieving this kind of empowerment are to raise conservation awareness, and then ensure genuine participation in CWMAs projects, and then strengthen local capacities for conservation. Conservation awareness can help generate greater understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of the value of wildlife, thereby positively influence people’s behaviours and attitudes towards conservation actions. Furthermore, it promotes transparency, instils a sense of trust in the benefits promised by CWMAs, and endeavours to enable positive interactions between conservation authorities and local communities. Raising awareness of conservation issues would build a strong foundation for local participation, and increase the incentive for people to practice sustainable living for the sake of CWMAs, which in turn would contribute to minimising human-wildlife conflicts.

However, we must ensure that the perceived economic benefits of CWMAs are realised at the household and community levels in order to encourage and maintain compliance with conservation-friendly practices. Elsewhere in Botswana, for example, the realisation of conservation benefits has influenced people’s behaviour and motivation to support CBNRM projects. We should also consider accommodating differences in cultural backgrounds, interactions with nature, conservation interests, perceptions and values of communities around CWMAs via diversified, flexible and site-specific conservation approaches – like, for instance, Community Conservancies in Kenya – rather than a ‘one size fits all’ resource use strategy such as trophy hunting. Nonetheless, this would require intensive research efforts, and a lot of piloting and testing to understand what works or does not, where and factors that affect CWMAs interventions in local contexts. Finally, the need to promote family planning is now more intense than ever, given ever-increasing pressures on CWMAs exerted by the rapid growth of rural human population.  

Here, I attempt to provoke debate about what should underpin efforts to improve the CBC model in Tanzania. Although we should commend the government of Tanzania for at least recognising the importance of establishing CWMAs, we realise that much work still needs to be done to achieve the intended objectives. CWMAs is a great opportunity to address the increasing isolation of the nation’s PAs and dwindling natural resources. From my point of view, I believe CWMAs stakeholders need to wake up and realise that time is running out, and get our efforts focused relentlessly on accomplishing CWMAs goals. On balance, putting our words into action is the best way to show our commitment, and win people’s support and trust in CWMAs.

You can find more about Paulo and the work he leads on his ICCS page here.