Contributing to conservation and community development

Communities next to protected areas are challenged to find sustainable livelihood opportunities that support, rather than hinder, wildlife conservation.

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Masegeri Tumbuya Rurai is Project Leader since October 2016. Photo: Patrick Eickemeier/FZS
The Serengeti ecosystem is a mosaic of protected areas and community land. Wildlife traverses both types of area throughout the year. Protecting the wilderness area and promoting sustainable development of the local communities has to go hand in hand in the long term if both humans and wildlife are to benefit.

Some villages adjacent to protected areas set aside village land for wildlife protection. They are called Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and are important buffer zones around the core protected areas. Frankfurt Zoological Society works with the people living in the ecosystem to become actively engaged in conservation and in finding sustainable livelihood opportunities that support, rather than hinder, wildlife conservation.

Five villages next to Ikoma Gate, bordering the world-famous Serengeti National Park, have joined together to form one WMA. Masegeri Rurai, FZS-Project Leader of Serengeti Ecosystem Management Project explains the approach.

How can Ikona WMA contribute to the conservation of the Serengeti Ecosystem?

The Ikona WMA borders the Serengeti National Park and the Grumeti Game Reserve. The great wildebeest migration crosses the Ikona WMA and other wildlife are resident. This corridor could easily have been blocked, by settlements or by land conversion to agriculture. Ikona WMA is a critically important piece of the Serengeti Ecosystem.

How do villages profit when they leave parts of their land untouched?

Communities benefit from WMAs because these areas attract wildlife, which makes them attractive for tourism, which then generates money. In Ikona WMA, there are seven investors who run tourist lodges and the five villages each get a percentage of the revenue from the tourist fees. Annually, this area – which is about 240 square kilometres in extent – generates up to 1 Million USD. The communities have invested in social infrastructure like schools, a dispensary or water projects. WMAs provide strategic investment into community development and at the same time provide vital habitat for wildlife.
Masegeri Rurai Communities benefit from WMAs because these areas attract wildlife, which makes them attractive for tourism. Masegeri Rurai

Wild animals close to human settlements can cause conflicts. How do the villages deal with this?

Serengeti National Park is surrounded by people and village land. Where the Park borders directly on village land, we speak of a ‘hard edge’. With WMAs, local communities are offering wildlife additional space. The wildlife corridor across Ikona WMA actually reduces human-wildlife-conflict.

The villagers also manage the wildlife in this area. They created a special task force of village game scouts. Those village game scouts are trained like government rangers at the Pasiansi Wildlife Training Institute in Mwanza. They patrol the area to make sure the animals and the people are safe, just like rangers do in the national parks.

However, some conflicts do occur. Mostly in villages which have not yet set aside land for wildlife. That is why FZS is working to develop land-use plans with those communities, so they can minimise hard edges and potentially also benefit from wildlife like other villages. Within the next three years we expect to support 15 to 20 villages which are bordering Serengeti National Park.

We also introduced community conservation banks (COCOBA), which allow communities to invest in environmentally-friendly businesses.

What is the basic concept of a COCOBA?

A COCOBA is a mutual savings bank also known as a village savings and loans groups. Each COCOBA group is formed by 15 to 30 community members. Every week they meet and contribute their shares to the bank, maybe 5000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 2 USD). Each member has a savings book where the payments are recorded. After six months, members can take small loans from the community’s mutual savings. We’re talking about amounts up to 500 USD. These loans provide their starting capital for small businesses – on the condition that these are conservation-friendly or at least neutral. And these businesses then help to generate income for their household. Within an agreed time, they have to pay back their loan at a very small interest rate.

How does this help to mitigate the conflict between villagers and wildlife?

COCOBAs support the communities financially. The loans make it possible for the villagers to start businesses and to invest in alternative ways to generate income. This lessens their dependence on bushmeat hunting, farming or cattle, which are very vulnerable to interference with wildlife.

So FZS runs a banking system for the villages?

FZS provides the initial training of how the villagers can run the transactions, the record-keeping as well as training on entrepreneurship. We provide them with all the stationary for the transactions, the account books and the bank itself, a blue metal box with three padlocks. FZS does not provide any seed money. The initial training takes up to three weeks, until the group members are confident in running the savings group. But then it’s up to the villagers: They have to agree and develop the system and ensure the process runs smoothly. They have to decide on their leadership, for example the accountant, the chairman, the secretary – all this important aspects of a successful COCOBA group.

What kind of businesses have the villagers started?

Many people from these communities were involved in poaching for bushmeat and charcoal-making in the past. FZS approached them and encouraged them to think of alternative ways to generate income. Now they can choose to invest in an environmentally-friendly economic activities, for example in beekeeping, small shops and chicken-farming, which provides eggs and meat for the families and the wider community.

How many people are actually benefiting from the COCOBA project?

The number of COCOBA groups has grown in the Serengeti ecosystem. COCOBAs are now active in three districts: Serengeti, Meatu and Loliondo. Today, we have 36 groups in the Serengeti district alone and almost 1000 people are participating. Some groups have generated savings of up to 25,000 USD. Seeing the success of COCOBA in Serengeti, Tanzania National Parks Authority are now convinced this is a good approach to conservation and have decided to roll out this COCOBA scheme to all National Parks in Tanzania. The combination of Wildlife Management Areas and Community Conservation Banks has really a big and noticeable impact on conservation and on people’s livelihoods.

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