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Tanzania’s Pathfinder Award Success

7 min read

Updated 01 December 2021

Picture of Chris McIntyre

By Chris McIntyre

Managing Director

*A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2021 Bush Telegraph newsletter. You can read our recent newsletters and sign-up to receive these in your inbox on our Bush Telegraph newsletter page.

The Pathfinder Award is an annual celebration of innovative conservation approaches which seek both to protect nature and to enable sustainable human development.

Jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these awards showcase successful conservation management models from around the globe. Prestige aside, in recognition of the advances and achievements highlighted, the three annual award winners each receive a US$10,000 grant to further develop their projects. This year two very deserving projects in Tanzania were finalists, one of which went on to become overall winner.

The first organisation, Lion Landscapes, operates several scientific research programmes and a number of community-focused projects across Tanzania. The simple but effective community camera-trapping project entered for the Pathfinder Award, aims to demonstrate to local communities the immediate, tangible benefits of protecting their local wildlife. Under their scheme, communities are trained and employed to place camera traps on their land. Each wild animal image captured generates points, with more points awarded for conflict-causing and threatened species. A small antelope may earn 1000 points, while an endangered African wild dog generates 20,000 points. Every three months, these points are swapped for community benefits, based on the needs and wants of the local community. The resulting community gains in education and healthcare, derived directly from the presences of wildlife on their land, improve local lives and opportunities, and quickly open peoples’ eyes to the benefits of conservation. While this initiative didn’t scoop a prize this time, it’s a very sound project from a dedicated team and can be very easily replicated across the continent with potentially significant gains all round.

The project that did claim the 2021 Pathfinder Award was the Ntakata Mountains Project run by Carbon Tanzania. A social enterprise tackling climate change, deforestation and under-development, Carbon Tanzania allows local people to earn an income from the international carbon-offsetting market by protecting their community-owned forest reserves.

Described as a ‘natural climate solution’, the Ntakata Mountains Project is based in western Tanzania between the Mahale Mountains and Katavi national parks. Part of the Greater Mahale Ecosystem, this area of dense miombo forests was threatened by poor slash and burn agricultural practices, deforestation by migrating pastoralists seeking grazing land, and mining, and was experiencing a deforestation rate three times higher than the national average. Thanks to the Carbon Tanzania project, this trend has been reversed. Village Land Forest Reserves have been established in eight forest communities, and more than 800 square miles of village-owned forests are now being carefully protected as a valuable income source. By keeping the forests intact, the valuable stored carbon can be sold as certified carbon credits around the world, allowing the 38,000 villagers who collectively own these lands to benefit financially from their conservation.

Since the project’s inception five years ago, the good news has been significant: some 5m trees have been saved from felling, avoiding 1.2m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and generating the community US$349,000. The benefits to local people have been far-reaching, and include improved local governance, free school meals, some major building projects and a much better environment overall. Around US$70,000 has been spent on village infrastructure, including 16 classrooms, new school desks and toilet blocks, while US$18,000 has gone to improve healthcare with the creation of dispensaries, pharmacies, hospital wards and a Community Health Fund, which has already covered the medical expenses of more than 25,000 people. No less than 63 villagers are now directly employed in forest and wildlife conservation work, and everyone is reaping the benefits.

If the idea appeals of chimpanzee encounters in Tanzania’s remote and beautiful mountain forests, then have a look at Expert Africa’s Chimpanzee Fly-in Safari for an example of what is possible in this region.

Image Credit: Lion Landscapes.

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