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By Justin Adams, Global Managing Director for Lands at The Nature Conservancy.

Edward Loure and The Nature Conservancy have a common story. The story is one of reducing conflict by finding common ground—in this case both literally and metaphorically.

All over the world – in fact, for 2.5 billion people – lives depend on land and natural resources that are held, used or managed collectively. These communities, including 370 million indigenous people, call more than half of the world’s surface home, but have formally recognized rights to a mere 10 percent of that land. In most cases, these people are the best stewards of the land and its resources. They need strong rights and they need benefits. They need a voice.

As director of the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), Edward’s work, and the work of partners in the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative (NTRI), has been about providing a voice for such communities – in particular pastoralists and hunter-gather groups – whose livelihoods depend on communal lands.

If communities lack title over their lands and don’t have enforceable land-use plans that define the kind of activities permitted in certain zones, such as settlement, grazing, and agriculture, then those communities are at risk of losing control of the lands and the very resources they need to survive.

Explaining land rights to people who have always lived on the land

Over the past five years, UCRT – together with its NTRI partners including The Nature Conservancy, Dorobo Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society and Maliasili Initiatives – have pioneered a unique approach to help marginalized communities secure communal rights to land across northern Tanzania.

It is called a Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO), and in its first year roughly 22,000 hectares of collective lands were secured this way. By the end of 2015, this number had reached 90,000 hectares, with another 200,000 hectares expected by the end of 2017.

A CCRO is a form of customary land tenure within a larger village holding. This is an effective tool for strengthening community land rights and securing communal lands. Historically, it granted parcels of land to individuals for farming, but the UCRT has modernized the tool to formally secure land for collective use such as livestock grazing or collection of forest produce such as roots and tubers. The collective nature of the title means that transactions and subdivisions can only take place with the consent of the entire group, thus providing greater tenure security to at-risk communities and minorities.

By expanding this model, especially across Tanzania’s rangelands, we are seeing reduced conflicts over land, more equal access and ownership, and secure communal rights to land over the long-term as the basis for pastoralist livestock production and land management systems.

Wildlife corridors

There are other problems, but with emerging solutions. In many areas of Tanzania, the combination of a growing human population dependent on subsistence farming and more agricultural investment is driving a more rapid conversion of grassland to row-crop agriculture.  This disrupts livestock movement corridors, fragments the land and threatens natural wildlife movement. Wildlife corridors are essential to allow wild animals to roam and breed in and out of the national parks. Sixty percent of wildlife in East Africa live or migrate outside of national parks. If people build across these natural corridors, this can result in various forms of conflict—between pastoralists and agriculturalists or between people and wildlife.

So, another tool also being used by the NTRI partners is the Community Wildlife Management Area (CWMA)—a protected area made up of a portion of multiple villages’ lands that are set aside for joint management. The CWMA area is zoned, including a core area where livestock are not allowed – except in emergency conditions – and an outer zone where managed grazing is allowed in certain areas at certain times of the year. Village Game Scouts and other community members enforce this arrangement through communally established by-laws.

Villages included in a CWMA are then in a strong position to negotiate with tourism operators—who are dependent on healthy wildlife populations—for investments on their lands that would bring benefits both for the communities (revenue, jobs, and roads and other infrastructure) and for the tourism business (a large protected area with tourism options that are not available in national parks).

Cross-border grazing corridors that are kept open will lead to healthier livestock and wildlife. With grazing land protected, and enforceable by-laws and management in place, livestock and wildlife will become healthier. This should also reduce conflict between villages, increase revenue for the villages that stay with the local community, and create stronger village plans for managing times of hardship, such as drought.

Edward Loure and the UCRT team found an opportunity in one particular aspect of Maasai governance: its strong communal culture. Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize
Edward Loure and the UCRT team found an opportunity in one particular aspect of Maasai governance: its strong communal culture. Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

A shared model of community leadership

The implications of this work for the communities of Tanzania are huge. For example, the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers have earned more than $75,000 by conserving their traditional lands and reducing land-based emissions by locking up the carbon in their landscape. And these ideas can be adapted in other parts of the world. The Nature Conservancy recognizes that supporting land rights and decision-making authority for local and indigenous communities is a crucial element in ensuring sustainable livelihoods all over the world. And we are focused on bringing these types of solutions to more places.

Still, while the gains can be life saving, it does not mean that conservation is easy. In some cases, communities are being asked to commit a portion of their land to a collective, multi-village entity. This requires trust and leadership. And land-use planning can bring difficult disputes to a head as village boundaries must be mapped and formalized before title deeds can be issued and land-use plans approved. But, as organisations like UCRT have shown, the benefits greatly outweigh these challenges.

And the world is taking notice. This month, Edward was announced as Africa’s winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in recognition of his decade-long work leading UCRT and this communal lands movement.

The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of UCRT’s work. We share a vision for the future with community leadership at its core. In Maasai language, it is known as ilaigwanak, where strong groups of leaders or elders work together, sharing leadership responsibilities in an egalitarian way. It is a model that has delivered results in Tanzania, and one that gives us hope for many other communities around the world.

This blog was originally published by National Geographic.

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