Tanzania: Boycott of land use plan puts conversation efforts in danger

By Robert Bociaga, in Kigoma

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2022 16:56
According to FAO, 68 percent of Tanzania's work force engage in farming, both in rural and urban areas. (Photo: Robert Bociaga)

Communities living in proximity of Gombe National Park in Western Tanzania have contested conservation programmes meant to protect endangered chimpanzees, as well as land registration process. This comes amid the growing discontent nationwide over the execution of land policies.

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global conservation organisation that was established following the founder’s research into the lives of the chimpanzees, offered to create a locally managed forest for the dwellers of neighbouring villages in order to stop them from cutting trees at the protected area.

“As chimpanzees require a large home range size and some of the protected areas like Gombe may not provide enough habitat for sustainable chimpanzees conservation, the primates will need to connect to other chimpanzees in the landscape [for genetic diversity] and access suitable habitats outside the park,” says Wilson Elihuruma Kimaro, a biological conservationist at Gombe National Park. “This is why land use planning […] is critical”.

Gombe National Park hosts around 100 endangered chimpanzees. (Photo: Robert Bociaga)

However, the plan was boycotted by some local members of the Waha community, as the participants feared the expansion of the national park and their expulsion without compensation. Despite the deeply rooted fears over the status of their lands, people from the nearby areas were not sufficiently engaged to understand the process.

Growing mistrust

The JGI has been involved in multiple community-centred conservation projects. Since the early 1990s, its TACARE project has encouraged the planting of woodlots to provide a supply of firewood. More recently, a USAID-funded program facilitated the creation of village land-use plans.

During the participatory land use planning meetings, however, worries over whether Gombe National Park would annex more of the area were not sufficiently addressed and as a result, some villagers destroyed the tree samples planted by the JGI, and refused to participate in the land registration process.

Waha communities are closely related to the people of Burundi, and the villages near Kigoma experienced migration from Burundi in the past. (Photo: Robert Bociaga)

The mistrust between the communities and the authorities is also deepened thanks to the persistent issue of the lack of compensation over crops destroyed by wild animals.

Adam Kohoe, a local leader from Bubango village, and the member of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), voluntarily patrols the forest to ward off those cutting trees for charcoal or making furniture. For him, silence from the authorities with regards to this matter has been very puzzling. “In the past, we sent many letters to the park about the intrusions of the monkeys, and wild pigs, but we never received any reply,” he says.

Objectives lost in action

“One of the benefits of the land-use planning process provided by the Tanzania land and forest laws is that it gives an opportunity for villagers to designate an area as the Village Land Forest Reserve during the land-use planning process,” says Kimaro.

However, Masalu Luhula, a land tenure specialist, says “national parks in Tanzania have been expanding in a way that makes communities suspicious [and] if people are not engaged, imposed solution[s] will not work as the solutions must come from people”.

In some ways, the law itself is flawed because the president of Tanzania can always acquire the land

According to him, Tanzania’s Village Land Act of 1999 puts rural communities at the heart of all land-related issues, but in practice, the implementation of the law has often turned out to be cumbersome for the authorities.

The law requires the government to consult the villages through an assembly, but in this case, “the institute communicated mainly with the village leader”, says Eliyas Elmas, a resident of Bubango village. “[…] This provoked the accusations over […] alleged corruption and expansion of the Gombe National Park.”

Luhula argues that in some ways, the law itself is flawed because “the president of Tanzania can always acquire the land, and the community can only demand the compensation, which is against the spirit of democracy”, he says.

The case of forced relocation of Maasai people in the Ngorongoro Province, and also the expansion of Rungwa Game Reserve, where communities were not consulted, have been resonating nationwide. Many hint at the history of injustice regarding land-related issues that has been haunting Tanzania since the colonial times when thousands were expelled to make space for the  creation of various protected areas.

Nevertheless, among the villagers, there are still people trying to protect the forest, appreciating the value of the wildlife. Some of them have even agreed to relocation if compensated, but the communication with the authorities has not been sufficient to dispel their doubts about the plan for the area.

Still, “human population increase is one of the main challenges facing […] conservation [efforts] in Tanzania, [but for] the local communities, forest resources are still the cheapest option for their well-being”, says Kimaro.

The need for national debate

In Tanzania, about 43.7% of the total land area is protected, of which at least 28% of the mainland’s total land area is made up of protected areas (including Game Controlled Areas), while about 15.7% is made up of forest reserves. However, most of the species are found outside of already protected areas, competing with farmers, pastoralists or business people for survival.

For Kimaro, the core issue remains the need to balance conservation and development. “People living close to the parks are living in abject poverty. Addressing their challenges while implementing conservation goals can be very difficult,” he says, adding that an improvement in daily well-being would decrease their dependency on forest products.

The Waha communities near Gombe National Park, who are predominantly farmers, lack good quality infrastructure and do not see themselves as the beneficiaries of conservation. “People move on unpaved roads, classrooms are overcrowded, while hospitals [are not well] equipped,” says Elmas.

To earn a living, many cultivate oil palm trees, a cash crop of growing importance, but the villagers apply an old-fashioned technology of processing the palm oil, which keeps their profits low. This is despite Tanzania’s ambitious plans to end the import of palm oil by 2025.

Artisanal processing of palm oil does not allow the local communities to transform their lives. (Photo: Robert Bociaga)

Assa Makanika, a CCM member and Tanzania’s youngest parliamentarian, comes from Kalinzi, another village near Gombe. He advocated for support for existing palm oil producers near Kigoma, but without success, Nevertheless, he supports plans to expand production of palm oil at home, insisting that “there’s enough un-utilised land available in Tanzania, and the country should develop this sector”.

Luhula, however, sees the problem in the fact that “the same system has been exercised for many years, and there have been no major changes in the land governance”.

People have conflicting interests over land use, and with the increase in population “some sort of national debate might be necessary as the land being generationally transferred is a highly important issue”, he says.

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