Judith Balint believes in the power of communities to manage their own natural resources. She has seen first-hand that when people are empowered to benefit from nature, they become well motivated to help in its protection.
This is what Balint saw in her native Zimbabwe, before she came to help WWF implement community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in Tanzania. There, she worked on—and wrote her PhD dissertation about—the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). This CBNRM program was developed by the government of Zimbabwe in the late 1980s to give local people a stake in the conservation of the country’s natural resources.
She brought her skills to WWF-Tanzania as the CBNRM Policy Program advisor at a moment when the office needed a re-energizing force for this important work. The CBNRM Program staff was involved in the creation of wildlife management areas (WMAs), places owned and governed by local communities who benefit from using the natural resources sustainably.
Community management for conservation
Community-based organizations called Authorized Associations carry out the day-to-day management of the WMAs, completing land-use plans and working directly with businesses to implement income-generating activities on behalf of their communities.
These activities include beekeeping, fishing, monitoring, timber harvesting, and tourism, the latter of which is invariably the main revenue source. Tanzania has one of the most lucrative tourism markets in Africa, with visitors flocking to view the country’s elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, and wildebeests, and to travel its lakes, coastal resources, forests, and savannahs.
The communities thus derive direct financial benefits from their management of these areas, which motivates them to support conservation. They ensure that activities in the area occur in accordance with the land-use plans. And members of the communities act as scouts to patrol for poaching, encroaching, and other incursions in WMA territory.
WMAs’ important contribution
Balint became involved in every aspect of this work, from development of WMA plans to designing of monitoring and evaluation strategies. WWF plays a coordinating role for many WMA matters in Tanzania, while offering direct technical assistance and capacity building to selected WMAs as they establish themselves.
With the help of the WWF team and other NGOs, such as African Wildlife Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Frankfurt Zoological Society, the number of WMAs and the amount of land they protect is growing dramatically. The 19 established WMAs have added 3% to the total land area reserved for wildlife in Tanzania, which now totals 31%. When 19 other WMAs currently being set up are gazetted, they will bring the total land area under community conservation to over 10%.
The WMAs make a particular and important contribution to conservation in Tanzania. Because most of them are adjacent to national parks, they provide buffer zones around the parks, link corridors used by migrating animals, and conserve special areas important to specific species. But as important as these areas are to the local wildlife, Tanzanian people might be the biggest beneficiaries of all, in more ways than just increased income.
“I think this work is very important not only for conservation but also for the communities,” says Balint. “The majority of Tanzanians are rural-based. They live with the animals, and should therefore be involved in their conservation and derive benefits from the sustainable management and utilization of the natural resources. They can get something to contribute toward their livelihoods this way. And that empowerment, that participation, is also wealth indirectly.”