Before winning the Goldman Environmental Prize earlier this year, we spoke to Edward Loure to learn about his challenging work defending the rights of indigenous communities to their land under threat by competing interests, such as agriculture and tourism. We learn how his upbringing in a Maasai tribe formed a life-long commitment to protecting their way of life, while at the same time, preserving critical wildlife corridors in the biodiverse region of northern Tanzania. This balance has been achieved through the application of an innovative tool, the Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO).
What was it like growing up near the Tarangire National Park?
I grew up in a small village within a traditional pastoralist community 4 kilometers from Tarangire National Park. Some people call it the bush and others call it a remote area. But I call it home, it’s my home and my village. I love living in it. It’s a great place for livestock and wildlife migratory routes. The Tarangire River is the only communal, permanent water source in the area so I would see wildlife going up and down from my home to drink from there. This is how I got to know about the coexistence between communities, livestock and wildlife; it’s one life.
How do you balance community rights with conservation?
Historically, pastoralists have been caught in the middle between conservation and community. There has been a bad relationship between park rangers and local communities. The expansion of national parks has caused a lot of problems for pastoralists. Now things have improved. Communities have come up with a process of opening wildlife corridors which are called livestock migratory routes, which wildlife also use and benefit from. This is community conservation.
My work focuses on ensuring that pastoralists and hunter-gatherer communities in northern Tanzania are able to maintain, manage and benefit from their natural resources. Being near national parks, some tourists and rangers are helping local people to gain an income from ecotourism, which is paid directly to the village accounts. The villages then start to manage those resources.
This is how I got to know about the coexistence between communities, livestock and wildlife; it’s one life.
How does tourism affect your community’s way of life?
When tourists come they take photos of local people and wild animals, and don’t kill animals, so it’s not a problem. It becomes a problem when people come with their guns and hunt animals without regard for the law, or the local community culture. There is also the issue of resource sharing. Tanzania has a policy that restricts all revenues from tourism to go to the national treasury before any can go to the community. The community feels like they have less of a role to play in protecting the animals, since the revenues are not going to their development.
Some tourism companies don’t share their plans to take over the land with local communities. That’s why we’re issuing certificates (CCROs) to villages, so that they have evidence to show that this land is theirs. That way, if someone tries to take the away for tourism, the communities can take them to court.
How does the decision-making process work in Tanzania’s traditional communities?
Each village has a different style of decision-making, and each has a chair and a secretary. There is a village council of 25 members and seven must be women. The highest order of the village is the village assembly whose members are at least 18 years old. Everyone is allowed to attend general assembly meetings, which is led by elected members of the village council—including the chair and secretary. Each council leads for six years and then stops for seven years, and then a new council starts. Each is governed by a traditional leader. The way they elect the leader is really different from your usual government elections. In these elections, you have to nominate the name of a person, and after nomination, that person has to leave the meeting. They check details and verify how good of a leader that person is, and get to a consensus. If everyone agrees, then the person is elected.
My role in the community is more of a facilitator. I help people come up with a way through their issues and to make sure that the decisions that they make will actually help them. I attend the general council meetings, then meet with the district councils where all the decisions are made at district level. There, I help to document all the processes and minutes of these meetings. That way, communities are empowered.
Is this the first time that a Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO) has been used to grant land rights to an entire community in Tanzania?
Yes. Before, Tanzania only had a land use law which granted land rights. I started looking at this law a long time ago, and found that it wasn’t enough on its own to protect people’s rights. The law is divided in three main parts: one is conserved land (for national parks), the second is about general land (the land for individual people living in villages and towns), and the third is about communal land. Communal land is where groups of people with the same interests can come up with a CCRO protecting their communal land, which can last for 99 years. With these CCROs, land is demarcated on maps and governed by by-laws, which keeps it secure. Communities are supporting this idea more and more.
That’s why we’re issuing certificates to villages; if someone tries to take their land away, the communities can take them to court.
Given the success applying CCROs in Tanzania, do you think this could be replicated in other parts of Africa?
In terms of protection, our CCROs can certainly be a model for neighboring countries. I have given presentations to a number of colleagues from Kenya and Ethiopia who are very interested.
How much of Tanzania has been secured through CCROs, and which groups have benefited?
This year we’ve secured 163,000 hectares in addition to the 232,000 from last year. So far, four different tribes have been issued CRROs: the Hadzabe and the Akie who are both hunter-gathers and pastoralist groups; the Datooga and the Maasai.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles for some of these groups being able to protect their land rights?
The major obstacle is improper investments, such as agricultural investments. Some of these investors clear the land for farming or set up their own ranches and hunting blocks, which they don’t want local communities to access. Most of the crops which are grown from agricultural investments get taken out of Tanzania—so it benefits the individual owners, but not the community. This land receives only up to 400 millimeters of rain per season which is not enough to grow anything. The soil quality is getting worse, which is a big issue for pastoral communities whose livestock depends on the land.
How have CCROs have improved lives?
The good thing about CCROs is that it’s a certificate that is legally recognized by the government. It’s also a long-term certificate that protects the land, ensuring its security. The certificates eliminate vulnerability and doubt by protecting families and communities living in the area.
Since their implementation we’ve seen healthy cattle, which also results in a healthy community and healthy people. The local economy is also improving as they can sell their cattle and invest in development programs, including education.
How are women involved in the decision-making process when it comes to land rights?
Many pastoral communities only involve the women when things become critical. When land is taken away and the community needs to defend the land, they call women. The men don’t think about women until they’re in a difficult situation, and are not normally part of the process. Women are now part of the forum and economic issues are discussed together.
We once had a piece of land of 125,000 hectares that the government was trying to take, and the women demonstrated in big numbers. They received a lot of media coverage and since then the evictions have stopped. Women are increasingly standing up for their rights, especially property rights and are becoming more empowered economically.
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