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Securing land rights of indigenous communities in Tanzania

April 28, 2021
topic:Sustainable Agriculture
tags:#indigenous rights, #Sustainable Agriculture, #Tanzania, #NGO
by:Bob Koigi
As competition for land intensifies and population burgeons in Tanzania, there has been a marked rise in conflict between communities and with wildlife for limited resources including water and pasture. It has been particularly tough for indigenous communities whose livelihoods are threatened by land grabbers, marginalisation, weak government support and lack of information.

But one community-led project in Northern Tanzania has successfully fought for the legal rights of its people, among them pastoralists and hunter gatherers. By ensuring that the indigenous communities are able to own, manage and benefit from resources that are available in their locality, Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) has protected the livelihoods of 300,000 people spread across 107 villages, conserved natural resources and co-existed with wildlife.

The project’s Programme Coordinator, Edward Loure, spoke to FairPlanet about the initiative’s journey thus far and the need to entrench indigenous community land rights into the national laws.

FairPlanet: What has been the impact of Ujamaa Community Resource Team since it was formed?

Edward Loure: The focus of Ujamaa Community Resource Team has been to strengthen the capacity of local ethnic minorities in Northern Tanzania, principally pastoralists, agro pastoralists and hunter-gatherers to better control, manage and benefit from their land and natural resources. 

We have so far managed to secure 1.1 million hectares [of] communal land by getting a communal land certificate that is supported by Tanzania lands act and the Tanzania rangelands act giving us the right of occupancy. This land is now managed by the community and is used for grazing livestock and as a migratory route for livestock and wildlife. The communal land is located next to some of the most wildlife protected zones in Tanzania.

What would you say are the major threats facing these indigenous communities and how is UCRT assisting in tackling these threats?

These minority groups are facing massive land grabbing from companies and businessmen who continue setting up recreational facilities, campsites and other businesses that also threaten wildlife. The land grabbers exploit the local community’s lack of knowledge and education to entice them to sell prime land to them at throwaway prices. Within no time, what has been a sanctuary for wildlife and for the local communities is turned into high-rise developments and factories, therefore defeating the whole essence of conservation. 

The government is working with us to educate the locals on the value of conservation and the need to protect these sanctuaries from land grabbers. The government is also helping us in protecting communal land by issuing one land certificate meaning no individual can sell land without the consent of the rest of the community. 

The people are adversely affected by the impacts of climate change, which has taken a toll on food, pasture and water and sparked human wildlife conflict. 

There are also invasive plant species that have attacked our rangelands affecting our livestock health and sometimes leading to their death. 

To address some of these problems as UCRT, we are promoting the use of Certificate for Customary Right of Occupancy, CCRO. These certificates protect all lands that have been set up for communal use and allow community members to enjoy land sustainably. We are also training members on adapting other economically empowering projects to insulate themselves from the effects of climate change.

How helpful have law and governance been in protecting and advocating for community land rights?

In Tanzania, we have very good laws that guarantee and protect communal land and natural resources. We, for example, have the law on Customary Right of Occupancy that recognises the rights of these minority groups to own communal land, the forestry law that empowers them to own community forests, and other pieces of legislation on management of cross border land to tame inter-community conflict.  

The only challenge is that the people these laws are made for are very ignorant about them. That is why we are doing more capacity building on what these various laws and policies are and their implications to the community’s way of life. 

What mechanisms have you put in place to reduce inter-community conflicts that may arise from land disputes and limited natural resources?

Conflicts the world over largely revolve around land and natural resources because population growth doesn’t go in tandem with the available resources. 

In the indigenous communities the problem is the same. In these communities we have traditional leadership systems, for example the men traditional Council or the Women rights and leadership forum. These organs have played a key role in addressing conflicts at the local level before they escalate by being arbiters and their decisions are regarded as final due to the high respect they command. 

As UCRT, whenever a conflict arises, we gather all evidence, bring parties to the conflict to the table then invite the traditional Council and the government representatives and discuss the matter openly so that we eliminate any sense of bias. These forums have provided very vital lessons on how to avoid future conflicts.

What would you consider the greatest milestone of UCRT since it was formed?

Securing the over one million hectares of land connected to each other with pasture and water which offers pastoralists and wildlife great mobility that is crucial for both their survival. 

We have received international recognition for our work. In 2008 we received the Equator Prize from the United Nations Development Programme for our contribution to conservation and development in Tanzania.

In 2016, as the Director of UCRT, I won the Goldman Environmental prize for Africa, in appreciation of my work in establishing communal certificates as effective land tenure for both pastoralists and hunter-gathers.

How are you promoting biodiversity in Northern Tanzania and how do you tackle the human-wildlife conflict?

We are investing in empowering the communities to engage in economic activities while giving them power to manage conservation that is sustainable to their livelihoods. That way we ensure that we are also promoting the three key pillars that define a pastoralists’ way of life, including people, land and natural resources and livestock

What is the space of women empowerment in UCRT? 

We are running a number of programmes that seek to build the capacity of women to actively be involved in representation and decision making bodies especially because women from pastoralist communities are usually marginalised. For the first time in the history of the pastoralist community we have managed to get a woman to be the chair of one of the villages after years of lobbying. 

The Women rights and leadership forum has contributed a big deal in amplifying the rights and concerns of women in these indigenous communities. Through these forums women are being empowered on land ownership and how to economically tap into available natural resources and earn from them. Empowered women will be able to take up leadership positions because we have these taboos and beliefs that if a woman is poor, she cannot be a leader.

What is the greatest challenge about your work?

Conflict resolution is particularly a very demanding undertaking because issues of property among indigenous communities are very emotive. Some of the cases may drag on for weeks or months, but someone has to do the work to ensure there is cohesion and peace because that is what we ascribe to as a community. 

What are the other plans of UCRT moving forward?

Our ultimate plan is to secure all the communal rangeland available in all the 136 villages,  continue promoting communal land rights, resource management and community based conservation through various interventions that are currently working and the ones we envision to roll out in the near future. 

Correction [29 April, 2021]: an earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that UCRT aided 3,000 community members. The correct number is 300,000. 

Image: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Embed from Getty Images
There has been a marked rise in conflict between communities and with wildlife for limited resources including water and pasture in Northern Tanzania.
© Tony Karumba
Embed from Getty Images
"The focus of Ujamaa Community Resource Team has been to strengthen the capacity of local ethnic minorities in Northern Tanzania, principally pastoralists, agro pastoralists and hunter-gatherers." Eduard Loure, Programme Coordinator at Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT).
© Eddie Gerald
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