Preserving the New Tanzania: Conservation and Land Use Change*

Article excerpt


Consider the facts. Tanzania has the largest protected area estate in Africa, both absolutely and relatively. Tanzania at independence inherited a large protected area estate, it has been vigorously expanding it ever since, and particularly so in recent years. Table 1, drawn from the World Database of Protected Areas, shows its dominance. Excluded, however, from those data are forest reserves, which cover a further 10 percent of the country. We then have to consider die expansion of the Katavi and Mikumi National Park, the creation of the Rukwa, Luafi and Usangu Game Reserves, the creation of the Kitulo National Park and upgrading of Mkomazi Game Reserve to National Park status, and die upgrading of the forest reserves on Kilimanjaro to National Park status, all within the last ten years. Tanzania had set aside about 31 percent of its land mass by 2003 in national parks, game reserves and forest reserves (we have not included game controlled areas), and that was before the expansion of Mikumi National Park was announced. Tanzania's conservation estate is unrivalled in Africa.

In addition, there is another expansion of less formally protected conservation estate, at the village level. Two types are prominent- wildlife management areas and village forest reserves. The former involves villages setting aside a portion of their land for wildlife habitat, often adjacent to national parks and game reserves, and then selling the right to hunt or photograph wildlife on those lands to tour operators. The process is fraught with conflict. Some villages insist that they were not properly consulted and resent the sudden and peculiar appearance of wildlife management areas on their land.1 Others have set up their own agreements independently of government support, and earned valuable sums from it.2

Less financially lucrative, but still important for the landscape and protected area estate, has been the growth of village forest reserves and ngitili. The former are areas of village land with demarcated boundaries and locally agreed and enforced rales of use. They have been endorsed with national level legislation and are growing in diverse regions in the country.3 The latter are private and village owned grazing and forest reserves set up to strengthen local resource use. Ngitili are a traditional institution of the Sukuma people which had fallen into disrepair, but have since been invigorated with demonstrable ecological and livelihood impacts, particularly in the region south of Lake Victoria.4

We will examine two aspects of this remarkable division and categorization of land in Tanzania. First, we will consider what its consequences for vegetation, wildlife, and people have been. Then we will examine some of the forces that have marshalled and directed this expansion. We will argue that, although the initial impetus for the conservation estate derived from a colonial vision for Africa's landscape, Tanzania's remarkable growth of protected areas reflects vigorous state support for conservation (boosted by the revenues it offers) combined with a powerful international conservation lobby. Extensive as the expansion of the conservation estate has been, it is difficult to imagine the growth ceasing.

Landscape Change

In 1930 Major Richard Hingston was sent to Tanganyika by the Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire to investigate the possibility of establishing national parks there as part of a coordinated program of nature conservation in African lands. Hingston' s report envisaged a future where agricultural development had transformed the landscape except in the parks, where wildlife alone could be found.5 He proposed three modest parks for Tanganyika (Figure 1). The current geography of protected areas differs in that much more land is set aside, and in larger constellations (Figure 2). In many places the contrast between protected and unprotected land has unfurled as Hingston foretold, but not always, and not always as he might have expected. …