Africa is special. Its wild lands and waters are home to incredible numbers and diversity of species living close to people. For most rural Africans, connection to place takes on unique meaning, more so than anywhere else on Earth because their daily existence depends on the productivity of their natural resources.
Some 60 percent of Africa’s lands and waters — community property, in a sense — are managed by the people who live on them. These people are undoubtedly the most vulnerable on Earth. A continuing threat is their lack of control over the communal lands and waters they depend on for survival.
And as the people struggle, so too does the wildlife that relies on the same resources. An absence of strong institutions and governance further compounds these challenges.
Therefore, our work in Africa is focused on perfecting and exporting the best examples of community-led conservation across the continent’s vast shared lands and waters. These examples are ones that provide tangible benefits to people. Conservation has to pay to be successful.
Something that makes good business sense should be replicated. That principle applies to our work in Africa. Based on successful models and The Nature Conservancy’s 60 years of global conservation success, we have launched demonstration projects in northern Kenya, northern and western Tanzania, western Zambia, coastal Mozambique and northern Namibia.
Through these projects, we can protect more than 37 million acres of land, freshwater and marine habitat by building local institutions and cultivating a culture of conservation.
More than seven years ago, the Northern Rangelands Trust began working with pastoralists in the arid regions of northern Kenya to help conserve their land and culture. Local people were part of the solution — this is people-driven conservation.
The Nature Conservancy has been supporting these locally led efforts for several years now, providing funding, technical expertise, conservation planning, and staff support to fill critical gaps. Working with NRT, we now have 18 community conservancies — representing 100,000 community members — protecting more than 3.5 million acres.
With transparency and steady support, NRT has established a solid level of personal and institutional trust with communities in northern Kenya. The key to this success is transitioning authority back into the hands of community representatives.
In NRT’s case, the ultimate governing body is a Council of Elders. Comprised of respected elders from each member conservancy, the council provides strategic advice to NRT as they navigate the ever-changing politics and challenges of conservation work in the northern rangelands. By giving decision-making authority back to the elders, NRT will continually be grounded in traditional authority — the key to its success today.
The NRT story shows the promise of The Nature Conservancy approach to conserving communal lands and waters, and it’s a model we are working to bring to all our project areas. Success for us means not only preserving Africa’s lands and waters, but also helping the people that depend on them for their survival.