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tuungane dugout A fisherman uses a dugout canoe for subsistence fishing on Lake Tanganyika in Western Tanzania. © Ami Vitale

Stories in Africa

Western Tanzania

The Tuungane Project: Creating healthier families, fisheries, and forests.

Lake Tanganyika and the Greater Mahale Ecosystem

As the sun rises over Mount Nkungwe, the highest peak in the Mahale Mountains, fishermen far below float quietly across Lake Tanganyika as they return from a night of fishing. The surrounding forest comes alive with the calls of birds and chimpanzees.

The world’s longest lake, Tanganyika holds 17 percent of our planet’s fresh water and boasts more than 300 fish species. For tens of thousands of people who live along it, the lake is their water fountain, highway, and grocery store.

Rising eastward from the shoreline, the Greater Mahale Ecosystem encompasses 4.8 million acres of mostly forested landscape. This ecosystem is home to approximately 93 percent of Tanzania’s 2,800 endangered chimpanzees, only some of which live within Mahale Mountains National Park.

Tuungane Project: Uniting People and Nature

The health of this diverse natural environment and the well-being of its people are threatened by extreme poverty compounded by a rapidly growing human population.

These remote villages lack access to health services, modern contraception, clean and safe drinking water and education. With populations spiraling upward, settlements and farms are encroaching into wild, forested lands. As more forest is cleared haphazardly for agriculture, sediment clogs coastal fish breeding zones and fisheries decline.

Tuungane (pronounced TOO-un-gah-nee, Kiswahili for “Let’s Unite”) is a collaboration between the TNC and Pathfinder International, a global reproductive health organization. TNC and Pathfinder are also engaging other stakeholders to achieve holistic, large-scale impact, including Frankfurt Zoological Society, Carbon TanzaniaJane Goodall Institute, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Tongwe Trust, and the Government of Tanzania.


Success in the First Five Years

Tuungane is expressly designed to create integrated solutions to create healthier families, fisheries, and forests. Since 2012, the Tuungane Project has expanded from six to 24 villages, and employs the following strategies:

Model Households: More than 1,200 families volunteer as “Model Households” to educate by example. These families model healthy and sustainable behaviors, such as using a hand-washing station, installing an upgrade latrine, prioritizing family planning, using energy saving stoves and setting their agricultural plots away from the lake.

Beach Management Units: Twenty of the 22 coastal villages have established Beach Management Units (BMUs) to enact and enforce their own sustainable fishing regulations, such as outlawing destructive beach seine nets and under-sized fishing nets, and protecting fish breeding and nurseries zones. 

Microfinance: BMU Community Conservation Banks (BMU-COCOBAs) offer villagers an opportunity to save money and access loans. More than 1,700 people have already received microfinance loans to start sustainable small businesses and diversify their income.

Reproductive Health: The number of children per woman in this region is 7.1 births — one of the highest in the world. More than 17,000 women of reproductive age have already received family planning counseling and access to modern contraception. Upgrades to health clinics are dramatically reducing maternal and neonatal deaths.

Climate Smart Agriculture: Most villagers do at least some subsistence farming. The Tuungane Project is providing training on climate smart agriculture practices, which not only reduce run-off into the lake, but produce higher yields for the farmers.

Forest Management: The forested areas of the Greater Mahale Ecosystem are under threat from agricultural expansion, indiscriminate fires, and illegal forest harvesting. Eight new Village Land Use Plans earmark 228,000 acres as village forest reserves to protect key chimp habitat, and 37 forest scouts have been trained and deployed.

We’ve made significant progress since the launch of the Tuungane Project, but we still have a long way to go to ensure the long-term protection of these amazing natural systems and the critical resources they provide to people.  Will you help us advance this critical work?