The Relationships between Tenure, Sustainable Development, and Conservation

Community-based conservation (CBC) is a concept that has been evolving since the late 1980s (Barrow & Murphree, 2001) and encompasses a wide range of approaches. CBC essentially maintains that conservation should be participatory, treating local stakeholders as project partners through collective action, and ideally yield some benefits for local communities (Adams & Hulme, 2001) in a trade-off mechanism to recognize the costs of conservation.

Securing tenure for local communities is one much-utilized approach. The motivation is that securing tenure ensures access to future resources and thus invokes a sense of responsibility for managing resources sustainably, and also acts as a benefit itself and increases buy-in to facilitate greater cooperation on project rules and interventions (Brooks et al., 2013).

A systematic analysis of 136 CBC projects by Brooks et al. (2013) assessed multiple community characteristics against project goals and found secure tenure to be the characteristic most strongly associated with achieving economic goals for communities. However, much is still unknown about how secure tenure for communities contributes toward social and ecological project goals, or under what conditions this approach works best. With the rest of the world increasingly devolving land to communities in an attempt to secure conservation goals (Robinson et al., 2017), it is critical to take a closer look at the mechanisms by which this might happen and the elements that make projects successful. We present two case studies that illustrate the complexities of how CBC programs intersect with tenure security and other factors to attain project-level human well-being and conservation goals.

The Mara-Serengeti-Tarangire Ecosystem Chain: Two Case Studies across One Border

Along the Southern Kenya–Northern Tanzania border lies a chain of interconnected ecosystems: the Maasai Mara in Kenya joined to Tanzania’s Serengeti ecosystem, and finally the Tarangire ecosystem to the East. Within this ecosystem chain sits the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro National Park, the Tarangire National Park, the Loliondo Game Controlled Area, the Maswa Game Reserve, and the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar Site—creating a patchwork of protected areas. Bookmarking these protected areas are our two case studies: the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA), and 230 km to the south-east, a collection of communal Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy (CCROs) held by the Hadzabe Indigenous Peoples.

Historically, communities in this region have endured regimes where they were disempowered from land management decisions through land grabs from colonial governments, and, following independence, top-down resource management plans from modern governments. At the community level, legislative frameworks enacted by modern government regimes have fueled further land grabs, conflicts, land conversion, fence building, and have resulted in biodiversity loss and adverse impacts on human well-being. More recently, there has been a movement toward grassroots approaches to resource management and conservation through projects underpinned by securing tenurial titles, such as Kenyan Community ConservanciesFootnote 1 (Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013) and Tanzanian Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs—Tanzania’s Village Lands Act No. 51999).

These communities live within a vibrant wildlife corridor, and communities that are the target of the case studies have a history of sustainably living with wildlife. Each year, 1.3 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra, and hundreds of thousands of gazelle travel 3000 km across this landscape in the largest and most diverse mammal migration in the world. The area provides critical habitat for lions, elephants, cheetahs, black rhinoceros, African wild dogs, and pangolins. The Maasai Mara portion of the ecosystem accounts for 25% of Kenya’s wildlife population (Western et al., 2009), is home to one of Kenya’s last remaining viable lion populations (Schuette et al., 2013), and is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, as it supports over 550 species of birds (BirdLife International, 2019). Meanwhile, Northern Tanzania’s savanna rangelands, where the communal CCROs are situated, support approximately 4200 elephants and 35,000 migratory zebra and wildebeest (Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative, 2019). In this landscape, wide-ranging species require a patchwork of protected areas, corridors, stepping stones, and spill-over reserves in order to continue annual migrations and maintain genetic population health through dispersal (Breckheimer et al., 2014). The conservancies of the Mara and the communal CCROs of the Northern Tanzania rangelands aim to supplement these areas and increase landscape permeability, while also advancing human well-being goals of local communities.

The Last Vestige of the Hadzabe: Tanzania’s Last Hunter-Gatherers

For around 80,000 years, the Hadzabe, Tanzania’s last hunter-gatherers, have roamed the Northern Tanzania rangelands between their wet and dry season woodland refuges. Traditionally living in camps of between 10 and 50 people, the Hadzabe splinter into smaller groups to gather berries, tubers and greens, hunt game with poisoned and un-poisoned arrows, and whistle for honeyguide birds to lead them to bee nests (Redfern, 2018).

“Unlike their landscape neighbors the Maasai pastoralists, the Hadzabe live in woodlands, not on the plains,” says Chira Schouten, Project Lead for the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative (NTRI). “Pastoralists on the plains and plateaus will search for water and grass during the dry season, whereas the Hadzabe will use baobab trees and small springs as water sources. Occupying these different niches allowed pastoralists and hunter-gatherers to utilize different areas within the landscape in rotation, reducing competition.”

Today, the last 1300 Hadzabe live in the Yaeda-Mangola landscape, occupying just 10% of their ancestral lands and only a few hundred continue their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Hadzabe and the wildlife they rely on have been squeezed onto smaller and smaller areas by conversion of lands to agriculture and increasing pressure from livestock grazing by non-Hadzabe. Wildlife has found some protection in the surrounding protected areas outside of Hadzabe lands, but like many traditional cultures, some Hadzabe have suffered a history of displacement for protected area creation and consequently view modern conservation as synonymous with land loss. As a communal culture with a light ecological footprint and a history of living outside of Tanzania’s economic and political system, demarcating and securing Hadzabe homelands have been a struggle.

Conversion to Agriculture and Land Grabs: The Loss of Hadzabe Lands and Resources

During the 1990s, Tanzania’s land reform laws attempted to recognize and devolve more land to communities through customary rights to use and manage lands (Ujamaa Community Resource Team, 2014). The Village Land Act No. 5 (1999), in particular, designated Village Councils (i.e., elected village leaders) as managers of Village Lands with legally registered boundaries. In turn, the Village Councils were accountable to Village Assemblies (i.e., all the adult members of a village (Williams, 2017)) for all land-use and allocation decisions.

These reforms provided a framework for establishing multiple Hadzabe villages in the Yaeda-Mangola landscape, aiming to support the preservation of their traditional lifestyles. However, in practicing traditional lifestyles, the Hadzabe leave their camps for periods after harvesting the berries, roots, and honey from the area (Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative, n.d.). “Meanwhile, Tanzania’s rapidly increasing population and demand for land drove farmers and pastoralists into what was historically Hadzabe land,” says Chira. “Rather than confront incoming farmers or pastoralists the Hadzabe simply moved away as theirs is a culture of consensus.”

While the land reform laws allowed the Hadzabe to register settlements as administratively recognized villages, in practice the apolitical Hadzabe were unable to control immigration by neighboring agriculturalists and pastoralists. As a result, the landscape was soon expropriated from predominantly traditional and wild species’ uses, to divided monocultures of low-yield beans, onions, maize, and grasslands by non-Hadzabe agriculturalists and pastoralists. As more non-Hadzabe moved in, this land-use change was accompanied by a shift in governance, and by 2009 the majority of Village Council representatives were non-Hadzabe, which led to further subdivision of village tenure and allocation of lands to non-Hadzabe Tanzanian nationals.

As a minority with little influence over village decisions, the Hadzabe retreated into smaller areas of land and natural habitat and many Hadzabe became dependent on supplemental maize. “Hadzabe oral history has no record of famine, which they attribute to reliance on a large diversity of adapted plants and animals rather than a few domesticated crops and animals,” according to Daudi Peterson from Dorobo Tours.

Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy: Retrofitting Communality to the Village Acts

In the 1980s, Dorobo Tours, a tourism business operating in the Yaeda-Mangola landscape, was becoming increasingly concerned with habitat fragmentation and charcoal burning in the area. They met this challenge by striking agreements with communities to provide income from tourism in exchange for setting aside areas of village land for wildlife. Eventually Dorobo Tours partnered with a few local activists to form Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) to better support communities in land-use planning and building governance capacity.

In 2005, UCRT began working with the Hadzabe and the Ministry of Lands to:

  1. (i)

    develop participatory land-use plans to zone areas for wildlife, livestock, and agriculture, and reduce further settlement and subdivision;

  2. (ii)

    provide legal tenure security through communal Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy; and

  3. (iii)

    develop village bylaws whereby the local government could enforce land-use plans.

The CCRO title was originally developed under Tanzania’s Village Lands Act No. 5 in 1999 as the legal framework utilized by individuals living in a village to document and formalize private land. Up until this time, CCROs had only been used as an instrument to secure individual tenurial titles and had not been applied for communal titles to recognize customary lands. Customary lands are defined as village lands under Tanzania’s Lands Act. As such, CCROs are rights exercised at the Village Council and Village Assembly level.

“The Hadzabe tried to formalize their own CCROs by annexing from village lands, but for many of the villages, the Hadzabe population was too small and marginalized to get CCROs voted through by the majority non-Hadzabe Village Council and Assembly members,” Edward Lekaita, a legal advisor to UCRT, recalls. “But in Domanga and Mongo wa Mono and Yaeda Chini villages, there were enough Hadzabe on the Village Councils and Assemblies to push through a landmark vote for three communal CCROs, totaling 34,000 ha and providing the Hadzabe with the rights to live, manage, and use the lands in perpetuity. In the case of Yaeda Chini, the Hadzabe share the CCRO with pastoralists and the CCRO is issued under the name of the village, but the Hadzabe have the rights to practice traditional hunting there. To this day, the Hadzabe are, as far as I know, the only cultural or ethnic group who have been issued CCROs.”

Moreover, a CCRO is a stronger and less easily subdivided title than the original village land titles. Selling land under a communal CCRO requires the agreement of the entire group; it is thus highly unlikely for land under a CCRO to be subdivided. This functions to protect the rights of individuals that are reliant on communal land and vulnerable to land grabs, such as women, children, and minorities. This restriction also increases the likelihood the communal land will remain in its current form into the future, as gathering consensus can be challenging. A possible consequence of this restriction, however, is that any community member seeking to divest from the land is unable to do so, and as a result there may be limitations in leveraging the value of the land for access to credit or to use it as collateral for other purposes.

In the Hadzabe CCROs, fencing, charcoaling, and conversion of lands to agriculture or permanent livestock enclosures are explicitly forbidden and regulated under village bylaws. UCRT has supported the establishment of carbon projects in some of the areas, which are designed to foster sustainable land use. “Here, village scouts are employed and paid through the carbon revenues to enforce the bylaws,” says Daudi Peterson, a co-founder of Dorobo Tours and author of a book on the Hadzabe. “Traditional Hadzabe woodlands are slowly restoring and, with them, wildlife populations are increasing. Before the project, the Hadzabe lamented the enormous reductions in the wildlife they once hunted. But only a few weeks ago, one of the Hadzabe camps reported hunting an eland, a greater kudu, and a wild pig within one week!” The CCROs appear to be helping to restore the cultural identity of the Hadzabe as hunter-gatherers.

Since the recognition of the original three communal titles in 2011, the Hadzabe have secured the rights to four more communal CCROs for their exclusive use (totaling 2700 ha) and another seven (totaling 33,000 ha) to share with pastoralists (Fig. 12.1). UCRT’s work has demonstrated CCROs as an effective route to securing communal tenure claims in Tanzania, and in turn, there is building evidence that communal titles can be an effective pathway to empowering Hadzabe people, protecting their marginalized members, and underpinning the return of biodiversity to the area.

Fig. 12.1
figure 1

CCROs and national parks across the landscape (NTRI, 2019)

Fragmenting the Manyatta: How Privatization and the Subdivision of Lands Blocked Collective Action on the Mara

When Jackson “Jack” Marubu, The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC’s) project lead for the Maasai Mara, first went to the Maasai Mara, the area was characterized by conflict. “Maasai community members would meet with conservation agencies and government authorities and tourism operators, and the conversations would be mayhem—hundreds of people filing into townhalls,” Jack says. “Everyone was arguing their separate points of view and no one could listen or agree, mobilization was totally blocked.”

Like most pastoralist cultures, Maasai traditional tenure systems are communal, living in mobile villages called Manyatta. The British colonial administration perceived Maasai nomadism to be a threat to resource management and sought to develop policies that oppressed pastoralist community movements and communal life, and coerced downsizing to the individual level (Seno & Shaw, 2002). Kenyan Republic administrations inherited these policies and imposed a Group Ranch system on the Maasai Mara in the 1970s to encourage more sedentary lifestyles and commercialize livestock production (Fig. 12.2). This was eventually subdivided further into an Individual Ranch System during the 2000s. This highly privatized system awarded the head of the household, usually a male, the right to sell or lease the land that they claimed.

Fig. 12.2
figure 2

Group ranch system for from the early 2000s. Source: Seno and Shaw (2002)

In 2002, Seno and Shaw conducted a study on Maasai attitudes toward the oncoming privatized subdivision where fencing of individual lands was likely. Although 82% supported it overall as a way to secure land and protect it from encroachment, many supporters (56%) were also concerned privatization would have negative effects, citing reduced resources for livestock grazing and potential limitations to sustaining a livelihood as their main fears. Many were also concerned that dividing lands with fences would have negative consequences for wildlife. Seno and Shaw themselves warned that many Maasai may become landless after selling their lands (4% stated they would sell their tenure rights), predicting that increasing droughts would set in motion a mechanism by which speculators would take advantage of the Maasai’s nomadic disinclination to see land as a commodity.

Many of the predictions from this study have become a reality: a mechanism was indeed set in motion whereby supportive government policies promoted the privatization of rangelands, and in response individuals sought to claim lands and pressed for further subdivision to gain individual land titles (Osano et al., 2013).

“Due poor management of lands, the Maasai mistrusted their elected Group Ranch governance and pushed for further subdivision into the individual ranch system. Many of these land parcels were either fenced for land claims or sold to non-Maasai, especially along accessible routes,” Jack recalls, “Some conservancies, such as Ol Kinyei, are still threatened by this wave of land sales and subsequent land-use changes.”

In parallel to the privatization of surrounding rangelands, the Maasai Mara National Reserve at the heart of the landscape was attracting more and more tourists, currently up to 2700 a day (Broekhuis, 2018), and subsequently increasing revenues. But despite revenues accrued, the surrounding populations remained poor. In 2005, the Central Bureau of Statistics published a poverty study that calculated a 63% poverty rate within 25 km of the park (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2005). Tensions from this inequality were magnified by an exponential population growth, punctuated by the 2008 droughts and further exacerbated by cattle disease that exacerbated declines in wealth.

In an effort to grow grass banks for livestock (Løvschal et al., 2016) and protect them from zoonotic diseases, Maasai and non-Maasai herders erected yet more fences (Fig. 12.3). To access more grass and water, herders encroached into wildlife grasslands further shrinking and fragmenting wildlife habitat. More fences were built by conservation agencies to prevent poaching, illegal resource extraction, and human-wildlife conflict. Ultimately, these fences hindered access to vital resources for livestock and wildlife, caused animal entanglements, and altered species’ breeding behavior.

Fig. 12.3
figure 3

Fences registered on the satellite images (1985–2016). Each year is shown with a distinct color. The year 1985 is marked with a hatched symbol to emphasize the large, densely fenced areas on the periphery. Source: Løvschal et al. (2016)

The privatization of Maasai lands (Figs. 12.3 and 12.4) exacerbated by poor, opaque, and corrupt governance fueled further land grabbing and elite capture with powerful individuals amassing extensive lands (Mwangi, 2007a). These failures compounded in a lack of community cohesion and increased distrust (Mwangi, 2007b).

Fig. 12.4
figure 4

The development of fenced areas for the Greater Mara, as well as for the individual areas. (A) Fenced area of the whole Greater Mara in absolute and relative coverage. (B, C, D) Percent coverage of fences by land category and area. Source: Løvschal et al. (2016)

Figure 12.4 illustrates the rapid increase in fencing, symptomatic of subdivision and privatization, for the Greater Mara ecosystems between 1985 and 2016. Pardamat Conservancy Area (located in the G5 and H5 quadrants in Fig. 12.3) is the most heavily settled and has suffered greatly from an increase in fencing. “During the subdivision of Group Ranches, much of the Mara was uninhabitable due to Tsetse fly and a lack of road networks,” remembers Jack, “What is now Pardamat Conservancy Area was deemed the most hospitable area and parcels here were offered to communities for permanent homesteads.”

In their study, Løvschal et al. warned of a “critical transition to a chronic landscape shift” characterized by a redefinition of relationships between people and land rendering further subdivision unstoppable and determining boundaries that, once set, do not disappear. If trends did not change, Løvschal et al. predicted a collapse of pastoralism, semi-nomadic lifestyles, and the great migration.

In short, the 140,000 ha iconic landscape of the Maasai Mara was fractured into 14,528 individual parcels and divided by fences. Tenure for many community members was secure, but the resulting division blocked migration routes and the possibility of developing a common vision to manage community lands (Lamprey & Reid, 2004).

Collaborative Civil Society: Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association Busting down a Siloed Landscape and Breaking Tragedy of the Commons Mythology

In 2001, the Trans Mara County Council established and contracted what is now Mara North Conservancy to manage its portion of the reserve (Walpole & Leader-Williams, 2001). Five years later, the Olare Orok community and Ol Kinyei Group Ranch established two conservancies for a combined 14,576 ha and began working together to broker lease agreements with commercial tourism operators.

In 2013, a new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act articulated a vision of community conservancies as the instrument for protecting and managing wildlife outside designated protected areas; conservancies were finally given protected area status by law. The Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) was established in the same year to drive the community conservation agenda at the National level and, with this, a need grew to establish regional bodies to coordinate conservancies and give them a forum to voice their views on conservation. Later that year, MMWCA was established as the regional body for the Mara conservancies, tasked with strengthening conservancy management and governance and uniting conservancy voices.– Jack Marubu

Since then, the MMWCA platform has been creating pathways for collective action on the Mara between local communities, landowners, conservancy boards and managers, community institutions, conservation partners, scientific experts, and government institutions including the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Narok County Government (Sopia et al., 2019). In the six years since its establishment, MMWCA has grown to a total of 15 conservancies covering an area of 140,000 ha—a 2280% increase (Fig. 12.5)—with more than 40 tourism facilities paying monthly lease fees directly to the landowners.

Fig. 12.5
figure 5

MMWCA map of conservancies and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Source: MMWCA (2018)

MMWCA’s wildlife conservancies are unique in that they are made up of around 15,000 individual plots owned by Maasai residents of the Mara and Olderkesi, bringing together thousands of landowners under 15 lease agreements with their respective conservancies. “The leases have clearly defined durations (usually 25 years), easements, and lease payments that go directly to the landowners’ bank accounts monthly,” says Jack. “The lease payments come from 39 tourism partners and total US$7.5 million annually. And what’s more, the agreements limit land sales, protecting not only the current landowners but future generations as well.”

Since its inception, MMWCA has also been providing a Livestock to Market program that has developed sustainable grazing plans and empowered herders with leverage to attain a higher price for better-quality livestock products. This is critical for creating strong incentives to participate in the program, one that aligns with their primary livelihood activity. These combined benefits for communities are incentives to participate in actively protecting conservancies. “The expectation is that tolerance for wildlife is boosted and landowners stop activities like fencing, poaching, and any infrastructure projects that will negatively affect wildlife,” says Jack. “The conservation agreement is then fully enforced by the conservancies who are managed predominantly by local landowners. Legally, conservancies are also protected from subdivision and alienation.”

The increasingly unpredictable droughts due to climate change are also a driver to join the MMWCA. Herders cannot rely on rains to produce grass to feed their cattle and shoats. This phenomenon is forcing herders down one of two paths: joining MMWCA as a means of securing a more reliable income (i.e., communalize) or fencing off areas of their lands to grow grass banks for livestock (i.e., privatize).

MMWCA’s conservancies are starting to see real impacts on the ground. “There are now more wildlife in the conservancies than in the Mara Reserve,” Jack says. “We think this may be because livestock and wildlife are mutually beneficial.” For example, the pastoral practices of “bomas,” or livestock night corrals, may create nutrient hotspots for wildlife, and removing woody cover to build bomas may create habitat preferred by wild herbivores for predator detection (Riginos et al., 2012). In addition, the Løvschal et al. study found that, although fencing in the broader landscape has gotten worse over time, within conservancy areas fencing actually decreased (Fig. 12.4).

Ultimately, the Mara conservancies have a long way to go toward securing ecological goals; as predicted, fences are becoming an increasingly urgent threat in areas surrounding conservancies. However, MMWCA offers avenues for collaborative change and for Maasai to take collective action to secure the future of the Mara. Conservancies provide an ideal tool for community development and conservation. This arrangement is now restoring both Maasai culture and wildlife.

Conclusions and Recommendations: Communal Tenure, Collaborative Platforms, Conservation Incentives, and Explicit Management Agreements

We began our study by asking how different tenurial systems contribute to community-based conservation and aimed to explore two examples to shed light on this mechanism and provide lessons on challenges and opportunities. Our case studies highlight the benefits of communal tenure, as it builds resilience to threats against unsustainable land use that can threaten traditional livelihoods and conservation goals. Our cases highlighted how supporting the Hadzabe to obtain communal titles led to improved human well-being through secured access to resources, as well as forest regrowth and indicative improvements to biodiversity with the return of certain species. Here, communal tenure is providing an environment for the Hadzabe to heal and continue their traditional lifestyles.

We believe the Mara case study is a warning against top-down privatization of lands where it is culturally misaligned. Here, the subdivision of tenurial titles caused a fencing epidemic and redefined the relationship between a traditionally nomadic people and their land, blocking wildlife migration routes and the possibility of developing a common vision to manage the area collectively. But, here again, MMWCA provides an example of how platforms for collaboration can catalyze collective action toward sustainable land uses. In this case, participants saw social fractures diminish, and the MMWCA created avenues for mobilization to reduce fencing and spur sustainable management of the area.

A key assumption in these types of programs is that incentives—whether traditional, economic, or both—are aligned with sustainably using the land at the community level. The Hadzabe utilized the democratic governance structure of the CCROs to exercise greater control over their lands to support traditional resource use and thus an ecologically lighter use of the area. The MMWCA platform bolstered collaboration among the Maasai communities, allowing the Maasai to feel secure in their access to land in the future and reducing the atmosphere of land grabbing and subsequent fencing.

The legal mechanisms for titling to support community-based activities in our case studies highlight how legal frameworks can serve as a critical element to responsible management plans for managing resources sustainably. Hadzabe CCRO bylaws explicitly forbid fencing, charcoaling, and conversion of lands to agriculture or permanent livestock enclosures, while the Maasai participate in actively protecting conservancies and stop activities like fencing, poaching, and any infrastructure projects that will negatively affect wildlife. Laws and regulations do not always align with community-based management, but when they do and are widely recognized and consistently enforced, the case studies demonstrate how they can serve as a strong mechanism to support sustainable resource use through increasing tenure security.

While legal titles do not work as a direct incentive in either of our case studies, titles provided a platform to organize incentives. Hadzabe CCROs are supporting forest carbon projects from which the Hadzabe collect revenues, stopping the felling of 12,000 trees annually. Meanwhile, MMWCA’s lease agreements provide financial incentives to landholders from tourism.

Considering the above findings, we recommend community-based conservation projects seeking to attain human well-being and conservation goals through securing tenure complement this approach with:

  • conservation incentives linked to tenurial parcels;

  • explicit sustainable management agreements ideally linked to the conservation incentives;

  • a collaborative platform to support community mobilization and project participation; and

  • a sustainable national financing mechanism.

We also recommend projects that support tenurial systems that are sensitive to, and in keeping with, communities’ traditions and cultures. As with our case studies, highly privatized tenure systems may not be appropriate to all communities and may undermine project goals.