December 18, 2013

A Dialogue for Landscape Action in the Maasai Steppe

The Maasai Steppe Heartland is home to Maasai pastoralist communities, who raise cattle, sheep, and goats across some of northern Tanzania’s most important wildlife corridors. Encompassing both Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks, the Maasai Steppe Heartland is home to numerous species of wild animals, including elephants, wildebeest, zebras, buffalo, giraffes, and Thomson’s gazelles. At the same time, the landscape is also home to numerous agricultural communities – meaning that farmers, pastoralists, and wildlife all compete for land, water, and other natural resources. As a result, local-level conservation efforts, agricultural interests, and livelihood considerations are often at odds with one another. To achieve success in all three areas, a landscape-level action plan is needed.

To encourage this coordinated action in pursuit of the multiple goals of ecological conservation, agricultural production, livelihood security, and institutional capacity, the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative (LPFN) recently organized a Focal Landscape Dialogue. It brought together stakeholders from multiple sectors to reflect on the state of their landscape and identify ways to scale-up positive impacts. Participants from local NGOs, conservation groups, research institutions, and community groups all gathered in Arusha, Tanzania in November to work through some of the challenges and opportunities.

With limited resources and capacity, a big part of making landscape-level management work is pinpointing the priority areas for action. The Maasai Steppe Heartland Focal Landscape Dialogue took this approach, beginning with guided discussion, debate, and small-group deliberations. Dialogue participants then worked directly with a partner to reflect on their landscape and discuss potential innovations for increasing positive impacts in all the landscape goals. Facilitators gathered these ideas, consolidated them, and presented the list of innovation themes to the entire stakeholder group, who then developed a set of criteria for prioritizing the innovations. Through further discussion and a voting process, the stakeholders selected two priority areas of landscape innovation to pursue: integrated planning and education initiatives.

One group focused on integrated planning. Everyone agreed on the need to incorporate their existing village-level land use plans into broader landscape-level plans. They also emphasized the need to coordinate their activities across individual sectors, specifically linking research agendas with the needs and interests of the pastoralist communities and local NGOs. A second group focused on education and awareness. The group saw a need to move beyond their traditional focus on conservation awareness to education outreach that incorporated all landscape goals, especially livelihood security. This could include investigating new methods of message delivery, such as low-cost video production, and a renewed focus on local-language materials. The participants also saw the need to incorporate better planning in their awareness-raising activities, coordinating efforts that reinforce each organization’s work and ensure that people hear consistent messages from different educators.

What came through clearly is that this is not a solo affair, and partnership with other community groups, NGOs, private sector companies, and government offices is needed to implement any action plan, and ensure its success. In fact, the Maasai Steppe Heartland stakeholders are currently investigating new partnerships, both locally and in the larger LPFN network. They are also continuing to share their successes and challenges with other landscapes throughout Tanzania, and the world, to foster a community of learning and gain insight from others’ successes.

Landscape-level action is not easy, but the Focal Landscape Dialogue gave Maasai Steppe Heartland stakeholders hope that they can achieve their goals through coordinated effort across sectors. In this way, their vital natural resources and wildlife can be conserved while production and livelihood interests are simultaneously advanced across the region. The dialogue participants can now move forward together and demonstrate the benefits of a landscape approach to sustainable development.

African Wildlife Foundation, one of the LPFN partners, hosted the workshop, which also was facilitated by EcoAgriculture Partners and KENVO, and included participation from the local office of World Vision.

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