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Marine conservation and addressing local poverty in southern Tanzania


One of the things people sometimes don’t realise about the work that WWF carries out around the world is that often it is not related to working directly with wildlife or working in ‘nature reserves’. This is particularly true in East Africa where local people’s ongoing reliance on nature and its products (fruit, fish, timber etc.) for their everyday needs means we have to work on addressing both poverty and conservation.

Fish market, Mafia Island, Tanzania. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UKFish market, Mafia Island, Tanzania. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UK

During a recent trip to Tanzania I had the opportunity to visit one of our programmes that aims to do exactly that. The Rufiji Delta, Mafia Island and Kilwa District (Rumaki) collaborative fisheries management programme which includes two key components:

Firstly the programme is helping to protect local reefs, seagrass beds and marine life by forming village level Beach Management Units (BMU’s) and then building their skills and knowledge in how to best manage their local coastal waters in a more sustainable way.

BMU’s undertake regular patrols to deter illegal and destructive fishing practices – seizing illegal gear such as home-made ‘dynamite’ bombs – and cutting of mangroves, designate landing sites for migrant fishers so that they are better able to control numbers and monitor their activities and regularly collect information on turtle nesting sites and fish catches, so that we are able to monitor any changes.

Fishing nets, Mafia Island. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UKFishing nets, Mafia Island. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UK

BMU’s also raise awareness within their communities on marine conservation issues, relevant local and national legislation, as well as practical skills such as how best to free turtles accidentally tangled up in their fishing nets.

Secondly the programme is supporting over 150 Village Cooperative Banks (VICOBA’s). Each VICOBA has a maximum of 30 members who each week save a small amount of money – some to build up the overall capital of the VICOBA which can be used for loans, some as a fund for medical emergencies and some specifically to save for their children’s school fees and costs.

The savings slowly build up and then loans are provided to members who have small businesses to invest in. As the business succeeds the amount that can be saved increases and thus the amount that can be loaned in the next loan cycle also increases – opening up new and more profitable business opportunities for members.

A Vicoba saving book, Tanzania. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UKA Vicoba saving book, Tanzania. Copyright: David Tanner WWF-UK

In rural coastal communities such as those under the Rumaki programme in southern Tanzania these small businesses include small grocery shops or ‘dukas’,  frying and selling fish, honey making, rearing goats and cattle, clothes making and small eateries or cafes.

The VICOBA’s have been very successful with members reporting increased income to improve their housing, clothes and sending their kids to school as well as increased confidence, pride and hope.

How does this benefit our conservation work?

Firstly as the small businesses succeed and sources of income are diversified, local people become less directly dependent on natural resources for their everyday needs. Secondly the work builds significant trust, working relationships and an openness and willingness to working with us, as we seek to address local environmental issues.

To work effectively in conservation with local communities in East Africa, we have to adopt holistic approaches such as these that aim to reduce local poverty whilst preserving nature – the Rumaki programme provides a great example.

We are grateful to the EC, UK Department for International Development, Barclays Bank and M&S for their support of the WWF-Tanzania Rumaki programme.

What do you think about David’s latest blog? Leave us a comment.

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