Tanzania’s hunters, gatherers strive to protect wildlife

BABATI, Tanzania 

Huddled under a giant tree to shield themselves from the blazing sun, Msyani Kikwa and his children are boiling sap from shrubs to make poison for their arrows.

The bushmen profusely sweat of scorching heat as they prepare their weapons.

Like his father, Kikwa transfers his hunting skills to his children who must learn how to survive in the jungle without any help.

Through the muffled sound of the bush, Kikwa grabs his bow and arrows and creeps on the grass — how a typical bushman would do — to avoid detection.

Within minutes, he hits the target, instantly killing a small antelope or Digidigi.

“I’ve got it,” Kikwa whispered in his children’s ear as he pulled a knife from his pocket.

As a skilled hunter, Kikwa is a respected member of the Hadza community whose members still depend on hunting and gathering for survival.

“When you hit an animal like that, you must follow a trail of blood to find them,” he said.

Human versus nature

At the heart of Yaeda valley, which sprawls across Tanzania’s northern Manyara region, the Hadza’s lifestyle is increasingly threatened as farming and animal grazing activities of human ramp up.

Despite the growing challenge fueled by agricultural societies, the Hadza, who live near the Lake Eyasi, still subsist almost exclusively on what they forage.

While men hunt, women usually collect wild fruits and dig edible roots — considered important part of the Hadza diet.

Amid dwindling food resources, the Hadza are proving resilient to the changing situation.

They are quick to identify new opportunities and use them in the best possible way.

Armed with indigenous knowledge, the Hadza have coupled it with their inseparable bond with nature to live in a perfect harmony for a long time.

However, the idyllic balance between man and nature, is increasingly threatened by the worsening impacts of climate change thus pushing them to the edge of survival.

To cope with the challenges, the Hadza are learning new skills to protect forests and prevent rapid environmental degradation.

The Hadza and Carbon Tanzania — a company devoted to producing carbon offsets through natural forest conservation — jointly implement a new initiative under a United Nations project — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

While humans depend on earth for survival, plants provide 80% of their diet, according to the UN.

Moreover, the forests covering 30% of the earth’s surface, provide sanctuaries for many species, and are important resources for clean air and water — crucial for mitigating climate change.

However, almost 13 million hectares of forests are lost every year due to degradation, thus affecting livelihoods of indigenous communities.

  • Prestigious recognition

As part of UN’s recognition of their efforts to provide nature-based solutions to climate change and promote sustainable development, the Hadza community in Tanzania has won the 2019 Equator Award.

Among the most prestigious awards of the UN for environmental protection and climate resilience, the prize worth $10,000 was recently presented to the representatives of the Hadza community in New York in an event coinciding with the 74th session of the UN General Assembly.

It is awarded after every two years to projects that show outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The Hadza are among few ancient tribes on the verge of extinction.

Working jointly with Carbon Tanzania, the Hadza successfully developed a carbon offset project that allowed them to restore 90% of their land that had been encroached by livestock and farmers.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for urgent action to reduce the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity which support global food and water security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, peace, and security.

Mark Baker, Carbon Tanzania CEO, said the Hadza secured their land rights and obtained the Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO) in 2011, the first-ever official document granted to them.

“The communities have governing structures, by-laws, and land-use plans in force that protect their habitat — forest lands — in order to create carbon credits sold to companies and individuals to offset their carbon impacts,” Bake said.

A total of 42 community members have benefited from the project when secured full time employment after being trained on wildlife monitoring and forest protection.

Each of the forest rangers earn 80,000 Tanzania shillings ($36) per month, Baker said.

Since the project began selling carbon credits five years ago, over $300,000 has been channeled to the protection activities and spent for benefits of the people in the project area, according to Baker.

The villagers spend money generated from selling carbon credits to buy food as well as cater for their children’s school and health needs.

As the Hadza are conservationists by nature, they did not until recently embrace the concept of “owning” land, so they had little legal defense against encroachers.

However, with this initiative, they adapted a legal tool to secure their community’s title on a territory of 57,000 acres through commercial agreements to earn money from it, officials said.

Ezekiel Phillipo, a representative of the Hadza, expressed joy that they were able to earn a living through protecting the forests and wild animals.

“We always protect our environment because that is how we survive, so even if this carbon offset program was not existing, we would still be doing that,” he said.
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