The management of the named Ngorongoro Lengai Geopark this year marked the World Heritage Day, (April 18) with a ceremony at the Olduvai Gorge to publicise and boost the Ngorongoro tourist circuit for the benefit of the Maasai, Hazabe and Barbaig people who have been its custodians for millenia.
The ceremony was graced and officiated by Charlie Stuart, the European Union deputy chief of mission in Tanzania.
The EU is funding social programmes in the geo-park to the tune of Tsh4.3 billion ($2 million) and the Chinese government is giving Tsh10 billion ($5 million) towards the same.
Unesco granted Ngorongoro a geopark status last November. It describes a geopark as a single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.
The Ngorongoro Lengai Geopark is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and is 12,000sq km of rocky hills, underground caves, lake basins, and the active Oldonyo Lengai volcano. Also within the conservation area is the world famous Olduvai Gorge, all under the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.
Tourists visiting northern Tanzania can now tour the Ngorongoro Lengai Geopark and drive through the Ngorongoro Crater, lakes Natron and Eyasi, visit the Maasai Cultural Bomas or homesteads on their way to the Serengeti National Park or the Lake Manyara National Park.
There are 119 Unesco Global geoparks in 33 countries around the world, with Morocco being the only other country in Africa with one.
Cultural tourism is specifically being promoted in Ngorongoro through special Maasai homesteads (bomas) inside the wildlife conservation area.
The Maasai people, one of the best nature and wildlife conservationists, are now benefitting directly from this form of tourism through charges on tourists visiting the cultural bomas.
These cultural bomas can be found at Seneto, Irkeepus, Loongooku, and Kimba, where tourists get a feel of a typical Maasai lifestyle, traditional craft making and food preparation.
Tourists can also purchase ready made handicraft, learn and enjoy Maasai traditional dances and story telling sessions where local folklores are recounted of the Oldonyo Lengai where God resides.
Revenues collected from these cultural sites and community campsites are handled by a community Pastoral Council, and later disbursed to respective communities to fund community projects.
Over Tsh227 million ($100,000) is collected annually from the cultural tourism bomas as direct income. The Pastoral Council is a link between the communities and conservators.
Technology on livestock keeping
One of the biggest achievements of the Ngorongoro authority is the development of Ramat community ranch, to train and expose the local community to modern technology on livestock keeping, focusing on high-quality beef, dairy, and other livestock products including hides and skins to boost earnings from their herds.
Freddy Manongi, the Ngorongoro chief conservator said: “In order to guarantee peace in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, local communities must be given rights, benefits of tourism, and become responsive towards wildlife management. Education is key in making sure that local communities are aware of the benefits of tourism and wildlife protection.
“Without awareness, communities would feel isolated and create havoc in the future. Tourism impacts the local community on all levels of their lives and wildlife tourism accounts for all the income in the area, providing more than half of the jobs,” Dr Manongi added.
“Conflicts between communities and wildlife could therefore be minimised or solved through holistic planning. Conflicts can also be resolved when we embrace principles of community-based wildlife management, which are rights, benefits and accountability among the local communities,” he said.
And that is what the geopark intends to do. Make nature work for the people, as the people conserve the same for their economic and social benefit.