Building climate resilient futures for EA communities in wildlife management areas

Saturday December 09 2023
Herders and rangers protecting wildlife together. Photo credit Monica Dalmasso

Herders and rangers protecting wildlife together. PHOTO | MONICA DALMASSO

By Tanzania CWMAC

Local communities in Tanzania have set aside grasslands for their livestock to use during the dry times, like an insurance scheme; and they call these grazing banks. When communities manage their Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) or community-led conservancies with community rangers patrolling the landscapes, this offers the perfect model for a grazing bank, which is an essential component in fortifying climate resilience.

These areas serve as vital examples of how people can adapt to the unpredictable impacts of climate change by providing grazing opportunities, which offer a lifeline for communities facing the looming threat of climate-related challenges.

These communities value the WMA for this reason and are willing to protect it; these herders have been out on the rangelands with their livestock since childhood; they know every song of every bird, the paths wildlife take, the best trees for shade. With this indigenous knowledge, they are the perfect players in the protection efforts, acting as stewards of the natural resources they value.

A new protection paradigm: Cost-effective strategies

In the quest for innovative, cost-effective protection strategies, the involvement of local communities in Makame WMA goes beyond a mere partnership—it's a dynamic engagement that actively enlists them as stewards of their own territory. There are approximately 1,000 herders who visit the 371,900 hectares of grasslands daily with their livestock.

Each of these herders will provide the rangers with intelligence on any illegal activity taking place in the WMA and generously provide poachers with false information on the ranger movements. This model has helped to reduce the cost of protecting this landscape significantly. This transformation turns traditional protection paradigms on their head by reducing reliance on extensive ranger teams.


Protection is expensive, often costing in the region of $800 – $2,000 per square kilometer; some community models have managed to reduce this to $270 to $350 per square kilometer.

However, Makame has managed to reduce this to $23 per square kilometer.

"This not only ensures the sustainable management of the WMA but also empowers local communities to be integral contributors to the conservation effort. This strategy has also led to a reduction in poaching by 93 percent between 2019 and 2022," said Mohamedi Kamuna, the CEO of Community Wildlife Management Area Consortium (CWMAC).

Similar to Makame's success, Randilen WMA has also set aside land for grazing, their approach to provide equitable access for their community to these resources has resulted in an astounding 87.6 percent of the local populace indicating that they trust Randilen WMA's governing body, highlighting the mutually beneficial partnership between the community and administration.

These results from a 2020 study of 507 heads of households (323 male heads and 184 female) in the landscape. Furthermore, a startling 92 percent of respondents confirmed that they felt included in the WMA's governance system, which is an even more significant statistic. Similar to Makame, the community will protect the natural resources of Randilen, with zero poaching having taken place in Randilen since this initiative began in 2015. 

This success hinges upon investments in cultivating community support and maintaining a lean team of dedicated rangers. The key to this success is that the community benefits from the Wildlife Management Area through services such as the provision of grazing banks.

When communities feel that they benefit from WMA, they are more likely to protect it; and this reduces their operational costs and delivers a community-led conservation model that is resilient and designed for Africans and their future. 

KWCA's transformative impact

In the wake of an alarming 68 percent decline in Kenya's wildlife population over the past four decades, the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) has emerged as a beacon of hope, driving transformative conservation efforts.

Established in 2013 and under the leadership of Dickson Kaelo, KWCA serves as the national representative body for conservancies in Kenya. The organisation addresses the intricate challenges posed by wildlife decline, land degradation, climate change and inadequate conservation finance. 

Kaelo explains that conservancies is a holistic model that delivers impact beyond conservation, the community institution promotes good governance at the local level, strengthens right to land, and is a tested strategy to better manage the land while creating benefits for the often-underserved communities in rural Kenya; a truly bottom-up conservation and development model.

KWCA's support to wildlife conservancies

KWCA's strategic approach orbits around three pivotal goals: advocating for supportive policies, expanding the area under well-governed conservancies, and fortifying the governance structure to propel the conservancy network forward. The organisation is deeply involved in policy advocacy, capacity building, and networking, ensuring a holistic approach to conservancy success.

A unique feature of KWCA lies in its extensive conservancy network, comprising 190 conservancy members by 2023. The organisation actively engages with indigenous people, local communities, and 12 conservancy associations, fostering an environment where shared learning and coordinated planning so conservancies can flourish.

KWCA has an extensive conservancy network comprising 190 conservancy members as of 2023.

KWCA has an extensive conservancy network comprising 190 conservancy members as of 2023. PHOTO | COURTESY

KWCA places a premium on community -led action, effective governance and management practices, revenue diversification, and climate resilience as cornerstones to a future where conservancies support national parks and reserves in conserving Kenya's wildlife heritage.

KWCA's strengthening Kenya’s’ climate resilience

Kenya's diverse ecosystems grapple with escalating challenges, climate change impacts including frequent, severe and prolonged droughts, floods, spread of diseases and degradation. Community and ecosystem resilience is a priority that the network of conservancies work to address.

More recently, conservancies have undertaken carbon projects to sequester carbon dioxide while generating revenue to enhance conservation and community development projects.

"KWCA's active influence on national policies, such as the Community Land Act 2013, reinforces community land tenure rights crucial for climate adaptation. Moreover, the organization's role in challenging potentially destructive bills, like the Natural Resources (Benefit Sharing) Bill 2018, exemplifies its commitment to safeguarding the conservancy model," Kaelo said.

Beyond policy impact, KWCA’s achievements extend to growing a network of partners that support local conservation efforts, thereby putting communities at the center of conservation. In the face of climate change challenges, this multifaceted approach ensures not only the conservation of Kenya's rich biodiversity but also contributes to the sustainable development of local communities.

Kaelo concludes that KWCA stands as a formidable force, steering the conservancy network towards a future where wildlife coexists with thriving communities.

Umoja pioneering community-centric conservation in Uganda

Nestled within Uganda's diverse landscapes, the Umoja Wildlife Conservancies of Uganda (Umoja) operates strategically around national parks like Kidepo, Murchison Falls, and Lake Mburo, Umoja recognizes the vital role of over 50 percent of Uganda's wildlife outside protected zones.

It fosters collaborative networks, uniting landowners and communities who are doing conservation for shared knowledge and resources, collectively working towards sustainable wildlife management. In a mere two years, Umoja has expanded its reach, incorporating conservancies in Acholi, Karamoja, Bunyoro, and Ankole.


Umoja's exercises a proactive stance in navigating challenges posed by large-scale agricultural mechanization, solidifying its role as an influencer in decisions for environmental protection. PHOTO | COURTESY

From Lapyem in East Acholi to Rwekyapa Agro-Tourism, a private conservancy, Umoja's footprint spans diverse regions, reflecting its commitment to conservation and community engagement.

Umoja's CEO Walter Odokorwot sheds light on the organisation's ethos stating, "Umoja is deeply rooted in a community-driven initiative, empowering local stakeholders to be not just witnesses but active stewards of wildlife and natural resources. This philosophy translates into a holistic approach, encompassing advocacy for community-led conservation, the establishment of important governance structures, and the pursuit of tangible conservation benefits”.

Walter further emphasized that the collaborative spirit driving Umoja's impact, is forged through alliances with key entities such as MTWA, GIZ, Maliasili, KWCA and ANBT Platform, fostering a network of 18 member conservancies.

At the core of Umoja's mission lies a dedication to addressing genuine needs, illustrated by the adaptive management witnessed in the Karenga Community Wildlife Area.

"Umoja's collaborations have successfully resolved conflicts," Walter said.

 "Our efforts extend far beyond. We are actively involved in training and fostering communication about the crucial roles played by local communities in wildlife conservancies, thereby fortifying the very fabric of climate resilience," he added.

These efforts empower communities, equipping them with the knowledge and skills essential for the sustainable management of their natural resources.

Beyond wildlife protection, Umoja weaves economic sustainability into its mission. Initiatives like the marketing strategy for the Murchison Aswa Falls Conservancy, influenced by discussions on conservation and economic prosperity, bring to life Umoja's multifaceted approach. Moreover, Umoja's exercises a proactive stance in navigating challenges posed by large-scale agricultural mechanization, solidifying its role as an influencer in decisions for environmental protection.

Umoja's pivotal role in empowering communities, managing 18 conservancies and enabling wildlife to thrive in unconventional spaces is a testament to Umoja's resilience amid financial constraints, a 50 percent implementation of the 2022 action plan underlines Umoja's unwavering dedication to climate-resilient conservation. In essence, by empowering communities, safeguarding natural resources, and fostering sustainable practices, Umoja actively shapes ecosystems capable of withstanding the impacts of a changing climate, benefitting both wildlife and communities alike.