By Sharon Atieno

Hadzabe, an indigenous community in Tanzania has received the 2019 Equator Prize for a carbon-offset project that protects forests and earns financial rewards.

They had lost 90 percent of their wildlife –rich savannah woodland to farmers and livestock herders who had encroached on it.

However, through a government initiative, the hunter-gatherer Hadzabe tribe secured the first-ever Certificate of Customary Right of occupancy in Tanzania, which asserted their community’s title to 57,000 acres of their territory thus, they could protect it and enter into commercial agreements to earn money from it.

With Carbon Tanzania, a social enterprise working to reframe how people earn value from natural environments, the Hadzabe launched the Yaeda Valley Project to trade carbon offsets from woods and forests that cover their territory earning them around USD 300,000 so far.

“You must understand that we Hadza, we always protect our environment because that is how we survive, so really if this carbon offset programme was not here, we would still be doing that,” Mr Ezekiel Phillipo, a representative of the community said.

Ezekiel in the field
Photo credits: Carbon Tanzania

“But now we earn a lot of money from doing what we do anyway, protecting the forests and the animals that live in it. We are able to do many things that otherwise we could not afford, like sending our children to university, or paying hospital bills if we fall sick, or giving salaries to game scouts to patrol our forests,” he adds.

This year alone the community have sent 12 community members to be trained as forest rangers, supported 25 students as well as providing hospital treatment for 23 individuals.

Additionally, the carbon revenues have paid for a team from the regional health department to bring field clinics to the Hadza communities to test for and treat tuberculosis, common eye disorders, and other illnesses.

“There has been a very big change since the carbon programme came,” said Paulo Isaya Simon, a student whose secondary school costs are covered by the Yaeda Valley Project’s education fund. “I would not be able to study if these payments were not made. Many of my agemates are also in school thanks to it. I want to become a heart doctor, and I want to open a hospital here in my community to help the Hadzabe.”

Carbon Tanzania – in the field at Yaeda Valley
Photo credits: Carbon Tanzania

Moreover, the project has resulted in a decrease in deforestation in the core Hadzabe territory by nine percent in the past five years, compared to a 50 percent increase in the wider region. Populations of endangered African elephants, African wild dogs, lions and leopards have likewise increased in the last three years.

The Hadza project is only one of several that Carbon Tanzania is operating that all focus on supporting communities to obtain land rights or resource rights that result in them earning revenue from ecosystem services/environmental protection.

“This is a nature-based solution that’s helping mitigate the effects of climate change while also preserving a people’s traditional way of life in a modern world,” said Marc Baker, Carbon Tanzania’s CEO and co-founder.