National Geographic Society Newsroom

Green Warriors Honored—Continued

Part Two—Tanzania Good tourism should help protect a place, not destroy it. This week two men in two places won the same international conservation award for successfully combating two types of flawed tourism. A Puerto Rican, Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, 43, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for saving one of his island’s last ecologically valuable...

Part Two—Tanzania

Good tourism should help protect a place, not destroy it. This week two men in two places won the same international conservation award for successfully combating two types of flawed tourism.

A Puerto Rican, Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, 43, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for saving one of his island’s last ecologically valuable coastlines from resort development. You can read his story in Part 1 of this report. The annual Goldman Prize honors grassroots activists who have at great effort achieved victories for environmental responsibility and justice.

In Part 2 below, learn how a Tanzanian, Edward Loure, 44, won the prize for protecting indigenous Maasai land-use rights against incursions by agribusiness, hunting concessions, and, of all things, ecolodges.

In this post, the Tanzania story

True ecotourism is supposed to benefit local people. That’s what distinguishes it from mere nature travel. The idea is that if locals gain from tourism, they’ll want to protect the flora and fauna on which those benefits depend.

Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.
Edward Loure. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.

For many of the Maasai of northern Tanzania, however, it wasn’t quite working out that way.

Some ecolodges, along with hunting operations and industrial agriculture, were securing government grants to lands traditionally used by the Maasai and other indigenous groups.

A Maasai himself, Edward Loure had grown up during a time when the government evicted the Maasai from traditional lands in order to create national parks and attract tourism. The policy of moving residents out of new national parks copied the historic American practice—one that deserves reexamination, I believe. Conservation that doesn’t provide for locals breeds discontent, and the Maasai were no exception. These government grants looked like another land grab.

Tanzania has a policy of encouraging foreign investment and development. Fair enough, but the owners of these new enterprises, a mix of Tanzanian and foreign, would file inadequate paperwork, and a government eager for foreign exchange would approve it without doing much to check on rights or benefits to local communities. Maasai intersts were getting lost in the African dust.

“The companies are supposed to support the community,” Loure told me, “but then they would take a shortcut.” The resulting grants closed off herding routes on lands the Maasai had been stewarding for generations.

Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.
Edward Loure helps a young Maasai learn pastoralist ways.  Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.

It’s a variation on a common theme. When I talk to communities anywhere in the course of my own work, I often warn them, “If you live in an attractive place, and you don’t take charge of how tourism is managed there, someone else will.” The ecolodge grants seemed like a clear case of just that.

Until Loure and his team figured out a creative way to take back some control.

He and his nonprofit Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) discovered they could repurpose part of the Tanzanian Village Land Act. A provision designed to manage individual land holdings within villages, they realized, could also be used to recognize land rights on behalf of a community. Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs) would provide formal recognition. A CCRO could thus secure indivisible rights for an entire community to manage their traditional lands.

For the government to sign off, though, the community must have bylaws and

a management plan. That meant the Maasai had to challenge assumptions that they don’t protect habitat and wildlife.

Pastoralists as Conservationists

As a pastoralist people, Maasai value three things: cattle, traditional culture, and natural resources. Rather than needing an incentive to protect nature, Loure argues that they are already doing so and have been for centuries—coexisting with wildebeest, gazelle, rhinoceros, and the other creatures of Tanzania’s arid rangelands. The semi-nomadic Maasai lifestyle mirrors the seasonal migration of wildlife.

“On our land-use maps we have to show that the wild animals use the same routes as our cattle,” Loure says. What about overgrazing? “Overgrazing is a result of movement restriction,” Loure maintains. ‘If you block off the migration routes of wildlife, the same thing happens.”

With the CCRO applications well-documented, Loure says the government would be “ashamed” not to go along: “At the end of the day, they may be a little reluctant, but they fail to say ‘no.’ ”

A community learns how to establish rights to use their traditional lands. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.
A community learns how to establish rights to their traditional lands. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.

Loure extended his work to the venerable Hadzabe group of the Yaeda Valley, a small but culturally distinctive hunter-gatherer people. After overcoming a bit of cross-tribal skepticism—why would a Maasai want to help us?—he negotiated an agreement with nonprofit Carbon Tanzania to pay the Hadzabe for the carbon sequestered in their forests. The Hadzabe are also inviting some carefully managed cultural tourism.

In that vein, it’s good to know that some East African ecolodges are ramping up collaboration with their indigenous neighbors. A few lodges are now staffed by Maasai, or co-owned and co-managed by Maasai, or fully owned by Maasai, Among them are Il Ngwesi, Campi ya Kanzi, and Basecamp Explorer, all in Kenya, and the Maasai Giraffe Ecolodge in Tanzania.

After nearly a decade of work, Loure’s team has used CCROs to secure more than 200,000 acres of land for the Maasai and the Hadzabe. Loure is now moving to help other Tanzanian tribal cultures—Datoga, Batemi, Akie—to do likewise.

If you want to help Edward Loure and the Ujamaa Community Resource Team, you can donate to UCRT here.

Read about Goldman winner Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera and his victory in Puerto  Rico in my previous post. See also Elizabeth Becker’s DSC post about a third Goldman winner, Ouch Leng of Cambodia, and his battle to save the rain forest that defines the character of Cambodia.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo Jonathan Tourtellot
National Geographic Fellow Emeritus; Founding Director, Nat Geo Center for Sustainable Destinations; former Geotourism Editor, National Geographic Traveler; CEO, Destination Stewardship Center; President, Focus on Places LLC