The conservation that we want is coexisting with our livestock: animals together with people in a way that has benefits for entire communities. Any conservation that does not have a human face, we are reluctant to support.
A Maasai tribe leader from Northern Tanzania, Edward Loure is a leader in the fight of the country's Maasai People for their communal land rights.
And it's a struggle in which he has ultimately been successful - securing community ownership of more than 200,000 acres of land for his own village and other communities.
His campaigning alone makes him a worthy winner of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa, the world's largest prize for grassroots environmental activists - and the fact that he has been successful where so many others have failed, all the more so.
He now hopes the Goldman Prize will bring recognition for his organisation and community, a marginalised people. "It is a really big thing for us. It will put my organisation into a wider global context."
Loure leads the grassroots organisation Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which has championed community land rights and sustainable development in Northern Tanzania for the past 20 years.
After much struggle, they pioneered an approach which gives land titles to an entire community, as opposed to individuals - something absolutely necessary for the Maasai to pursue their traditional lifestyle in which land and natural resources are shared at a community level.
Thanks to determined advocacy by UCRT, the Maasai's strong communal culture became the basis for the Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO), a creative approach to applying the Tanzanian Village Land Act. Instead of the conventional model of giving land titles to individuals, CCROs allow entire communities to secure indivisible rights over their ancestral lands and manage those territories through bylaws and management plans.
Whether it is because of the prize or just his nature, Loure is cheerful when talking about his work. He laughs a lot and thoroughly enjoys talking about his fellow herdsmen. He says the success of his campaigns is "thanks to very strong support from the communities."
Conservation with a human face
Loure says his community has a long history of experiencing injustice as a result of the creation of nature reserves in Tanzania. He explains that often when land is turned into conservation areas it is not for the benefit of the local communities, who in fact may find themselves being pushed out of the land they have lived on for generations.
Starting in the 1950s, the establishment of national parks did just that, causing the Maasai to become so-called conservation refugees, and in recent years, this conflict have intensified. Urban migrants encroach on rangelands traditionally managed by the Maasai, and the government sells land concessions to a growing safari and hunting industry, though deals often made in secrecy.
Loure grew up in the Simanjiro plains, where his family and others in the community led a peaceful semi-nomadic life. In 1970, the Tanzanian government sealed off part of their village land to create Tarangire National Park and forcefully evicted those residing within the park boundaries.
He believes that this land belongs to the indigenous communities, but as is the situation for many other peoples around the world, this was not recognised as a legal right in the modern nation state. He says he is now suspicious of any piece of land being set aside for organisations purely involved in what is referred to as conservation:
"I'm really worried about it. In my experience, not one piece of land has been given back to us after it was grabbed in the name of conservation."
He says that the Maasai idea of conservation is a better approach, as it incorporates people. Their cultural practice depends on three main pillars of the pastoralists: land and natural resources, livestock and people.
"The conservation that we want is coexisting with our livestock: animals together with people in a way that has benefits for entire communities. Any conservation that does not have a human face, we are reluctant to support."
The modern Maasai
How has the life of the Maasai changed during his lifetime? Loure himself is an educated man with degrees in management and administration.
While higher education is not yet the norm in his community, an increasing number has some form of education today. Loure believes this to be an important part of their development alongside the more modern urban communities.
"Things are changing. We are now encouraging our local communities to take their kids to school. For although we need to preserve our culture, they need to have a formal education to make sure that we know what is going on in the world, so we can compete."
And in order to compete, knowledge of economics is key. "Before, the cattle of the Maasai was for food and prestige, and now we want to also make sure that the cattle can be sold to pay hospital bills, buying food, and other economic needs for the community."
A modern man with strong bonds to tradition
A modern man in many ways, Loure lives a modest lifestyle when he stays in his village, the place he calls home. They cook using firewood and water is sourced from smaller rivers or dams. Their houses are made from wood, grass and mud and typically have only two rooms. "I'm educated and I work for this organisation. But when I am at home, we live in a very traditional fashion", he says, and gives me the recipe of a "delicious" porridge made from grains from the market and milk from the local cattle.
He welcomes some aspects of the modern world, but it does have its complications. Once the children are educated they sometimes leave the community for a more modern life in the city. "We can't prevent that, but this is the main weakness of education. Once you are educated there are no guarantees that you will remain in your original home.
"So we are now trying to work on the tradition, customs and taboos, to make sure that we nurture our kids, so that whenever they get an education, they come back as teachers at our local school, or doctors in our local hospital or involved in the development."
Loure has become an inspiration for how the Maasai can combine the new and the old. "I've become a model in my village and people are now learning a lot from me because I have cattle and I live in the village. So they have started to realise that the combination of both education and culture can really be possible."
The picture of him among his goats is not just a pose. They are his herd which he leads to their pastures and takes care of himself, at the weekends, when he is not working. "I love it and I have a big passion for my goats and cows. They are almost like pets to me."
The communal lifestyle
The 4,300 people in his village have a strong sense of community. There is an area for schools and other training centres, smaller shops and traders. He says it is in the interest of the entire village to look after them:
"Ninety percent of the land is owned by the community and everybody is the watchdog of those areas to make sure that no one can come and misuse that land, for it belongs to all of us."
This arrangement prevents individuals from selling off the land for commercial use, for no one person has the right to make such decision.
The Maasai are traditionally a semi-nomadic people. Apart from cattle rearing, the community gets a minor revenue stream from a small amount of tourism and a carbon credit scheme. Loure says it is important for the community to source all their income sustainably.
When asked how they go about ensuring sustainable grazing in practice, he says mobility is the key strategy to sustainable livestock herding. "We make an annual calendar for how we are going to use the land for the coming year, and we then make sure that everyone understands it."
The calendar shows exactly when, where and how to move the herds between the different areas. "This is because when you move, you allow grass to grow back in one particular area. You also avoid soil erosion, because if too many cattle are grazing in one point it will affect the soil and the grass."
He says that although marginalised, in some ways the Maasai are in a good position, because Tanzania needs them. "Tourism comes to this country for two main things: apart from nature and wildlife they also come because of the Maasai culture. This puts us in a position where we feel that our culture is unique and very strong, and we are very proud."
This, he adds, can be used as leverage for his work. "We are trying to use our tourism and connect this to advocacy programmes for pastoralists."
Inspiring other indigenous peoples fight for communal rights
As successful as he has been, Loure's work does not end with his community. Others face similar threats and his organisation, along with national and international partners, is now looking to replicate the CCRO model throughout Tanzania, with communal grazing lands of nearly 700,000 acres slated for titling in the next year or two.
Loure says it will be tough, as they lack both human and financial resources. Yet his drive, passion and determination are far from depleted. "The plan is to work as hard as we can to secure land rights for all the 76 communities in the northern part of the country, but we still have a long way to go."
Perhaps his work can set a precedent for land rights for other indigenous communities, or at the very least inspire new avenues of advocacy. As one of the Goldman Prize winners this year, Loure is about to set off on a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington as we speak.
There, he will attend an awards ceremony, presentations, news conferences and meetings with political, public policy and environmental leaders. He is thrilled about the trip and hopes to be able to exchange ideas with other campaigners:
"I think it is a good opportunity for me to meet a lot of people and try to share our good practice on the ground at home, and really to try to influence different indigenous peoples in the world to deal with issues of land grabbing, and to make sure that they understand that conservation can't only be done with protected areas, but also on a community level."
Sophie Morlin-Yron is a freelance journalist based in London. For more examples of her work, visit her website.
Also on The Ecologist
- 'Lies in conservation: the truth about big-game hunting and African nature reserves' by Navaya ole Ndaskoi.
- 'Tanzania breaks promise - thousands of Maasai evicted to make way for lion hunt'.
- 'Uvinje, Tanzania - an indigenous community erased in the name of conservation' by Alejandra Orozco-Quintero.
The Goldman Environmental Prize supports individuals struggling to win environmental victories against the odds and inspires ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the world. The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1989 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and his wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. Winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.