The Changing Face of Conservation

Community Conservation and Environment Director
African People & Wildlife
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Namayan Mbapay is a conservation leader in the Tanzanian community of Selela.
Neovitus Sianga/African People & Wildlife

When Namayan Mbapay was asked to oversee the management of communal pastures in the northern Tanzanian village of Selela, she was pleasantly surprised.

“The men own most of the livestock in our community, so they usually make the decisions on the use of our rangelands,” she explains. “When selecting me as chairperson, the grazing committee took my gender into consideration because they want to see more women involved in local government. But they also saw that I was punctual, organized, willing to volunteer, and at the forefront of the conversation about environmental conservation.”

As a thirty-five-year-old mother of six and a member of the traditionally male-dominated Maasai tribe, Namayan stands out in her community as a conservation leader. Her new appointment is indicative of a larger change in Tanzania: The country’s government is working to achieve greater gender parity across all levels of public policy.

One of three women on the 13–person committee, Namayan now makes decisions such as where and when community members can graze their livestock and which areas should be set aside for dry season grazing.

More than 95 percent of Selela’s residents depend on communal pastures to raise healthy livestock herds for their livelihoods. But due to climate change and the overburdened use of natural resources, the future of local rangelands is at risk.

"We’re seeing invasive plant species, environmental degradation, drought, and increased areas of bare ground,” says Namayan. “Thousands of our livestock have died over the past few years because of these conditions. Many herders are moving farther out in search of fresh pastures to graze their livestock. We must take urgent action to restore our rangelands and conserve them for future generations.”

To help identify solutions for improved natural resource management, Selela’s government joined African People & Wildlife’s Sustainable Rangelands Initiative. The program works hand in hand with rural communities to ensure that local pastures are kept open and flourishing for the people, livestock, and wildlife that share these vital habitats.

Tanzania’s rangelands cover approximately 148 million acres—a third of the country—and are used by up to 30 percent of the population. These landscapes have vital ecological significance because they contain a large number of endemic species, high species diversity, unique ecosystems, and critical habitats for threatened and endangered wildlife.

We have many different wild animals in the area, including the rare gerenuk, lions, and leopards. Zebra and impala move around outside of our home at night. We’ve been living harmoniously with wildlife for a very long time, and I hope we can continue to do so well into the future.

Namayan Mbapay

Namayan loves working with Selela’s leadership and is proud to be a female conservationist. In addition to leading rangeland protection efforts in her community, she makes and sells fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly cookstoves and participates in tree planting campaigns.

“I’m so happy that African People & Wildlife’s CEO is also a woman who cares about our environment, the wellbeing of pastoral communities, and wildlife,” she says. “I hope we can inspire more women to get involved in conservation.”

Learn more about how APW’s Sustainability Rangelands Initiative empowers and mobilizes rural communities to protect their natural resources.

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