June 2017—Residents of Mfyome village were desperate. For years, residents in Mfyome village had relied in the Ganga la Mtumba forest reserve found within their village for their livelihood. However, spurred by the belief that the area contained gold deposits, small-scale miners flooded the area for mining activity contrary to the law. As a result, permanent residents were quickly losing access to the local forests their families had relied on for generations.
“We were all victims of resource loss,” said Mfyome resident Chuki Mduda. “My fellow villagers and I would always complain over the ever-increasing mining taking place in our village’s forest reserve.”
Millions of Tanzanians rely on the land and its resources to make a living and provide for their loved ones—but it can come at a steep price. Population growth, environmental mismanagement, and commercial expansion increasingly put Tanzania’s natural assets at risk, spelling disaster for rural communities. Without the knowledge and resources to respond at the grassroots level, villages like Mfyome risked losing it all.
It wasn’t until residents teamed up with USAID in 2014 that Mfyome village was able to put their fears to rest. In partnership with the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team—one of Tanzania’s premier environmental protection organizations—USAID trained 35 natural resources committee members (villagers) in environmental law and natural resource management. Before long, trainees were able to recognize and crack down on illegal environmental practices without outside assistance.
Once the training was completed, villagers quickly realized the nearby mining operations were not just destructive, but downright illegal. To start with, the miners failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the area, which is required for any activity that could impact the environment or public health. Without this assessment, the permission granted by district officials was null and void. Armed with these insights, residents had everything they needed to stop local prospecting dead in its tracks.
“After the trainings, we recognized that the miners were undertaking their activities illegally and did not have an environmental certificate as required by law,” recalled Mduda. “We also arrested a truck driver who was transporting mineral ores. We fined him and banned him from ever mining in our village.”
With the mining crisis now behind them, residents can once again dream of a better future for their community. It’s a bittersweet victory: while they have retaken control of their village, it will be some time before nearby woodlands fully recover. But that doesn’t deter locals. Now that they have the power to protect the surrounding landscape, they are not only able to watch over the forest’s recovery, but prevent future environmental disasters from happening in the first place.
USAID works with communities like Mfyome to monitor and protect their local environment through the Citizens Engaging in Government Oversight in Natural Resources Management project, a four-year USAID-funded effort implemented by the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) the project has trained 5,264 citizens (villagers 2977, Village Natural Resources Committee members 1,490, District Natural Resources Officers 27, and Community Based Organizations members (Trainers of the Trainers) 68, and 702 beekeepers) in the two project districts of Mufindi and Iringa in Iringa Region to monitor natural resources and ensure government institutions tasked with environmental oversight are fulfilling their mandate.