For a number of years, Southern Tanzania Elephant Program (STEP) has led a multi-stakeholder project involving communities, civil society, Government, and the private sector to protect and restore the Kilombero Elephant Corridor in the Kilombero Valley of south-central Tanzania. This corridor (186.6 hectares) connects the Udzungwa Mountains National Park with Magombera Forest Nature Reserve and Nyerere National Park, and previously had no protected status or management. The goal of restoring this corridor is to peacefully manage the regular movements that elephants make across the Kilombero Valley, even though their once-forested routes have been turned into farmland over the last 50 years. By facilitating and managing elephant movement through this corridor, we hope to reduce acute human-elephant conflict and improve food and personal security for the local farming population, as well as to facilitate connectivity between Tanzania's southern and western elephant populations - a vitally important elephant stronghold in East Africa.
At the heart of the project are the communities of the three villages of Sole, Mang’ula A, and Kanyenja, who have agreed to setting aside ~7% of village land for the corridor. Following an extensive consultation process to foster consensus, landowners in the corridor area agreed to have small portions of their land valuated in accordance with Tanzania’s national laws and regulations. The corridor avoids all settlements so that there is no displacement of people. As of August 2023, over 95% of eligible households (316 landowners) have been compensated in return for their land parcels within the corridor being transferred to village government management. With the Rapid Response Award from QRFN, we were able to compensate 14 of these landowners and to leverage additional funding from other donors towards compensation. STEP facilitated financial training for landowners and their spouses (over 400 people) to maximize the benefits of compensation payments. We also facilitated landowners to come together to register and operate Village Savings and Loans Associations, which provide a means to save and invest their compensation funds.
Our work, and that of our many partners, towards restoring this corridor will carry on in the years to come. We will continue to support the Kilombero Elephant Corridor Management Committee, comprising village leaders, District Government, and protected area representatives, to manage the corridor and take the project forward. Next steps include supporting a land use planning process to legally enshrine the corridor and to begin tree planting and other habitat restoration efforts in the corridor. We will also use camera traps to monitor how elephants and other wildlife use the restored corridor. Our work with communities in the corridor villages will also continue, supporting farmers to protect their crops from elephant damage and to enhance and diversify their livelihoods, and enabling school children to visit the corridor and the Udzungwa Mountains National Park to experience and learn about elephants in their natural habitats. In a further effort to ensure that communities see tangible benefits from conserving elephants and corridors, STEP has recently initiated conservation agreements with the corridor villages. Under these agreements, stewardship of the corridor generates monetary benefits based on the attainment of certain conservation targets set through a village-wide participatory process. Village assemblies decide how these benefits are allocated toward initiatives to improve healthcare, education, empowerment of women and girls, and the environment.
Written by Dr. Trevor Jones (Chief Executive Officer, STEP) and Joseph Mwalugelo (Corridor Restoration Manager, STEP)