Women-led holistic habitat protection and elephant coexistence in Tanzania

The Women’s Beekeeping and Enterprise project began in 2020 as a result of Wild Survivors’ human-elephant coexistence projects in rural Upper Kitete, Tanzania. The village borders the ancient Ngorongoro Crater and is bisected by a critical elephant corridor, connecting to Lake Manyara.

Women in the community are particularly marginalised. As the family’s firewood and water collectors, women depend on natural resources from the surrounding environment. They are placed at greater risk of dangerous wildlife interactions, dehydration and lung disease (from cooking on open fires in small enclosed areas).

A group of thirty-six women formed the NARI Women’s Beekeeping Group in 2020, due to the shared challenges of living and farming adjacent to the elephant corridor. Wild Survivors supported the group with the introduction of new sustainable livelihoods in beekeeping, plus permaculture activities, alternative energy and education in business.

Beekeeping helps to bridge the gap in historic gender inequality and creates financial independence for women. Established markets for raw honey and wax stimulate the initiatives, and as a result, women feel empowered to start their own businesses. They become ambassadors for the protection of biodiverse forest ranges, which boosts honey production and fosters meaningful coexistence with elephants.

The women-led enterprises improve the integrity of important forest buffer zones around protected areas. These are crucial to migratory species, such as elephants, also referred to as keystone species, for their critical role in maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity. As Tanzania battles with five times the world’s deforestation rate, amplifying the agency of rural women can push the needle to improved land use, poverty alleviation, and natural regeneration.

The NARI women’s group are inspiring neighbouring communities to follow their lead. The ‘Enterprise Hub’ is a learning centre for permaculture, soil regeneration, biogas, water catchment, beekeeping, and agroforestry. This simple and scalable model can be replicated in biodiversity hotspots across the country, in regions where elephant corridors are under threat from habitat conversion, and where honey production is highest. This Biodiversity Protection Value Chain empowers rural women with forest-friendly livelihoods, improved food security, increased resiliency to climate change, and active participation in conservation decisions.

We need investment to reach five key regions in Tanzania, to replicate this scalable and self-sufficient model which preserves Tanzania’s biodiverse ecosystems and improves the lives of local people.