September 2008  
George Jambiya: Bridging Theory and Practice
by Cameron Walker

Ecosystem service payments can, in theory, be a boon to Africa's economy and environment, but the reality falls well short of the potential. This week's Katoomba Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, aims to help fix that, and the Ecosystem Marketplace talk

George Jambiya says he was "a little bit taken aback and disturbed" five years ago, after looking into the Tanzanian government's investment in maintaining natural resources. Limited funds, he found, always bee-lined to high-priority areas such as agriculture, health, and education, leaving little for any other issue.

"Yet at the same time, when we looked at the reality on the ground of this country, we found, as in many African and other countries, the economy is actually very much natural resource–based and depends so much on the functioning of ecosystems," he says. "But somehow it has been very difficult to articulate that."

Jambiya, who has close to two decades of experience studying Tanzania's natural resources, began to consider other ways of supporting them. He began investigating projects valuing ecosystem services and traveled to research centers and projects in Indonesia and India to learn more about how they worked.

Now he's finding ways of articulating the importance of long-term investment in natural resources and the services they provide — through the language of policy.

Exploring Tanzania's Resources

Jambiya entered into the resource management world as a planning assistant in the Regional Development Director's office under the Prime Minister's office in Tanzania's Mwanza region, just east of Lake Victoria. There, he says, much of the work involved planning for development.

"Obviously," he adds, "a lot of our development planning would impinge on natural or environmental resources."

When Jambiya was growing up, his father often worked in remote areas that bordered hotspots filled with wildlife. He took his work with the planning office as an opportunity to explore the environment's resources — including forests, streams, and the inhabitants that had always intrigued him.

This interest carried him to the University of Dar es Salaam, where Jambiya earned degrees in resource management and planning issues before going to the University of Glasgow for his doctorate in geography.

Poverty and the Environment

He began seeing connections between the environment and poverty during a sabbatical with Tanzania's Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA), and then began to work with REPOA's sister organization, the Economic and Social Research Foundation, to create a joint training program that looked at evaluating national poverty policies.

In 2005, an opportunity arose with WWF-Tanzania — one that would involve putting what he'd learned doing research into on-the-ground applications and addressing the intersection of poverty and the environment.

Policy in Practice

As a WWF-Tanzania policy officer, he's helped spearhead several projects that turned ideas about payments for ecosystem services (PES) into novel programs that involve a host of organizations from within and beyond Tanzania.

One of those programs is the Equitable Payments for Water Services (EPWS) program, jointly initiated by CARE International and WWF-Tanzania.

EPWS, which we will examine in more detail later in the week, began in 2006 and looks at rewarding upland people who are the stewards of the mountain watersheds that feed the city of Dar Es Salaam, 200 kilometers to the east.

In the project's first 18-month phase, researchers looked at water quality hotspots on the Ruvu river basin; identified potential sellers and buyers of ecosystem services; and, using their data, conducted a cost-benefit analysis of protecting the watersheds to entice buyers, says EPWS program manager Doesteus Lopa.

The first phase has already shown results: both Coca-Cola and DAWASCO, Tanzania's water distributor, have signed memorandums of understanding with local communities to protect water.

Now the program is trying to address the needs of local subsistence farmers in the study area, most of whom have only two acres to support an average of six people in the household. Production is quite low, at about 100 kg per acre, so many farmers slash-and-burn or move to other areas as production declines.

"Because they are poor, and the production of the land is small, they cannot invest now [in water stewardship]," Lopa says.

EPWS wants to introduce new techniques to protect water quality and improver farmers' livelihoods as part of the program's second phase, which lasts four years and will experiment with agroforestry, contour bands, terraced farms, trenches that eliminate runoff, and household or community woodlots that could satisfy fuel needs sustainably.

Jambiya says it's often been a struggle to take the program from initial idea to on-the-ground program — but one he hopes will be worth it.

"It's been extremely challenging, but also extremely rewarding whenever we make a step forward," he says.

Valuing the Arc

The EPWS program will also benefit from another Tanzanian project in which Jambiya is involved.
Valuing the Arc
aims to tally the value of ecosystem services in large swathes of the Eastern Arc mountains, which provide water and power for close to half of Tanzania's urban population.

Jambiya and researchers at the many universities and organizations involved also plan to identify potential buyers and sellers for services like carbon storage, biodiversity, and more.

Tanzania's government has policies in place to protect natural resources, but that hasn't stopped habitats and wildlife populations from continuing to decline, says Shadrack Mwakalila, WWF-Tanzania's program coordinator for Valuing the Arc. No one knows how much people benefit from specific ecosystem services, and the people who benefit most from some services are often both socially and physically removed from the services themselves.

In addition, he says, markets often reward short-term values over long-term ecological health.

To address these challenges, the Valuing the Arc project has taken several steps. Researchers are working at eight one-hectare plots in the Udzungwa Mountains and three in the West Usambara Mountains to estimate carbon storage and uptake; data sets on biodiversity, rainfall, forest production, and existing timber inventory are coming together. Collaborators are also creating modeling tools, looking at ecotourism and pollination, and understanding governance within the study area.

Beyond Science

"We don't want to just do science for science's sake," says Taylor Ricketts, co-founder of the Natural Capital Project. "We want to have a strong policy basis."

That's where Jambiya comes in. As an expert on policy in Tanzania — and with an intimate understanding of how government works — he helps the scientific end of Valuing the Arc understand what questions they should ask, what information they'll need to be a well-rounded — and working – program.

"Having him on the team is really important," Ricketts says. He describes Jambiya as having a serene presence and thinking carefully before he speaks.

"Underneath that is a very sharp, spinning mind that really understands conservation policy in Tanzania," he says.

Already, Jambiya has assembled a project advisory committee that includes representatives from the government and the water and power utilities. Researchers meet with the committee when they gather in Tanzania — as they are doing this week.

"He has given us this policy connection to all the right stakeholders in government," Ricketts says.

While Jambiya is the program's policy mainstay, he also rolls up his sleeves and dives into the field, says Neil Burgess, Valuing the Arc's program coordinator.

Making Peace

Since 2001, Jambiya has been helping a community in the East Usambaras' Derema Corridor receive fair compensation for a piece of land that was being turned into a reserve. The situation often became tense, with farmers who weren't being paid what they were originally promised threatening to cut down trees. Jambiya stepped in for the negotiations.

"He's quite venerated in these communities," says Burgess, a senior conservation scientist at Cambridge University.

Besides that, he's "a thoroughly likeable guy." Burgess describes him as being large in both stature and in influence, yet "a cuddly bear" underneath.

Investing in the Future

Along with bringing the highest level of Tanzania's government into protecting ecosystem services, Jambiya has also tapping another source: his students. As a member of the geography department of the University of Dar es Salaam, he's constantly bringing his own field and research experience into the classroom — and taking students out into his world.

One of the places he takes his students is the East Usambaras, where he's been working for almost 15 years. Here, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has been setting up mechanisms to help local communities support forests — and themselves. One of the flagship projects is the Amani Butterfly Project, in which communities are farming butterflies and exporting them abroad, increasing their income and protecting local forests; other projects involve bee-keeping, fish ponds, and tree planting.

The chance to visit places like these, as well as to discuss real research in progress, he says, makes teaching "much more enriched, much more enjoyable, much more down-to earth for the students."

These field experiences seem to immerse Jambiya's students in the PES world — so much so that Jambiya is now "enjoying the fruits" of his teaching. Two of his former students now work with him, managing a project in the Ulugurus.

"I am very proud of them," he says.

His university teaching and research piggyback on his work with WWF-Tanzania. At the university, he has been focusing on communities that live adjacent to forests and assessing how they can manage forests sustainably and also reap the benefits.

"A few years ago," he says, "it didn't look very good."

The Benefits of Bundling

Money that did come in from hunting or tourism often was a one-time investment that didn't necessarily encourage long-term community forest management and resource protection.

But by bundling ecosystem services, these communities "could theoretically benefit from the carbon they're offering; they could benefit from the ecological services that they're offering; they could benefit from the biodiversity they're offering," Jambiya says. "They could make it worth their while, and it would give them a much better interest in spending time in managing the forest."

Jambiya enjoys the combination of research, teaching and policy work at WWF-Tanzania. All offer one of his favorite aspects of his work, which he considers "the unexpected challenges that come up that force you to really sit and think."

And all provide another essential quality: "Good people around you to work with, who you can bounce ideas off of, who will support you, come hell or high water."

The university and WWF-Tanzania each give Jambiya both the challenge and the freedom to pursue his work in his own way, he says.

What's fueling Jambiya's work at the moment: developments in global awareness and knowledge about ecosystem services, and carbon in particular. Global concern for carbon sequestration and carbon trading, and the opportunities offered by REDD are things that Jambiya and his colleagues are "watching in an advisory capacity with government and pushing things in that direction."

"The encouraging thing is that we're talking about it, and talking about it at the highest possible levels," he says. "That in itself is a great achievement."

copyright 2008, Cameron Walker.  All rights reserved.