Biggest annual environmental award goes to tourism activists

Biggest annual environmental award goes to tourism activists

Each year the Goldman Prize honours grassroots activists working to preserve the environment around the world. It has, of occasion, been won by people using responsible tourism in this way. Back in 1993, Margaret Jacobsohn and Garth Owen-Smith won for their work in Namibia helping remote rural communities to link social and economic development to the conservation of the region’s spectacular wildlife and other natural resources.

Nine years later, in 2002, Jadwiga Lopata from Poland was awarded the Prize for creating an ecotourism program that promotes the environmental, economic and health advantages of small family farms over large-scale factory agriculture.

In 2006, Ignace Schops from Belgium won for his role in setting up the country’s first national park, Hoge Kempen, whose 6,000 hectares welcome tens of thousands of visitors every year, providing hundreds of local jobs. According to the Goldman prize website, “one of the most beloved attractions at Hoge Kempen is the barefoot trail, which invites walkers to reconnect with nature by trekking through puddles, mud, dirt and grass with only their bare feet.”

This year, however, the two prize winners whose campaigns are connected to tourism are being recognised less for their work utilising the industry’s potential, and more for their efforts to resist its threats.

In Puerto Rico, award winner Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera helped lead a successful campaign to establish a nature reserve in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor and protect the island’s natural heritage from harmful development. The Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC) covers 3,000 acres of prime oceanfront property along the north coast of Puerto Rico. In the late 1990s, with promises to revitalize the area’s economy, developers proposed two megaresorts—3,500 hotel rooms and residential units, multiple golf courses, a shopping mall, and other urban construction—to be built in the corridor. These projects would have destroyed the corridor’s wildlife habitat, threaten the local water supply, and limit public beach access while ignoring the reality that other similar developments in Puerto Rico had failed to bring the economic opportunities that had been promised.

Biggest annual environmental award goes to tourism activists
Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera

In 1999, Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera came across a newspaper ad about the proposed megaresorts. Thanks to his professional training and personal experience growing up in the region, he knew the area’s recreational and environmental value—and was determined to not let the government pave over it. Rivera Herrera and a group of close friends began volunteering their time to organize public opposition to the megaresorts.

Many years of struggle later, in 2012, Rivera Herrera and the coalition successfully worked with legislators to pass a new bill that designated all public lands in the corridor a protected nature reserve. At every step of the way in the 16-year battle, Rivera Herrera was there to challenge government corruption and advocate for the public’s right to demand protection for the environment.

And now, Rivera Herrera and his coalition colleagues are now mounting a fundraising campaign to help the government purchase the remaining privately owned land in the corridor. They are also leading citizen participation in a plan to develop the corridor as an ecotourism destination, which will generate funding for wildlife management and restoration while revitalizing the local economy.

The other 2016 winner with connections to tourism is Edward Loure, who has led a grassroots organization that pioneered an approach that gives land titles to indigenous communities—instead of individuals—in northern Tanzania, ensuring the environmental stewardship of more than 200,000 acres of land for future generations.

Biggest annual environmental award goes to tourism activists
Edward Loure

In the northern rangelands of Tanzania, communities of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers have sustainably lived off the land for generations, in coexistence with migrating native wildlife. Maasai communities move their herds according to the seasons, taking care not to overgraze the land and share resources with the wildebeest, gazelles, impalas, and other animals that keep the ecosystem in balance.

Starting in the 1950s, the establishment of national parks pushed out indigenous peoples from their traditional lands, causing them to become “conservation refugees.” In recent years, these conflicts have grown. Urban migrants encroach on rangelands traditionally managed by the Maasai, and the government sells land concessions to a burgeoning safari and hunting industry. These deals were often made in secrecy, without consulting the politically marginalized local people.

The increased competition over limited land has not only disrupted the balance of the ecosystem, but also physically displaced the indigenous peoples whose existence and livelihoods had played a key role in protecting the wildlife and environment. Meanwhile, the revenue created from the tourism industry rarely flows back to benefit the displaced communities.

Born to a Maasai tribe, Edward Loure grew up in the Simanjiro plains, where his family and others in the community led a peaceful seminomadic life raising their cattle in harmony with the surrounding wildlife. In 1970, the Tanzanian government sealed off part of their village land to create Tarangire National Park and forcefully evicted the Maasai residing within the park boundaries.

His personal experiences, cultural background, and education—with degrees in management and administration—put him in a unique position to lead the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), a local organization that has championed community land rights and sustainable development in northern Tanzania for the past 20 years. Loure was one of the first people to join UCRT, and together with his colleagues—hunter-gatherers and fellow pastoralists—began driving efforts to protect his people and traditions.

Loure and the UCRT team found an opportunity in one particular aspect of Maasai governance: its strong communal culture. It became the basis for Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO), a creative approach to applying the Tanzanian Village Land Act. Instead of the conventional model of giving land titles to individuals, CCROs allow entire communities to secure indivisible rights over their customary lands and manage those territories through bylaws and management plans. By formalizing communities’ land holdings and providing legal documentation, CCROs would help them protect their land rights and ensure the environmental stewardship of their territory for future generations.

Their early work and experience with the Hadzabe paid off in 2014, when the Tanzanian government issued the first-ever CCRO to a Maasai community in Monduli district. With their rights to the land guaranteed by law, the community members are thriving. Their cattle stocks are healthy, which creates additional income for people to pay for medical care and send their children to school.

Thanks to Loure’s leadership and his team’s dedication, UCRT has protected more than 200,000 acres of rangeland through CCROs. With their land rights secured, a band of Hadzabe people are ensuring the survival of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle while generating modest revenue from carbon credits and carefully managed cultural tourism.

Loure and UCRT, along with national and international partners, are now looking to replicate the CCRO model throughout Tanzania, with communal grazing lands of nearly 700,000 acres slated for titling in the next year or two. Their goal is to scale up efforts so that community-based land titling becomes a key component of land use planning and management that balances the needs of Tanzania’s people, its environment, and economy.


Travindy is an independent website featuring news and opinion on all issues to do with tourism and sustainability. Written primarily for an industry audience, our aim is to support the transformation of the sector into one that is regenerative, restorative and fully inclusive.

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