Linking Conservation And Development To Save Africa’s Largest Lake

January 7, 2013 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Family Planning, Protection of Species, Africa, News

As industry and agriculture expand along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, it’s starting to damage the aquatic ecosystem that holds 17% of the world’s water. Is there a way that society can develop without destroying the lake?


Over-fishing. Deforestation. Sprawl. People in developing countries and their environments can sometimes appear to be at odds–but an innovative new project from the Nature Conservancy blends the two to improve people and conservation.

At stake is the world’s longest lake, Tanganyika, which holds 17% of our planet’s fresh water. An amazing ecological system in its own right, this inland ocean, which is nestled between Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia, boasts more than 300 fish species.

But this beautiful landscape is also in trouble. Alongside this ecological bounty sits a fast-growing community. In the area surrounding Lake Tanganyika where the new project has sprung up, 49% of the population is under 15, and the average household size is 6.7 people–putting it on par for the highest in the world. These farmers and fishers live close to the land, and their livelihoods depend on nature. However, the lake’s deep water fishery, their primary source of protein, has decreased 30% over the last few decades.

“People on the lakeshore have shifted to agriculture and they’re eating a lower quality diet than they were 20 to 30 years ago,” says M. Sanjayan, Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist. “Today, people are existing more on cereal diet,” he says. All of this puts the delicate balance of the lake in danger.

“The people there have low access to education and almost no access to health care,” explains Sanjayan. “None have electricity, or refrigeration for drugs, or any sort of medical treatment. So all of this creates a situation where you have a desperately poor rural community that is getting poorer, alongside a collapsing environment at their door.”

This year, the Nature Conservancy is working with Pathfinder International in Western Tanzania to prove that protecting the health of individuals and their natural resources (food, water, soil) will improve their livelihoods significantly as opposed to only treating one issue.

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