For the last few days we have been hosting Alain Kijazi and Simon Mduma, respectively the Directors-General of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Tananzian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI). Forty percent of Tanzania is protected in some form or other, and almost 6% of the countries land area is fully protected in National Parks. Tanzania contains some of the planets most spectacular ecosystems and these organizations are world leaders in biodiversity conservation. Alain and Simon addressed the University on the subjects of Tanzanian conservation and development, and the role of research in devising effective conservation policy. They were joined by Julius Keyyu, the Director of Research at TAWIRI, and Markus Borner, formerly the African based projects Director for Frankfurt Zoological Society (who has now joined Glasgow as an honourary professor), and we held discussions with our head of college and the Principal about how researchers at the University of Glasgow might be able to help these organisations address knowledge gaps. While there are some pressing questions regarding the threats of infectious disease, the genetic management of largely closed populations, and some thorny questions about the design of pragmatic but statistically rigorous monitoring programs, what struck me was the interdisciplinary nature of the most important challenges: human wildlife conflicts at the edges of parks, the control of poaching, the development of eco-tourism, and perhaps most starkly the management of water resources, and environmental change more generally. To properly address these questions we will need to combine the expertize of microeconomists, social scientists, geographers and hydrologists as well as biologists and epidemiologists. These experts all agreed that while tourism is big business in Tanzania, generating over 7% of GDP, conservation is unlikely to do much to help impoverished communities living in and around protected areas. Rather depressingly, there was little confidence that the interests of conservation would be served through poverty reduction. Apparently experience suggests that better-off communities are even more environmentally destructive than poorer ones. However, it is not a well-researched area, and my feeling was that we just have to think harder and more creatively to find win-win solutions.
Another retrospectively all too obvious point is the disconnect between what better resourced ‘northern’ funding agencies think they want to fund, and the national priorities of countries like Tanzania. All too often I feel that the cart is put before the horse, with ‘northern’ research agenda’s driven through relatively traditional intra-disciplinarily endogenously promulgated thinking, rather than the identification of research that could provide an evidence-base for policies that would actually make a difference somewhere.
Where do we find researchers that are imbued with a real understanding of the developing country priorities, and that have these mixtures of skills, and the necessary outlook to conduct such interdisciplinary research? With great difficulty I think. Young scientists from these developing countries are surely the best bet – having spent their lives so much closer to these issues. We discussed how we could fund and manage a joint masters and doctoral program with the combined inputs of Tanzanian institutions and ‘global partners’ both in the UK and the US (some initiatives are already under way with Penn State University and the Paul Allen School of Global Animal Health at Washington State University). The newly founded Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha provides an excellent and academically broad base for such a program. Now we need to go and find the funding.