Working to protect the legendary ecosystems and astounding biodiversity of East Africa through conservation efforts.
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
I am 18 years old or older.
Initiative's representative name
Luca Belpietro (Founder of Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust - MWCT)
Initiative's representative date of birth
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
Kuku Group Ranch, Kenya.
Website or social media url(s)
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan going forward)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
I have always been aware that the people are an integral part of ecosystems, and natural resources will be protected where, used sustainably, they create economic benefits for local communities. On this philosophy I wrote a thesis on “Sustainable Development and Environment Conservation: Wildlife as a Natural Resource in Kenya”, seeding the concept of a new model for conservation. I kept reflecting in that direction and saw a solution in letting people seeing wildlife as their ongoing economic resource and long-term future. Conservancies are the new balanced solution, but I like to think of the entire Maasai land I work with as a single conservancy. It’s about working together for collective impact.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
The Kuku Group Ranches comprises 283,000 acres of biologically diverse, critical wildlife corridor area in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills landscape, at the heart of the Greater Tsavo-Amboseli Ecosystem. The problems MWCT is trying to solve include unplanned expansion of subsistence agriculture and settlement, as well as unsustainable exploitive practices, such as charcoal burning, timber harvesting and poaching. These behaviours would lead to deforestation and associated depletion of wildlife population
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Our solution is to engage and empower local communities to be the protectors of their natural resources. MWCT’s organizational mission is precisely to implement this priority in the Chyulu Hills landscape of the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem; specifically, in the Kuku Group Ranches, where land title is held by an indigenous Maasai population. Traditional custodians of the land, the Maasai have struggled to maintain a sustainable communal land use amid modern pressures and policies. Since MWCT began in 2000, the local Maasai have renewed their appreciation of natural resource management and now ally with MWCT for conservation. However, economic pressures are significant and still threaten to undercut conservation behaviours. MWCT works to hold the threats at bay on a daily basis; without the provision of continued incentives and support to the community, the forest, wildlife populations – including lion and elephant – would quickly diminish or disappear, as the land becomes degraded.
MWCT helps and assists the Maasai people to implement sustainable ways to manage their land and their natural resources. Elected members of the community sit on the Advisory Board.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
In order to effectively engage the Maasai communities, MWCT’s approach ensures they gain sufficient and diverse benefits from conservation. Not only does MWCT directly address immediate threats to land and wildlife through patrols, law enforcement and encouragement of improved grazing practices, but also employs community members and encourages alternative income generation activities that create less pressure on the land and natural resources. MWCT also supports community well-being by investing in health and education.
MWCT employs over 150 local Maasai as Community Rangers and Simba Scouts, who track and protect the forests, wilderness and wildlife in cooperation with the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS).
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
95% of the total workforce of MWCT is composed by local community members. The direct employment gives a sense of ownership to the local community, who seek to be part of the solution and take the opportunity to contribute in the improvements of their own land.
MWCT maintains a strong collaboration with KWS in ranger patrols, and also partners with the Kenya Forest Service for the REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) project. MWCT enjoys positive relationships with neighbouring NGOs and group ranches, including Big Life Foundation on Mbirikani Group Ranch and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on Kibwezi Forest Reserve, who are active partners on the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project. MWCT is also coordinating conservation work with Tsavo Trust.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
In 2019, MWCT rangers walked on patrol for 39,579km protecting 283,000 Acres of land and completed 4,906 anti-poaching patrols, prevented 4 lion hunts, 4 bushmeat poaching, 1 wildlife poisoning, 1 charcoal burning and wood logging, 3 illegal fires.
In the past decade MWCT witnessed the increase in lion sightseeing by 50% and restored significantly vast area of previously degraded land.
Over the year MWCT has developed self-sustaining employment among Maasai women. 13 local women groups are in charge of income generating projects such as grass seed banks, bee keeping and selling of the traditional jewellery. In 2019, the women harvested around 2,000kgs of grass seeds, and collected 110kg of honey.
The areas converted into conservancies recorded significant restorations improvements with the return of the indigenous vegetation and wild animals.
MWCT employs more than 300 local Maasai, providing them with a reliable source of income benefiting them and their extended families.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
MWCT aims to educate every member of the local communities on conservation and the importance of being a protector of their environment. Encouraging this initiative by proving on going benefits to the community’s wellbeing will provide strong incentives to reach the ultimate goal.The REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) project is 100% owned and managed by local institutions. It is a unique collaboration between 9 stakeholders (4 neighbouring group ranches, 3 local NGO and 2 government entities). The project covers 1million acres and brings together more than 70,000 people. The objective of this project is to reduce the human pressure to the natural resources and to provide economic benefits to the local communities.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
MWCT hires the only doctor of the area and provide support to 5 government dispensaries. In 2019 MWCT managed to see more than 17,000 patients, provide 2,097 immunisations, performed 3,645 lab tests, assisted 170 hospital births, reached 8 schools and delivered 1,417 family planning sessions.
MWCT is helping to improve the teacher/student ratio by hiring 61 teachers and providing support to 25 schools. To this point, MWCT distributed 64 scholarship and 207 bursaries to the most brilliant kids via a meritocratic reward system. There are currently 13 local women groups who benefit directly from the local projects thus improving their overall wellbeing and role in the society.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
MWCT’s aim is to incorporate innovative and sustainable financing mechanisms to cover long-term management costs. MWCT has always sought to leverage market mechanisms to fund its conservation and community engagement activities. For the past several years, MWCT has played a key role in developing the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project. The first verified carbon units were produced in 2017 and few significant sales were achieved since then. In the next few years, the voluntary carbon market is expected to evolve significantly, and more sales are expected to flow from this project. The steady sales of carbon credits will guarantee the stable financing for the protection and restoration of the local ecosystem.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
US BOARD OF DIRECTORS - 11 members (Edward Norton, President / UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity)
KENYA BOARD OF DIRECTORS - 11 members (Samson Parashina (Kenyan), Chairman of the Board).
MWCT employs over 300 local people in various projects, and the MWCT headquarters team is made of a Conservation Manager, a Health Manager / Doctor, an Education Manager, a Communication Director, a Ranger’s Commander, Program Officers, Redd+ officers, a Livelihood Coordinator.
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
Participated in previous Ashoka challenges