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Mang’ula, Tanzania

Parks and People: Conservation of Nature and Community

Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains National Park represents the front line of conservation for some of the most important biodiversity remaining in the Eastern Arc. This geographic setting provides an opportunity to observe and assess several critical dimensions of environmental sustainability.

Penn State landscape architecture students grouped around a Mikumi National Park sign in Tanzania

Early in the 21st century, our planet faces challenges of enormous magnitude from more than 7.3 billion people striving to meet the demands for survival and profit, their actions exacting a terrible toll on the natural environment. Designers and planners constantly develop new tools to reconcile the most pressing needs of human development and environmental conservation, and must constantly educate new generations of students motivated to use their knowledge to confront the most pressing challenges ever faced by humankind.

Much of the most important remaining natural environment occurs in protected areas, localities set aside to help conserve natural and cultural resources by restricting various types of development and other forms of human activity. This study abroad program emphasizes fieldwork in communities near one such protected area, Udzungwa Mountains National Park in south-central Tanzania.

On the Park Boundary

The interface between national parks and adjoining human populations brings the demands of people into conflict with maintaining natural ecological processes. In the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, we prepare students to understand and resolve competing demands of nature and human development in the places where those issues are most pressing. Udzungwa Mountains National Park provides an ideal opportunity to develop these skills in the context of rural villages adjacent to the largest protected area in the Eastern Arc Mountains, a region known as the Galapagos Islands of Africa because of its remarkable biological diversity. Udzungwa Mountains National Park represents the front line of conservation for some of the most important biodiversity remaining in the Eastern Arc. This geographic setting provides an opportunity to observe and assess several critical dimensions of environmental sustainability:

  • Conserving biodiversity amid human impacts, such as resource extraction and geographic isolation of the park from other protected areas.
  • Protecting fresh water to sustain humans and other species, and for other uses such as irrigating agricultural fields.
  • Maintaining the health of humans vulnerable to environmentally-induced illness.
  • Ensuring the resilience of local cultures faced with growing influence from the developed world.
  • Enabling people to pursue livelihoods – often associated with subsistence agriculture, but also involving resource extraction – while maintaining the national park and the ecological processes necessary for conserving the biodiversity it contains.

Tanzania Program Quick Facts

Program Dates:

Key Issues + Topics:
Community Planning Resource Use + Demand Empowerment Strategies Planning for Sustainability Ecotourism

Larry Gorenflo,
Edwin Sabuhoro,
Tanzanian children with mud cameras
Tanzania landscape with water in foreground and mountains in the distance
A group of students with arms outstretched around huge tree trunk

Program Information

Course Background

The program at Udzungwa Mountains National Park began in 2010, as the focus of a 5-10 year study abroad-service learning program emphasizing the challenges of conserving biodiversity in an increasingly human-dominated world. Principal Tanzanian partners include Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre, the University of Dar es Salaam, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, the Udzungwa Forest Project, and the Southern Tanzania Elephant Project.

The courses and fieldwork in 2010–17 attracted strong students from the College of Arts and Architecture; the Smeal College of Business; and the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Communications, Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Liberal Arts. Some participants have been graduate and honors students looking to the program as a key contribution to their own research interests. Others have been students seeking to expand their personal experience and understanding in a setting rarely visited by individuals pursuing degrees in American universities. In addition to the core time spent in the communities adjacent to Udzungwa Mountains National Park, program orientation occurs at the University of Dar es Salaam and at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, as well as at selected development projects. The trip includes study excursions to Mikumi National Park and the historic Swahili Coast, the latter currently involving the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kilwa Kisiwani.

Approaches + Outcomes

Using a service-learning model long-acknowledged as an extremely effective means to engage students as agents of change, we employ multidisciplinary teams of students in socioeconomic evaluation and community design and planning to address key social and ecological issues:

  • Community patterns of resource use and levels of demand
    (a) Identify areas and ecosystems important to meeting the needs of local villages
    (b) Examine and understand subsistence and economic activities among local villages
  • Community planning strategies to minimize pressures on the park:
    (a) Identify sustainable sources of food, clean water, and fuel
    (b) Implement planning strategies to reduce infectious disease exposure and risk
  • Tourism development strategies to increase park visitation and resulting revenues:
    (a) Identify opportunities to attract visitors to the area
    (b) Define ecotourism approaches that help maintain natural resources as well as local sociocultural systems
  • Mechanisms for empowering local peoples to plan for sustainability
    (a) Define the types of information, skills, and support necessary for such activities
    (b) Create tools for scenario development and evaluation that identify economic options for villagers that do not compromise biodiversity conservation, when possible taking advantage of their proximity to the park
  • Alternative futures for the local villages and park under varying planning scenarios and other key variables (e.g., climate change)
    (a) Develop visual and narrative representations of future scenarios
    (b) Assist village leaders, park officials, Tanzanian university faculty, and non-governmental organizations in defining actions to move towards desirable futures

The principal outcomes of this program will be (a) well-trained students with experience in a cultural and environmental setting different from anything most of them will ever have known, and (b) defined actions with the potential to improve the lives of local villagers as well as biodiversity conservation – results that can be exported to other parks that form a key component of the Tanzanian economy and the economies of other less-developed countries.

The Department of Landscape Architecture and the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, in collaboration with other programs at the Pennsylvania State University, offer extraordinary resources to address a wide spectrum of human development and resource conservation goals. Approaches comprise those listed above under key social and ecological issues. Areas where our programs have special depth of expertise include:

  • Human dimensions of biodiversity;
  • Ecotourism;
  • Park management;
  • Community-based design and planning;
  • Cultural resource assessment and management;
  • Regional-scale resource landscape planning and management; and
  • Sustainable indigenous technologies and applicability to diverse climate/conditions.

Through using a service-learning model, we will train a cadre of students willing and able to engage some of the most intractable problems that currently face the conservation of nature and community development globally. By involving students in active research, we will expose them to research design, fieldwork, analysis, communication, and publication that will help prepare them to ask and resolve critical questions they will encounter in their future careers.

Documents + FAQs

Links + Image Galleries

Student Projects + Reports

Views from Afield

Stunning scenes from Tanzanian parks and communities.