Empowering Communities to Protect Their Ecosystems

Jane Goodall's Tacare approach is community-led conservation.

Jane Goodall

JGI / Bill Wallauer

Local people are typically the most connected to the environment around them. They are invested in their area and care about conserving it.

That’s the idea behind the Tacare method from the Jane Goodall Institute. It’s an approach to community-led conservation that empowers people to preserve and protect the ecosystems that surround them.

Tacare (pronounced “ta-CAR-reh"), was developed by scientists and conservationists from the institute. It empowers local people to lead conservation efforts and make decisions that will protect the environment. 

The Jane Goodall Institute is a global conservation organization founded in 1977 that advances the vision and work of the world-renowned ethologist and activist.

Goodall’s team shares the stories behind Tacare in “Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation.”

Dr. Lilian Pintea, vice president of conservation science at the Jane Goodall Institute USA and co-editor of the book, talked to Treehugger about the approach. 

What is the Tacare approach to conservation?

When Dr. Goodall flew over Gombe, Tanzania, in the early ‘90s, she saw that human communities were putting pressure on ecosystems and suffering from loss of natural resources as a result. Tacare is a proven model and holistic community-led approach created and envisioned by Dr. Goodall in 1994 as a response, and today it focuses on improving the lives of people and biodiversity.  

The Tacare approach is a framework; it facilitates local communities to develop their own development objectives and solutions that take nature into consideration. As the stewards of most of the world’s natural resources, local and indigenous people are the most impacted and connected to their ecosystems that they are part of. The Jane Goodall Institute’s Tacare approach not only engages local communities but strives to assure that local people and institutions own and drive both development and conservation decisions in their landscapes while becoming better stewards of their own environment. 

What is the story behind Dr. Goodall’s creation of the method?

Beginning in 1960 when Dr. Goodall first arrived in Gombe to research chimpanzees, Jane began to recognize the needs of the local people. She came to understand that their own traditional knowledge and cultural relationships with their surrounding environment held many insights into the overlap between the needs of the people and her beloved chimpanzees, as well as the challenges that arise as part of this shared space. 

Gradually, a more holistic viewpoint took shape, and Jane began to develop a deeper understanding of the connectedness of humans and the environment. She came to see how complex problems surrounding human development and conservation need to be approached through the lens of a larger system of collective challenges and solutions. When Jane flew over Gombe and realized it had become an island of trees, completely encircled by human settlements, agricultural footprints, and deforested hillsides, Jane then understood that unless the needs of impoverished communities were addressed, Gombe and its wildlife would not survive. 

Dr. Goodall and colleagues put together a team of Tanzanian staff in 1994 to go into the communities surrounding Gombe, listen to their needs, and develop a program to help. The Lake Tanganyika Catchment, Reforestation and Education (TACARE) project that resulted led to the Tacare community-led conservation approach that today drives our work across the chimpanzee range in Africa and is in the process of being scaled worldwide. 

What is the advantage of putting local communities in charge of the effort versus relying on conservationists?

Local people are the most connected to their environment and rely on healthy ecosystems for access to basic services such as clean water. They are also the most vulnerable and impacted when that biodiversity along with ecosystem services are gone. When we add the fact that Indigenous territories hold around 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity and that 65% of the world’s land is under Indigenous or local community customary ownership and use, it becomes clear that the future of biodiversity and climate resiliency is in the hands of local people. Conservation practitioners need to work with local people as partners to achieve a better future for wildlife, people, and their shared environment. 

When properly designated and implemented with local communities and informed by the best data and knowledge available, protected areas are important and effective in saving critical habitats for species. When approaching protected areas this way, ecosystems and human livelihoods can both thrive. Yet, we have “a last mile” problem in conservation and urgently need more resources and capacity to support and reach local communities. We also need more innovative approaches to support and scale Tacare communities’ positive impact from village to village, using landscape-specific spatial plans, ultimately rolling up into a global scale strategy.

How and where has it been implemented?

Since 1994, Tacare has been implemented in hundreds of communities across Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Senegal, with hopes that it could be scaled around the globe.  

Tacare follows five main principles—engage, listen, understand, act, and empower. It is all about ownership—local communities owning and driving their own development and land-use planning decisions. It starts with proper Engagement. In every case, JGI works directly with community members and leaders, village governments, and other institutions to start a conversation following local customs and government policies. 

Active listening is one of Tacare’s key guiding principles as a way to engage people’s hearts and minds with compassion and empathy. It means listening not only to the needs and concerns of local people, but also to hear and value their insights, values, beliefs, and traditional knowledge. 

Lilian Pintea with community members
Lilian Pintea (left) with community conservationists.


Pintea explains that the approach combines local and Indigenous knowledge with data, science, and technologies to allow users to see trees, houses, farms, footpaths, and water sources. Then everyone has a common understanding of the area and can explore how the needs of people, animals, and the environment are connected and dependent.

In this way, people can see not only the deforestation in one part of the village but also how that tree loss has led to landslides while also degrading their water sources in other parts of the village. Communities can also use these participatory maps to discuss and decide what to do about it and plan for better land use. 

Finally, Tacare facilitates action and empowers individuals, community leaders, and other members of community-based organizations to implement their local solutions themselves. By using citizen scientist research and tools such as Survey 123 from Esri to collect data, monitor, and inform implementation, communities are set up to see the big picture, and the day-to-day plans, to ultimately gain and measure community improvements and conservation success. One important step in the Tacare process as part of empowerment is the “Step Back” stage, should the community elect not to participate or where true sustainable practices have been set in motion. 

These phases are not always sequential, nor are they linear. Rather, they form a web of interactions and feedback loops, all of which are subject to change at the hands of those for whom Tacare is designed. Tacare strives to align the needs of animals, people, and the environment in a dynamic and mutualistic way and is intended to be sustainable—benefiting everyone long-term.

What are some examples of how communities are practicing this? (Or can practice this?)

I remember when I started to work in 2000 with Dr. Jane Goodall and our colleagues in Gombe National Park and the Greater Gombe Ecosystem in Tanzania, we looked at historic aerial photos from 1958 and the first 1972 Landsat satellite images from NASA and USGS. The entire landscape was covered by a mosaic of forests, woodlands, and grasslands connected to Gombe. When in 2001, we got our first 1-meter high-resolution satellite image from Ikonos, we were shocked to confirm that most of those forests and woodlands outside the park were converted to subsistence farms, settlements, or cash crops such as oil palm. 

By 2005 local communities in the Greater Gombe Ecosystem started to experience an increase in landslides, flash floods, and stream erosion as the result of tree cover loss in their watersheds. Local communities saw this problem and decided to work on their village land-use plans facilitated by the JGI Tacare team with support from USAID. 

Today, he says, high-resolution images help them see many of the wooded areas that is being restored through reserves created by local communities. Monitors watch the forests and share what they find with local leaders. This gives satellite data and citizen scientists information to the people who make decisions that affect the environment.

Why is it important that people invested in an area are responsible for caring for it?

What local communities around Gombe managed to achieve there, changed my view on conservation. Seeing how leveraging and using innovative technologies to build resilience in our social and ecological systems has been remarkable, and gives me hope. 

A few years ago, I had a chance to join our Tanzanian colleagues and listen to local communities sharing their views of change as seen on satellite images. One woman pointed to an area on the satellite imagery where she used to have a farm very close to her house. She had to move her farm because the village land-use plan delineated that farm area as a village forest reserve. Now she needs to walk an extra hour each day on steep hills to reach her new farm. 

I asked if it was worth having the village forest reserve. She pointed to deforested hills and an eroded stream on the 2005 satellite image and said, “You see back then we did not have trees on the hills, and we had landslides like this one and the stream was very eroded. That building near the stream is a school. One day a flash flood almost destroyed the school. I had two children at the time in that school. Now look at the recent image, we can see that by 2014, many trees are coming back, and because of that the stream is also improving. I walk an extra hour a day but know that our children are safe.”

This is a powerful personal story explaining why local needs and perspectives are essential to conservation. When representatives from the village government reached out to farmers one by one to get their support in enforcing their new Village Forest Reserves, many like the woman I shared about, agreed to move their farms to benefit their community. Thanks to the JGI Tacare approach, restoring, caring, and protecting their forest became part of a decision-making process owned and driven by the local people themselves directly improving their well-being and livelihoods. 

Why is this so critical for Dr. Goodall and her team?

The world is facing unprecedented challenges. Our climate, biodiversity, and all life on earth are in crisis. Scientists warn us that if we continue to ignore the causes of zoonotic diseases, such as the destruction of natural habitats around the globe, wild meat trade, wildlife trafficking, and cruel factory farming, we may be infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19. 

Dr. Goodall’s message to the world is that we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous and traditional knowledge, as well as our science and our innovative technologies, to make wiser decisions about how to live and coexist as a part of nature. At JGI we see Tacare as a proven model that can help unlock the power of local people long-term, and help scale collective conservation impact around the world. 

From restoring forests, watersheds, and chimpanzee habitats in Tanzania to planting trees in Uganda, to supporting sustainable livelihoods like beekeeping and facilitating microcredit loans, JGI’s Tacare community-led approach is creating effective locally owned conservation decision-making spaces and processes. Through Tacare, technology providers, scientists, local communities, government decision-makers, and others can have a dialogue, develop a common understanding and trust, and convert these data and learnings into shared knowledge, and wisdom ultimately leading to better decisions for people, animals, and our shared environment.

View Article Sources
  1. Dr. Lilian Pintea, vice president of conservation science at the Jane Goodall Institute USA

  2. "The Jane Goodall Institute." Jane Goodall.