Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the northern tourism circuit are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, which paralyzed economic activities, especially in the tourism sector.
If the situation of the Burunge WMA in Babati District, Manyara Region is anything to go by, then the villages have lost around a third of their expected annual incomes.
Speaking to journalists during a recent study tour, Burunge WMA secretary Benson Mwahise said incomes of 10 villages surrounding the area have dropped from 103m/- each in 2019 to 76m/- this year due to low tourist arrivals.
The monies are collected from tourism agencies as village fees and disbursed to villages for development projects in view of encouraging villages to engage in conservation efforts, he said.
Burunge WMA collected 2.3bn/- in the 2018/2019 fiscal year but only a fraction of that is expected this financial year following the Covid-19 pandemic, he stated.
The tour was organized by the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The number of visitors is still small compared to those who visited the area between April and June last year. We also appreciate the government’s efforts in promoting tourism as we have started receiving local visitors,” he further noted.
The generated income is spent by villagers on improvement of community social services in education, health, water and roads, he stated.
Conservation efforts have resulted in an increased number of wild animals, as the Burunge WMA encompasses a whole range of wild animals with exception of rhinos, he said.
The district authorities receive 10 per cent of monies fetched from tourism and conservation activities, while the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) picks up 25 percent of the revenues, and 65 percent is equally distributed among the ten villages, the official elaborated.
Burunge is among the first four WMAs to be established in 2003 under a new wildlife sector policy drawn up in 1999, aiming to protect the environment as well as enable villagers to benefit from available resources. There are 32 WMAs countrywide, he pointed out.
The Burunge WMA is made up of ten villages covering an area of 283-square-kilometres. The villages are Sangaiwe, Mwada, Ngoley, Vilimavitatu, Minjingu, Kakoi, Olasiti, Manyara, Magala and Maweni.
The WMA is among areas of high conservation significance since it occupies land having wildlife corridors between Tarangire and Manyara national parks. It is also adjacent to the Manyara ranch.
Dr Bernard Kissui, researcher with Tarangire Lion Project underscored the need for conservation and sustainable wildlife management at Burunge WMA to ensure the presence of wild animals which are crucial in attracting tourists. The key wild animals are lions, buffalos, elephants, rhinos and leopards which are unevenly distributed in the northern circuit.
Dr Kissui where directs the Wildlife Management Centre said there are number of conservation challenges are likely to affect tourism sector activities.
He was concerned with rapid population increase, overgrazing, tree loss through cutting for construction, cultivation and charcoal burning. He said water resources have also been affected as water catchment areas dry up, with deforestation in the upper reaches resulting in the gradual siltation and shallow level of Lake Manyara.
Sangaiwe village chairman Marian Mbere said the decline in revenues has affected implementation of some development projects, much of the cash was expected from Tarangire Simba Lodge and Sangaiwe Tented Lodge.
The village has 573 households, now feeling the loss of low visitations as the Covid-19 crisis reduced the number of visitors to less than ten per months even after restarting commercial air travel, he said.
Richard Kwitega, the Regional Administrative Secretary for Arusha, attested that the number of tourists dropped to approximately 100,000 in total since the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis.
The situation started to normalize between June and July, while prior to the outbreak, the country was receiving up to 1.5m tourists a year, with the bulk of them visiting northern circuit attractions.
Tabling budget estimates for the 2020/2021 financial year, the Natural Resources and Tourism minister Dr Hamisi Kigwangalla said the Covid-19 outbreak had wreaked havoc in government coffers following the loss of at least 100bn/- in revenues from the tourism sector at the end of the fiscal year.
The government’s revenue collections from the sector dropped by 75 percent in the fourth quarter of the 2019/2020 financial year from over 132bn/- to 33bn/-, the minister noted.
Tourism is the largest foreign exchange earner since 2012, contributing an average of $2bn annually, equivalent to 25 per cent of foreign exchange earnings, Treasury figures ascertain.
It accounts for 17 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GPD) and enables 1.5m occupational outlets countrywide, including 500,000 job opportunities, experts affirm.