The Influence of Village Savings and Loans Groups on Environmental Conservation Efforts in Zanzibar
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Economic development plays a unique role in the rural areas of Zanzibar, influencing the local community’s dependency on the forest for livelihood strategies. The implementation of Village Savings and Loans (VSLs) groups promotes income generation as a means to build savings, increase local investment and provide for enhanced capabilities of its participants to reach their desired state of well-being. As VSL groups are introduced they expand the financial opportunities of their participants and increase their economic responsibility, due to the heightened need to access additional sources of income to meet VSL related commitments. The exploitation of forest resources for income generation contributes to deforestation and forest degradation that threatens not only the ecosystems themselves, but also the livelihood options of future generations. In order to promote sustainable practices that also allow for continued enhancement of capabilities, the future strategies of the projects should recognize the key variables that influence the VSL members’ interaction with the forest. The unique geographic settings of each village determine profitable market opportunities such as the tourism industry. Additionally, forest distance and density help to determine of higher environmental need. Seasonal variations in market supply and demand also affect success of income generating activities (IGAs), and should be reflected in IGA trainings by selecting a set of IGAs that would provide a consistent and reliable income throughout the year. Organizational communication, collaboration and presence, help to provide uniform understanding and sustainable enforcement of environmental management. At the center of all considerations, should be an understanding of the VSL group activities and the variations within the members as defined by savings behavior, loan purpose, role and membership length. The overlap of the WEZA and HIMA projects, through VSL groups, provides a key prospect for creating strategies that compliment and promote sustainability in reaching their individual goals. This provides the opportunity to influence the daily habits and behaviors of the participants, particularly in regards to their interaction with the forests.