Tanzania’s Lake Natron is one of the world’s wildlife sites that seems to have been in our consciousness for decades. With it’s hordes of lesser flamingos, it has been the star of wildlife programs and threats to its future as a top wildlife site have never been far away.

Lake Natron has featured in these posts before – here’s one to give some background, and there’s further background here.

Helen Byron, RSPB’s Senior International Site Casework Officer, brings news of an important new report that should be crucial in securing a positive future for Lake Natron and its wildlife.

Experts have concluded that mining of soda ash at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania is not economically viable. 

A new Cost Benefit Analysis study commissioned by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST - our BirdLife Partner in Tanzania) shows that the projected return on investment over the next 50 years would be a loss of between $44,354,728 and $ 492,142,797.

In contrast, the Tanzanian public and local communities stand to gain between $1.28 and 1.57 billion if the Government of Tanzania invests in tourism, protection of the environment and promotion of local livelihood alternatives over the same period.

“At the present levels of soda ash prices and investment costs the benefits of ecosystem conservation outweigh the benefits of soda ash mining” Said Dr Reuben Kadigi, the economist who lead the study.

The report further shows that local support for the soda ash mining proposal at Lake Natron is very low, with 84% of 175 local community respondents consulted during the study strongly opposed to the project.  

Lake Natron is the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in the world.  East Africa has between 1.5-2.5 million (three-quarters of global population) pink flamingos and most them are hatched at Lake Natron.  Tata Chemicals Industries put forward the initial proposal to construct a soda ash plant at the Lake in 2006, but withdrew in May 2008 following concerns over negative impacts on flamingo breeding, local livelihoods and the environment.   However, the Government of Tanzania through the National Development Corporation maintains a keen interest.

Lesser flamingos Photo John Karmali/BirdLife

The study, which was undertaken between September 2011 and May 2012 looked at three possible options for Lake Natron: soda ash mining, business-as-usual and ecotourism and livelihood promotion.  Estimates of benefits and costs from the soda ash business were based on eight production options. 

The report was launched at a stakeholder meeting in Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam last week. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism gave the opening speech stating that the Precautionary Principle should be applied to protect Lake Natron. “The value of the pride that we have as a country; the cultural sense and self- worth of the Maasai; the breathtaking sceneries of the Rift Valley and the debt to future generations cannot be monetised and may never be known. Therefore, if we lose Lake Natron, we may never truly know what we will have lost”.

Mr. Deo Gamassa, the CEO of WCST called on the Government of Tanzania to use the report to re-assess its long-standing desire to build a soda ash factory at Lake Natron, saying “The Lake Natron communities are better off without the soda ash plant.  Investment should now focus on promoting ecotourism which is now proved to be the economically better option”.

We hope that the Government of Tanzania listens.

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