Communities use Participatory Video to explore environmental justice

For the past two years, MCDI have been working with our partners at the University of East Anglia on a research project looking into local perceptions of environmental justice in communities in our project area, Kilwa District in south-eastern Tanzania. Two of the communities involved in the research – Kikole and Kisangi - have been supported by our initiative for over 10 years, and have already generated locally significant income from timber sales from their village land forest reserves. The third community - Ruhatwe - briefly engaged in participatory forest management (PFM) with us previously, but we had no option but to suspend working in the village as a result of a land dispute with a neighbouring village, which threatened to turn violent.

The research has been designed to allow us to compare the affects of different market-based forest conservation interventions, including certified timber harvesting and imminent carbon offsets sales under our REDD project, as well as PFM more generally, on local perceptions of environmental justice (see the research briefing for more details, also available in Swahili here). The same research is also being carried out in two other countries, China and Bolivia, selected due to cultural and political differences believed to contribute to the shaping of local perceptions of justice and the environment. Thus, the study will eventually enable us to make local comparisons of justice conceptions between sites with greater and lesser emphasis on market-based forest conservation, as well as international comparisons across different country contexts.

We have been using a multitude of different methods to capture local conceptions of environmental justice, and to explore the contexts that frame them. One of these is participatory video. Participatory video creates a forum through which the collective and varying voices of community participants (elders, young people, women, and vulnerable ethnic groups) can be revealed with regards to environmental injustices in natural resource management. More critically, it helps participants clarify issues of environmental justice, resulting in a tangible and locally-relevant output: a film, which can be used as claim-making tool in dialogue with other actors, or as a resource for community self-reflection and decision-making.

Participatory video – what we did

Each participatory video took our social research team about one week in each community. After recruiting participants and providing an overview of the research, the local representatives engaged in a series of games designed to bolster their technical skills and ability to work together as a group, as well as to build their confidence to use the filming equipment. Using participatory methods, our facilitators then help focus the group to explore issues of environmental justice. First, the group creates a problem tree describing the use of critical natural resources (e.g. water and trees); this serves as the foundation of a storyboard, which broadly sets out the scenes in the video. Participants then filmed their participatory video on injustices surrounding the use of their chosen natural resource in the village. They regularly watched and reflected on the footage each day, and community-wide screenings in the evening provide the group with additional feedback on the clarity and resonance of the message of their video with the larger community. We have recently made three of these participatory videos available on YouTube, so that others can experience the different perceptions of environmental justice among forest-adjacent rural Tanzanian communities: Kisangi, Kikole and Ruhatwe.