If you’re wondering, it means “You push, I push”:

In 2012, Mbamba’s leaders signed an agreement with Mariri Investimentos, the organization that runs the project and leases a 224-square-mile conservation concession surrounding the village. An innovative partnership, Tchova-Tchova (meaning “You push, I push”), emerged. Its goal is to boost community income and food production and include villagers in conservation projects while allowing them to manage essential needs, such as water supply, solar lighting, schooling for children, and crop protection against hungry animals. Because of Tchova-Tchova, Mbamba residents find jobs at the environmental center and the Mpopo Ecolodge, in construction, in road maintenance, and as rangers.

Source: National Geographic, “One of Africa’s Largest Wildernesses is Thriving – Because Locals Have a Stake in its Success”

The article (I hope you get to read it by clicking on the link above – and if you can’t, please do figure out how to gain access – it is very much an article worth reading) is a fascinating write-up on how Niassa, a protected area in northern Mozambique is thriving under a very Ostromian model.

If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Elinor Ostrom, I envy you your introduction to her magical world.

Elinor Ostrom was one of the great economists of the twentieth century, and a Nobel prize winner. Here is her Nobel lecture, and here is where you can read it. You’ve already read ChatGPT’s ELI5 above, here is Wikipedia on why Ostrom was so very awesome:

Ostrom studied the interaction of people and ecosystems for many years and showed that the use of exhaustible resources by groups of people (communities, cooperatives, trusts, trade unions) can be rational and prevent depletion of the resource without either state intervention or markets with private property.

Why is the National Geographic article a good example of an Ostromian solution? Because of this problem:

Hunter-gatherers, farmers, rulers of chiefdoms—people have called this region home for thousands of years. But centuries of colonization and a recent civil war have left communities in Niassa desperately poor. If this magnificent wilderness—ancestral lands of people who have lived here for generations—is to be preserved and nurtured for the future, they must be given a direct stake in conservation efforts and tourism.

Source: National Geographic, “One of Africa’s Largest Wildernesses is Thriving – Because Locals Have a Stake in its Success”

What happens if the ancestral lands of people who have lived there for generations are administered without giving them a stake in the conservation efforts being tried there, and without giving them a stake in tourism activities there? Well, no skin in the game is the simplest story.

The slightly more complicated, but rewarding story, is that it (the Ostromian solution) allows for the following:

  1. The preservation of local traditions and beliefs
  2. More involved resource management
  3. Greater community involvement
  4. An application of economic incentives
  5. On the ground partnerships
  6. A sustainable way of addressing human-wildlife conflicts

Fun exercise: team up with somebody else interested in reading this article and see how many of these features you can identify in this article.

Funner exercise: what other features are there in these article that I have not mentioned here?

Ostromian frameworks are a great way to overcome what is known as the “tragedy of the commons” problem, but there is much more to it than “just” this. If you’re looking to learn more about the world in which we live and how it could be made a better place (and why else would you be studying economics?), learning about Elinor Ostrom, her work and its many applications is a great way to start.

Ten other things that I found fascinating in this article, keeping in mind that I’ve limited myself to just ten, there are many more:

  1. The chonde-chonde ceremony
  2. Niassa, the hunting reserve where this solution is being implemented, is larger than the country of Switzerland. Africa is really, really, really big, and learning just how big it is never ceases to surprise me
  3. The economics of a sustainable model (at least on the face of it, at any rate) when it comes to sport-hunting concessions made for fascinating reading
  4. Positive and negative incentives to protect wildlife and habitat was such a great teaching moment!
    “The more animals, the more tourism dollars, the rationale goes. A community conservation fund administered by the villagers rewards wildlife-friendly behavior. For every tourist who visits the environmental center, Mariri Investimentos pays $25 into the fund. For every prize animal a tourist spots—a lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, wild dog, or hyena—Mariri pays eight dollars into the fund. For every month with no elephant poaching in the vicinity, the fund earns $155. But if Mariri’s rangers find evidence of poaching, money is deducted—$19 for every snare, for example; $232 is docked for every lion killed; and a poached elephant takes $310 from the community fund.”
  5. My word for the day: ungulates
  6. My learning for the day: aardvark means earth-pig. Huh.
  7. Baobab trees live for up to two thousand years. (As you can see, I know very little about biology, so please bear with me if my “discoveries” are old news to you)
  8. Trade is a non-zero sum game across species too! This was such a fascinating thing to learn:
    “Some hives are hidden inside woody nooks or hollow trees far smaller than baobabs. To get to them, Yao honey collectors have struck up a mutually beneficial relationship with the greater honeyguide, a bird they call sego. It’s one of few animals that can digest beeswax. When the birds see a person, and a hive is not far away, they utter a chittering Morse code—tji-tji-tji tji-tji-tji—to signal there’s honey to be had nearby. An attentive Yao answers with a distinctive brrrr-HM, brrrr-HM, brrr-HM.
    The honeyguide leads the way, flitting from tree to tree with the honey hunter in pursuit, calling back and forth as they go. When hunter and bird reach the hive, he pacifies the bees with smoke, chops down the tree, cracks open the bole with an axe, and pulls the honeycomb free. Then he shares the loot, leaving a pile of sugar-laden honeycomb for his guide. 
    In 2015, evolutionary biologist Claire Spottiswoode, from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, and Cambridge University, in the U.K., teamed up with Yao honey hunters Orlando Yassene and Musaji Muamedi to find out if the birds are responding to any old sound or specifically to the Yao call. The team walked through the woodlands on a series of simulated honey hunts, playing three different sounds on a portable speaker: the Yao’s brrrr-HM call; arbitrary human sounds; and other animal sounds, such as the call of a ring-necked dove. The segos were at least twice as responsive to the brrrr-HM call and led the team to hives three times more often in response to it.”
  9. Grab a cup of coffee, and even if you choose to not read the article, please savor all of the photographs. Do this on a computer, because a phone won’t give you the same experience.
  10. My favorite was the photo of the fisherman with the fish in his mouth. What about you?