February 12, 2015

Majory Silisyene

Majory Silisyene

Forest Management in Loliondo, Tanzania

Can environmental awareness help local communities get involved?

Majory Silisyene, Ph.D. candidate in Natural Resources, Science and Management and 2014-2015 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow

As a developing nation, Tanzania has faced numerous challenges in managing its natural resources.  More than 90 percent of its growing population depends on wood as an energy source, and forests have been cleared rapidly throughout the country. In response to continuous forest loss, the Tanzanian government has collaborated with international organizations to begin community participatory forest management in certain parts of the country -- yet most communities lack some critical knowledge and skills to deal with forest management challenges.

Ph.D. candidate Majory Silisyene studies the role of environmental education in forest management in Loliondo, Tanzania, where people's livelihoods depend heavily on livestock and wood. She is determined to raise awareness among local communities in the region about forest use and degradation, and empower them to make decisions that contribute to sustainable resource use.

Silisyene explores different methods of community outreach to engage local people in discussions about forest use and degradation, and to initiate strategies to help sustain forests in their areas.  She experiments with sending conservation-themed text messages to people and using satellite imagery to show villagers where the Loliondo forest used to be compared to where it is now -- two innovative and cost-effective ways to communicate environmental information.

Born in Zambia, Silisyene relocated during secondary school to Tanzania, where she received her bachelor's degree in wildlife management at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro in 2007. After completing her degree, she worked as a field research assistant for an NGO called Savannas Forever Tanzania. She translated questionnaires, reviewed questions, conducted focus groups, administered survey questionnaires, and organized field trips. Soon, she became field supervisor at the organization, managing all data collection and data management tasks in the field.

As field supervisor, she worked with visiting UMN professors Deborah Levison and Joe Ritter -- an encounter that led her to Minnesota for graduate school.  Levison remembers being struck by Silisyene's professionalism and passion for research when they worked together in Tanzania. "It has been a great pleasure to work with Majory.  She's very talented," says Levison, now one of Silisyene's advisers. "I would not be at all surprised to see her in important government positions in Tanzania in the future."

Though interdisciplinary inquiry is challenging and requires more resources, Silisyene finds that applying multiple disciplines and tools to answer questions provides a better understanding of complex issues. "I combine theories from conservation psychology, program evaluation theory, social learning theory, as well as remote sensing techniques for designing my study," she says. "I apply social science and Geographic Information system (GIS) as analysis tools."

Receiving the 2014-15 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship has allowed Silisyene to spend ample time on her dissertation.  "I'm confident that I’ll be able to finish my studies on time because I have been able to make good progress during my fellowship," she says.  At her host center, the Institute on the Environment, she consults her mentor on sources of data, how to implement her study, and alternative ways for presenting her results.  In addition, she has participated in various research seminars at the Institute on the Environment.

After she receives her degree, Silisyene hopes to continue her interdisciplinary work at either a research organization or academic institution in Tanzania.  In her future career, she plans to apply the research skills she's gained from her graduate education. "I hope that I’ll be able to impart these skills onto a younger generation through mentoring others as well as through teaching," she says.

– Lyra Fontaine

Learn more about the research of Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellows at the 2015 Doctoral Research Showcase >