Friday, January 11, 2013

Forest conservation in the Rainbow season

Forest conservation in the Rainbow season

By Florentine van Noppen en Jessica van der Wal
November 2012

To avoid the rainy, windy, Dutch autumn and postpone job-hunting Jessica and I, freshly graduated biologists, packed our bags for Tanzania. I had never been to Tanzania, or Africa, before, so after the warnings about diseases, robberies and scary animals from my parents, grandparents and the vaccination centre, I left home a bit anxious. However, when we arrived at the stunningly beautiful MamboViewPoint my worries vanished instantly. I could get used to this magnificent view, the people we met were very welcoming, and we were assured that scary animals were far away; even mosquitos are completely absent up there.

Our first days we were given the chance to get to know the area. We discovered that it was the rainbow season. Occasionally a bit of rain, but lots of rainbows! Local guides showed us the village and Herman told us everything (that is what we thought, but every week we discovered more) about the many projects that are being carried out or planned. Because of the local approach, all the projects fit very well in the community and are set up in a sustainable way. Water pumps, a doctor’s post, a road, and lots more are already in place thanks to their efforts. It was great to see all this, but it was also time to start getting our hands to work.
Together with Herman and Marion, we decided to make an overarching project proposal for the conservation of the Shagayu forest and a kid’s route. The proposal is made up out of nine projects that include and stimulated people of the community in different ways (education, alternatives, and workshops) to the conservation of the forest. The kid’s route consists of ten signs in Swahili and English about the surrounding nature, culture, the view, the weather and some history. For the route, we worked together with Moddy, an artist from the village, who made the illustrations. This all may sound like hard work, but it was eased by lovely, ever changing views that we had from the top of the mountain, and the birds that just kept being pretty in front of my camera, our good friend the chameleon, chats with the guards, the kooks, the guides and the cleaning ladies. Actually, it is a miracle that the projects got finished.
Off course we had to know what we were writing about and went on an excursion to the Shagayu forest. The first time we went there it was raining, so after our discussion on whether to call it a cloud- or a rain forest, we decided that that day, it was definitely a rain forest. Despite the rain, we had a great day; I was impressed with the enormous trees and the huge biodiversity. Some of the staff came along with us to see what the guests of the lodge actually did all day. They were joking to the people we met on the way: look at us, we are tourists! 
During our stay we were invited to come and drink tea at the homes of our new friends. We got to drink nice teas with cinnamon or ginger and a lot of sugar. We were also invited to attend a healing ceremony in the village. This was very special and different from anything I had ever seen. Liquids were prepared, drumming, singing, incense, and at one point someone had a life chicken on his head. I hope he got well soon..
As you can imagine, our time at Mambo flew by. We are very grateful that we were given this opportunity and the experience was eye opening, inspiring and simply great. When the five weeks were over, it was hard to say goodbye. So let’s say: see you later!

Below a summary of the findings from Jessica and Floor


Intense population growth, causing increasing pressure on natural resources in the West Usambara Mountains in Tanzania, has resulted in large-scale land degradation. Shagayu forest in the Sunga Ward is an important forest that is subject to rapid deforestation. As a result, erosion is evident and negatively affecting agricultural practices. There is a crying need for effective conservation measures. Since the communities living around the forest strongly depend on its resources (mainly for firewood), it is essential to involve these communities in forest conservation efforts, by offering education, alternative sources of income, fuel sources and increasing fuel efficiency. Based on previous efforts and information about the region, nine projects have been developed to tackle these problems. Another overarching goal is to initiate participatory forest management in the area, so that people can contribute to the conservation and share in the benefits. Although there will probably barriers to overcome, accurate implementation of the projects plans will benefit the forest and improve life in the Sunga ward.

Integration of projects and conclusion

A proposal is presented on nine, cohesive projects that will help provide incentives to preserve the Shagayu forest, creating awareness on its conservation, introducing non-destructive income options and develop alternatives for wood sources currently used. Together, the cohesive projects can reduce the pressure on the forest and erosion rates. The projects are: (1) Environmental education; (2) Erosion prevention workshop; (3) Tree nursery and tree planting; (4) Sawdust bricks; (5) Biogas; (6) Stove efficiency improvements; (7) Butterfly farm; (8) Beekeeping and (9) Mushroom farming. Although all projects described above are expected to be feasible, all require additional background research before they can be initiated. Thorough preparation and planning is essential. This, and a business plan, is needed before funds can be addressed. For each of the projects, committees or project leaders have to be appointed. This needs to be done with care, and considering the stakeholder analysis, so that it does not cause (unnecessary) conflicts and maximize the chance of success concerning implementation and sustainability. Also, for the selection of participants, equitable methods need to be found that take into account disadvantaged groups as well other stakeholders and their relations. Furthermore, it is important to realize that the writing of applications for funds and grants is time-consuming and might require experts.
The projects are designed to strengthen one another. It is hereby important to pay attention to the space and time the projects are to be executed, and in what order preferably. First, environmental education is key in developing an initial interest, respect and appreciation for the forest. Then, projects that have relatively easy to meet requirements and generate immediate results, like beekeeping and the erosion prevention workshop, should be implemented. This will give participants an insight in what ways the forest is important, and will help create incentives to encourage its conservation. The biogas project should also be continued as soon as possible, because otherwise previous efforts are wasted and trust in the project will probably decrease. Alternative stoves can be introduced as soon as they are available. the need to carry out a pilot study on the use, realised benefits and demand is stressed. Implementation of the sawdust bricks project can be done as soon as a working combination of substrates is found.
If some of the relatively little demanding projects are successful, interest and trust are expected to increase for projects that consume more time and resources. Butterfly farming and mushroom farming can then be initiated. These projects require more time and investments, but are also expected to have higher revenue. By this time, a start can be made to arrange participatory management of the forest, as the people are expected to have developed a sense of pride, responsibility of ownership. Additional education on environmental issues is needed to enable an environmental committee to contribute to forest management and fully implement community based participatory forest management. Also, from the other side, incentives to help preserve forest, like the butterfly farm, can have far more impact when people are actually empowered to contribute to forest management. The ultimate goal for all projects is that they all eventually become independent from aid and funds, and self-supporting.
Due to increased population pressure in the West Usambara Mountains, the Shagayu forest is declining at a worrying pace. Measures are needed to discourage cutting of trees for fire wood and agricultural grounds. To achieve this, apt community based forest management measures need to be designed and implemented. This proposal presents an overview of nine, realistic projects that, together, provide a stepping stone to a flourishing forest and community.

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