Using trees as a way to offset the impacts of climate change in the Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania
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It is a very bumpy four-hour ride up to Lowale, a village in the Uluguru mountains outside of Morogoro, Tanzania, near the top of its 2,600-meter peak, where scientists are trying to teach farmers about combating climate change in their own communities.
Experts are working to help farmers manage water sources more effectively as the rains around Morogoro become more unpredictable. At one of the top agricultural facilities in the country, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Professor Emmanuel Malisa teaches climate change conservation. He works on the Uluguru Mountains Agricultural Development project (UMADEP).
Through his research, Malisa came up with a programme to plant mulberry fig trees around water sources, because figs do not use a lot of water. He believes part of the solution is to make sure the farmers are aware of how to combat climate change, including natural resource governance.
“Fig tree planting started last year, so we are still in the initial stages,” says Lustic Lowande, a farmer in Mohombe hamlet in Lowale who is participating in the programme.
“We have water sources with fig trees planted there already, so we’re seeing the difference between those and the ones that do not have any fig trees,” says Lowande, who is hopeful his hamlet will be able to hold onto their water for a little longer.
“One idea is to strengthen the village governance at the lowest level, to see that they are enforcing the rules,” says Malisa, who says the village environmental committee is one way not only to convey information to the farmers, but to ensure that the rules are followed and that there is accountability with village leaders.
“We are working together to make sure at least tree planting are being carried out in some areas, but also we’re trying to see how they can stop farmland fires,” says Malisa.
“Burning farmland is not a good practice because by burning, you destroy the crop residues vegetation cover, which to me is a source of soil fertility,” says farmer Lowande.
“If you let trees decompose in the soil, they become nutrients for crops. But if you burn them, you lose soil fertility,” he adds. The implication is that by not burning farmland used for some crops, the potential need for fertilizer is reduced.
About 30 per cent of the community has taken up Malisa’s programme, planting trees and making compost. However, some farmers have not used their initiative to follow up upon completion of the programme. For Malisa, this is one of the issues that needs to be addressed.
In Lowale, farmer Arnold Msumi says he has participated in a number of non-governmental organisation programmes, as well as Malisa’s tree planting scheme, but he has a different attitude towards their maintenance.
“I did participate in tree planting, although we have not yet looked to see how many survived and how many didn’t survive,” says Msumi.
He did not follow up, he says, because he had not been told to.
“There hasn’t being enough support from the central government in working with us small farmers, to find out the total number of trees which didn’t survive or are still weak, and the number of trees which did survive,” he adds.
Farming in the Uluguru Mountains is a feat; Malisa says part of the issue of mountain agriculture is to prevent the soil from being washed away.
“We have tried to promote bench terraces, to see that rainwater can be stored in the soil for a long time,” he says, explaining that digging horizontal terraces on the mountain slope helps prevent runoff water washing away the soil.
The programme has introduced a number of fruit trees as well, including avocado, mango, and apple trees. Malisa says that the benefits are twofold the fruit tress are providing a valuable source of food, and through photosynthesis, help remove carbon from the atmosphere.
In the hills of Morogoro, just behind Sokoine University, another farmer, Hadji Haya Mazani, has created a tiny paradise in Mugambazi. Where most farmers make do with beans or corn, he has created an experimental farm to grow parsley, rosemary, vanilla, and even macadamia nut trees alongside other little tree saplings he grows from scratch.
Mazani is no stranger to trees. Before taking up his farm in 2004, he planted trees for a living. One of his courses that farmers can take is how to plant trees on the contour, “so when I plant, the water passes [through] and the soil doesn’t go with it,” he says, highlighting how soil is quickly washed down the mountainside.
While some farmers want to wait for further instructions from the government, Mazani believes that everyone should start now.
“I think the farmers and the government in particular should try their best to start planting trees and have different plots where we plant trees to preserve the environment,” says Manzani.