The government is planning to dispatch researchers to study the effects of Maesopsis eminii, the invasive plant species threatening to turn extinct East Africa’s biggest coastal forest located in Lindi Region.
The study would help to solve the spread of the invasive species from Rondo forest reserve to other areas with similar geographical features.
Director of Forestry and Beekeeping in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Dr Felician Kilahama told The Guardian in an exclusive interview that the invasive species was introduced in the reserves long time ago from Bukoba and Uganda to breed an alternative species instead of relying on only a few strains.
Apparently poor management of the species allowed their turning into killers of the natural forest, he said.
“Due to the vagaries of nature, scientists believe that in forestry, it is necessary to have several types of species, rather than relying on a single species, but the problem I see here is that there was poor management of the species,” Dr Kilahama said.
The government’s decision comes few days after this paper reported on the swift mushrooming of the invasive plant species following a survey in the area with Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) researchers through a project known as Forest Justice in Tanzania.
Dr Dos Santos Silayo, senior lecturer, Department of Forest Engineering, Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), said intentional introduction of alien plants in Tanzania is not a new phenomenon.
He cited the case of East Usambara Mountains where he said the activity can be traced back to the early 1890's, when a small botanical garden was opened at Amani.
The botanical garden became the basis of the 'Biological-Agricultural Institute of Amani', which was formally established in 1902, he said.
During this period, many exotic trees and crops were introduced to Amani by Germans, who were interested in the area’s economic development; especially in the export of agricultural goods to their country, he said.
The Royal Botanic Garden of Berlin provided 859 specimens of commercially important tropical plants to Amani Botanical Garden, he said.
Dr Silayo, who has conducted a number of researches in areas of forest operations management, bio-energy, climate change and REDD, said that there is no shortcut solution to the problem due to the character of the species itself.
“For example, the plant produces many seeds which can remain dormant in the soil for a few months, making control difficult. Seedlings are shade tolerant so can grow in undisturbed forest making it difficult to eradicate,” he said.
However, he suggested that trees may be killed using chemicals (herbicides), although no control methods have been outlined.
Any attempt to eradicate a tree should be taken with care because it may lead to more opening of forests which may fuel re-occupation by the same species. The most efficient way is to exercise natural control by avoiding opening up of forests especially through intensive harvesting for timber and fuel wood.
Commenting on the budget, Dr Kilahama admitted that it is not sufficient to manage the forest activities, adding that the situation does not only affect the forestry sector.
“The government is aware of the problem that is why it has increased the forestry department budget from the previous 8bn/- to 26bn/- this financial year,” he said, adding: “I am very optimistic that with the increase, the Tanzania Forest Service has a big opportunity to improve management of the sector,” he said.
On participation of communities living near the forest reserves, he said, the government would want to see their full participation in protection and conservation activities, saying it was one of the areas to be addressed by TFS.
The invasive species have dominated part of the central portion of the forest reserve, engulfing about 90 percent of it and expanding to either side of the forest.