Pastoralists in Longido district are currently overwhelmed with fear following the widespread of invasive alien plant species in their localities. The species are also linked to climate change-related impacts. Its propagation squeezes the size of land for pastures for dominating the local ecosystem.
In recent years, climate change has been posing a lot of environmental challenges, among them being the introduction of invasive alien plant species. The alien plants also pose devastating impacts on native biology, causing extinction and affecting natural and cultivated ecosystems.
When alien plant species start propagating outside human control and begin to dominate and displace the local ecosystem, they are said to have become invasive. Invasive species, along with loss of habitat, are the greatest threat to biodiversity of the specific localities.
In Africa, specifically Tanzania, invasive species are considered a major threat to ecosystems and food production.
Longido is among districts in Arusha region, which have started experiencing the negative impacts of climate change in recent years, though introduction of alien plant species pose a new threat to hundreds of pastoralists and the wildlife sector.
Introduction of the “threatening” plant species, which in Maasai is popularly known as ‘Oldepe’ came at a time when thousands of pastoralists are still nursing wounds caused by droughts, which hardly hit the area for three consecutive years.
There is scientific proof that the alien plant species, believed to be vectored by human beings from the neighboring Kenya, seem to grow more rapidly in the drought-stricken areas, including Longido district.
According to indigenous people in the area, the plant is not eaten by livestock and has no medicinal value to human beings as it is suspected to be poisonous.
It is also noted that the tree is very new as it started to appear in the area in the past three decades when the district started experiencing prolonged droughts.
The tree remained green while the entire area is bare with few dry thickets, which cannot be eaten by livestock. It is also said that the tree which is covering large parts of the district is believed to come from Kenya. One of its key characteristic is to kill other vegetation in the area.
Environmentalists link the tree with the impact of climate change, which will continue to ravage thousands of people in Longido if there are no concerted efforts to address the problem
So far, large number livestock lack pastures and ultimately die in the district because of intolerable drought which hit the area hardest in 2009. This goes hand-in-hand with the drying off of key water sources in the area, posing a threat to animal life.
Experts call for the need to swiftly remove the tree species in the area for the benefit of the main economic activities of the pastoralist communities – particularly the wandering Maasai.
It is doubted that the strength of the tree will also bar other potential vegetation to generate in the district, when rains come in the area.
“This is really a threat to us and our livestock. We need urgent measures to address the problem which has started to be chronic in this area,” said Jabiri Olaitas of Gelai-Lumbwa village in the district.
Olaitas also cautioned that during the exercise to uproot the tree, extra care is needed because of its nature.
Lodrick Mika, a villager, also expresses his worry over the new vegetation, saying it has been making pastoralists trek long distances looking for pastures and water as it has engulfed nearby areas.
“This has increased our distance to the pastures, something which wasn’t the case in the past years. Our future as pastoralists remains uncertain because of all these challenges,” Mika says, stressing that the plant species started as small plants but now cover large parts of the district.
Gelai Lumbwa village executive officer, Semetei Mollel also calls for collective efforts to address the problem.
“This plant species are unfriendly to pastoralism and human beings,” he says, calling for the need to phase-out the invasive plant species in the area to protect people’s economic activities in the northern part of Tanzania.
Mollel appeals to the government and other stakeholders to immediately to assist and study the plant before taking other measures.
“Livestock keeping is our main source of income and food, so this plant adds salt in our fresh wounds as recently we lost hundreds of cattle because of droughts, and now this new tree,” says Lesira Samburi, who in 2009 lost more than 400 cows because of drought.
Samburi also urges responsible authorities to collectively come up with a lasting solution to the problem, which is a threat to the pastoralist communities in the area.
A ward councilor for Gelai-Meirugo, Lemomo
Laambara, says: “These things need some scientific approach to address them. To my knowledge, I think it’s high time for researchers to play their role and work on the plant which is getting out of human control in this area.”
“As councilors we’re thinking of coming up with environmental by-laws which will strictly prohibit pastoralists from encroaching the marginal lands such as catchment areas,” he adds.
According to him, lack of by-laws contributed to indiscriminate tree-felling in the district.
“These by-laws will remain as important at this time when the district is highly affected by climate change. This is why we’re coming up with by-laws to control over-grazing and punish all pastoralists who are behind destroying catchment areas.”
“We believe that these environmental conservation by-laws will control environment polluters,” Laambara stresses.
Longido District Commissioner James Ole Millya says: “These new plant species remain a challenge. I know there are different approaches to do such a job but some of them are unfriendly to the environment,” he says.
Longido district is close to the archaeological site of Engaruka, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Natron and Oldonyo Lengai volcanic mountain.
This makes the exercise to spray chemicals to “kill” the new invasive plant species to be carried-out with extra care.
Currently, there are some measures taken by different Stakeholders -- including awareness creation among pastoralists in the area -- whereby villagers are taught ways to conserve catchment areas and the environment in general.
Among the awareness creation initiatives include the community-led documentary-drama "The world has malaria", which was showcased recently in Longido, Simanjiro and Monduli districts.
The film shows were made possible through the Resource Africa UK team and it was one in a series of interventions under RAUK's Community-based Climate Change Adaptation Programme (CCCAP).
The film depicts how prolonged drought turned pastoralist communities into a disaster in recent years. It acted as an eye-opener to hundreds of pastoralists in the district as it gave different options to avert the impact of climate change.
Jamboi Baramayegu is one of the officials from UCRT who says more awareness campaigns are needed to address the environment-related challenges.
“This training includes film and documentary shows which show the real picture on what is going on the ground, especially at this critical time when drought has engulfed their villages,” he said.
He says that after the film shows villagers were given opportunity to express their views on the strategies to address the problem of climate change in the future.