Residents of Kilimanjaro region are now paying a heavy price for destroying the environment through uncontrolled human activities. Such activities which have been going on for several years with the full knowledge of various regional and local authorities range from wanton cutting of trees to feed the fast growing cross-border trade in timber and logs to grazing livestock in forests and open areas…
As a result residents of Moshi Town have now to put up with water rationing, an experience that was unheard of in the town, after many water sources have dried and the remaining few can only discharge a small amount of water. The amount of rainfall has also gone down drastically while the rainy seasons have become unpredictable, leading to crop failures and subsequent food shortage.
The residents have also to put up with searing heat as daily temperatures continue to top the country’s record. Various stakeholders have started taking measures to rehabilitate the environment but authorities say it will take at least three years of seriousness and hard work to reverse the situation.
“No area has been spared by severe environmental destruction that has been going on in this part of the country and which has been fuelled to a great extent by the craze to earn quick money through sale of forest products.
The Kilimanjaro, Njoro and Kahe forests, among others have seriously been degraded,” Moshi District Commissioner Mussa Samizi told members of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) who visited the region recently.
He explains that the regional government has mobilized stakeholders to take various measures to rehabilitate the environment; the success of the campaign will depend on a number of things including the seriousness of government leaders at various levels and diligence and honesty of officials and experts vested with the responsibility to protect and manage the environment and its natural resources. Full participation of communities, families and individuals is also crucial in the restoration of the degrade environment.
“It will take us at least three years to see changes in the environment, to restore forests, natural vegetation and soil cover in the seriously degraded areas.
But the onus of bringing about these changes will depend very much on natural resources officers- how they execute their duties and how they enforce rules and regulations governing the management of natural resources,” he says, adding that severe environmental destruction in the region has led to serious food shortage as “many parts of the region have had to depend on food handouts for three consecutive years. This is a serious situation because the problem ceases to be an environment issue and directly threatens people’s lives.”
Following the alarming rate of deforestation and environmental degradation, Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Leonidas Gama has met with various officials in a bid to identify causes of the destruction and find ways to reverse the situation. Such meetings have involved village chairmen, village executive officers, councilors, ward executive officers, district commissioners and district departmental heads.
The most recent meeting, the regional consultative meeting, brought together all regional departmental heads, parliamentarians, and district commissioners, members of the regional security committee and climate change experts from the University of Dar es Salaam.
During the meeting, participants acknowledged that the current alarming situation of environmental destruction has been brought about failure to enforce existing laws, rules and regulations governing the protection and management of the environment and natural resources.
“We have acknowledged that the various authorities related to environment and natural resources have not been doing their work as required and people have taken advantage of this laxity and negligence to plunder our natural resources and destroy the environment.
But the situation was also traced down to irresponsible individual officers in the natural resources department,” the DC says. He adds that there allegations that some heads of department including forest officers and district natural resources officers collude with people who engage in illegal harvesting of timber and logs in natural forest. This has resuted in failure to enforce rules and regulations governing harvesting of forest resources.
According to Mr Samizi, the regional consultative meeting decided to halt cross-border trade in forest products in order to determine the extent of deforestation and allow for rehabilitation measures to be implemented.
The members also agreed to revamp the tree planting campaign focusing on seriously degraded areas such as water sources and river banks while scaling up environmental education in schools and rural communities. “The aim is to see that everyone participates in the conservation of the environment in their daily activities and not just at this time of a special campaign to rehabilitate the degraded environment,” he notes.
Commenting on the time Kilimanjaro residents may take to rehabilitate the environment and restore water sources, Prof Willy Makundi says that talking of rehabilitating the extensively destroyed environment in just three years is unrealistic bearing in mind the size of the region, the lack of law enforcement and the lack of seriousness and political will among key leaders in the region.
“I don’t believe we can repair this damage in just three years; it could take us twenty years or more. We can repair specific areas, like those hit with landslides, in three years by planting particular types of grass and climbers and making such places off-limit to people and livestock. But delicate areas like water sources, river banks, swamps and lakes where farming has been going on will take longer to rehabilitate,” he eplains.
Prof Makundi is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body that advises the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on all scientific issues related to climate change. He is also the resident director of the proposed Kilimanjaro International Climate Change Centre to be built in Moshi and Climate Change Advisor to the Government of Rwanda.
He said that another area that could be repaired within a short time is forests but he hastened to highlight the difficulty in implementing the proposed measures. “It is possible to ban harvesting of forests- halting local and cross-border trade in logs, timber, poles and charcoal so as to give time to forests to recover and at the same time plant new tress. But such a ban cannot stand for a long time because it will affect production in factories which use raw materials from forests, it will increase unemployment and also make life even more difficult for many ordinary people. This is one of the areas where rehabilitation will take more than three years,” he noted.
The geographical size of the region in relation to law enforcement is another problem. “The region occupies a large area in which every corner is experiencing environmental destruction. Under the current set up, the regional government has no capacity to enforce laws, rules and regulations governing the management of the environment and natural resources.
One would think village chairmen, village executive officers and other leaders at this level would become handy in law enforcement but all these people have been compromised and are actually in the frontline when it comes to plundering forests and other natural resources,” he says, adding that one way out could be to establish special environmental police but this may not be feasible due to lack of seriousness and other constraints on the part of the government.
Rajabu Nkya who is the Councilor for Machame East has hailed the new push to conserve the environment and halt deforestation initiated by Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Leonidas Gama, saying that previously there were isolated efforts by some groups and individuals which however lacked government support.
Following several meetings that involved government leaders, politicians, experts and other stakeholders, there has been a new awakening regarding environmental conservation among communities which is a good sign for change. However the task to address deforestation and environmental degradation in general seems to be overwhelming and might take longer than expected.
“I am afraid it will take more than three years to reverse this trend of environmental degradation. It is easy to mobilize communities to stop deforestation but we should remind ourselves that in this campaign we shall be fighting against people who are rich and those who have political might; these are the ones who are behind the problem and they are not going to give in easily,” he says.
Mr. Nkya also saw another huddle in the implementation of the region’s resolve to halt the destruction of environment. “What drives villagers to plunder natural forests is the economic hardship they are facing partly caused by the slump in coffee prices.
Some of them have tried their hands in horticulture and dairy farming but these have done little to lift them out of poverty due to low market prices. So they have decided to engage in illegal logging for timber while others have turned to charcoal making. In both cases they can make money quickly, ” he explains.
The Councilor suggested that for the rehabilitation campaign to succeed, the government should think of subsidizing coffee prices so that people go back to coffee farming which provides for agroforestry. “They will get good money from coffee and at the same time plant trees on their farms and use them for various purposes.
This will reduce pressure on natural forests and so help to rehabilitate the degraded environment,” said Nkya. He added that the same method, subsidizing cash crop prices, could be used in other parts of the country to address the issue of deforestation.
“Think of all the areas where deforestation is rampant, you will find that cash crops in these areas fetch low prices so people have abandoned farming and turned to forests. Raising cash crop prices will certainly reduce pressure on the environment,” he insists.
Fogen Tarimo, a resident of Msae Kinyamvua village in Mwika North ward acknowledges that environmental destruction in Kilimanjaro Region has brought serious consequences on the lives of ordinary people. ”We don’t get enough rain these days and sometimes temperatures are extremely high. In fact part of the name of the village, Kinyamvua, means plenty of rain but now there is no rain and we can’t change the name. Crop production has gone down and people here face frequent food shortages,” he explains.
Mr Tarimo also knows what has caused these changes. “We have cut many trees and soon there will be no forests left. About two decades ago this region was exemplary in tree planting and conservation of forests but now people have stopped planting trees and are only interested in cutting even those trees which they did not plant.”
He adds, “Deforestation started sometime in the late 1980s/90s when a new generation of forest officers took office. They did not observe rules and regulations and instead got involved in various illegal activities including trading in timber, furniture and even charcoal. Villagers took advantage of the situation to engage seriously in cutting trees for various purposes and abandoned tree planting.”
The extent of deforestation and environmental destruction in Kilimanjaro Region has reached an alarming level and might soon be difficult to control.
Although the regional authorities have set strategies to address the problem, the success of implementation will depend on many things including mobilization of communities, environmental education in primary and secondary schools as well as villages and political will among government officials and experts in the various fields of natural resources.
Most importantly, the regional authorities must scale up law enforcement and hold officials accountable whenever offenders are not dealt with accordingly otherwise it might not be possible to turn around the environment within three years as planned.