Why protected forests are critical to reliable rainfall

04Dec 2016
Attilio Tegalile
Guardian On Sunday
Why protected forests are critical to reliable rainfall

OFFICIALS of two government institutions recently issued two important statements, both of which were very much related.

Un necessary cutting down of trees leads to climate change impacts including drought among others

The first statement was issued by the head of the meteorology agency, who said that Tanzania was going to experience poor rainfall this season while the second was issued by an official from the national environment body, NEMC, who said that 60 per cent of the country was in danger of turning into a desert.

As can be clearly noted from the two statements, both speakers did not give context of what they had said. It’s the objective of this article today to try, albeit in brief, to give context to the two statements.

But for the ease of understanding of the first statement by the weatherman, I would like to start with the statement issued by the environmental man. The environmental man was specific on the size of the country that was likely to be affected by desertification.

He said 60 per cent of the country was in danger of being transformed into a desert. Now, the 60 per cent referred to is an area designated for all kinds of human activities, including agriculture.

It’s important to note that the first phase government did not by accident, but deliberately divided the country into two parts.The first part which was 60 percent of the land was set aside for all kind of human activities as already noted.

And the second, 40 per cent was set aside as a protected area that included, among others, forest reserves, national parks and game reserves. When the environmental man said 60 per cent of the land was in danger of becoming a desert what he meant was that environmental degradation had reached levels that it was just a matter of time before the area turned into a desert.

The objective of setting aside 40 per cent of the country as a protected area could rightly be described as the first phase government’s attempt to promote what has today become known as sustainable use of the country’s natural resources that were in the form of flora and fauna.

One of the lessons that the present generation of Tanzanians need to know and learn (given the alacrity and manner with which forest resources is being harvested), is that had the first phase administration not done what it did, there wouldn’t have been any forests left for us today.

For instance, take the Usambaras as a case in point. In the 1960s and 1970s this area was heavily forested and received very heavy rains during rainy seasons. But today it’s no more. The rains are gone and their disappearance has been caused by none other than the depletion of forests through, among others, logging.

The same thing can be said about the once heavily forested areas in Lindi, Mtwara, Ruvuma, Tabora, Shinyanga, Kilimanjaro and other regions in the country. Most of the foregoing areas have had their forest depleted through logging, bad farming and livestock practices and charcoal business.

And that explains why livestock keepers from Tabora, Shinyanga, Arusha, Manyara and other areas are presently all over the country in search of grass for their animals. But when the environmental man spoke about 60 per cent of the country being in danger of turning into a desert, he was talking about regions outside the protected areas.

The 60 per cent part of the country continue to lose whatever forest cover it has had through various human activities that include the latest kid on the block, bad livestock keeping practices. Having depleted grazing land in their respective regions, livestock keepers have lately started to invade protected forests that include national parks and game reserves.

What is serious about these invasions, especially of national parks and game reserves, is that once in such protected areas, livestock keepers use drugs for washing their livestock in order to rid them of parasites. They usually mix their drugs in ponds after which they goad their animals into wading through the water in order to kill parasites feeding on their bodies.

The problem with this practice is that wild animals could later come and drink water from the same pond with telling consequences. It’s thus not surprising to see cattle and wild animals sometimes dying from what appears to be the same disease but which is otherwise known to be prevalent with cattle.

For instance, two weeks ago, one private television channel carried a news item that had images of cattle and wild animals dying side by side. But according to narrator of the news item, both set of animals had died from anthrax.

And the million-dollar question that immediately came into anyone’s mind after seeing that news item was: which animal had infected the other? A wildlife expert recently told the author that when a herd of say 5,000 cattle get into a protected area, the environmental damage they leave behind is so devastating that it cannot, in any way, be compared with anything.

Of course, some may argue why should cattle cause more environmental damage than say buffaloes, which physically, look more or less like cattle? A buffalo is environmentally suited for the wild and feeds in away that may include the protection of the environment.

What is more, in the wild, other animals include elephants, which as we all know, are conservationists in that, they help in ameliorating whatever environmental impact that may have been caused by other wild animals.

Tanzanians should therefore not expect reliable rains as long as they continue to take part in environmental degradation. The situation becomes even worse when they allow hundreds of thousands of livestock into protected areas to cause the same problems they have caused in non-protected areas.

The other problem that is known to be caused by herders is providing information to poachers. For once they are allowed in national parks or game reserves, it becomes easy for herders to pass on information to poachers where they had spotted elephants.

Therefore apart from causing untold environmental degradation in protected areas, herders also provide information that lead to killing of wild animals. It’s important to note that what has until a few years ago helped in providing reliable rainfall to Tanzania is the existence of a greenbelt that extends from the Democratic Republic of Congo through Rwanda into Tanzania via Kagera region.

However, continued invasion of Kagera region by livestock keepers and small miners into Chato, Biharamulo and Karagwe where untold environmental degradation has been going on has started bringing problems to Tanzania.

And unless the government stops politicians from using livestock keepers, politically, by protecting their intrusions into protected areas like Burigi Game Reserve in Kagera region, it’s just a matter of time before rains become history in this country.

It was in recognition of the role played by Kagera region in the link of its forest cover with the Greenbelt from the DRC that from 2011 to 2015, the European Union funded a forestation project in the region through a German Foundation in Dar es Salaam, Hanns Seidel in a project which came to be known as Chema.

The implementation of the Chema Project in Chato, Biharamulo and Karagwe revolved around the plantation of indigenous trees whose seeds can only be obtained from Morogoro and Arusha.

A kilogramme of such seeds costs Sh600,000 and it was through the EU funding through Hanns Seidel Foundation that kept the Chema Project going for five years.

The implication of the foregoing is that without the assistance of the EU through Germny’s HSS, it would not have been easy for the past government to recover the much needed forest cover in Kagera region.

Therefore any decision by Tanzanians to allow livestock back into Burigi Game Reserve and other areas in Chato, Biharamulo and Karagwe in Kagera region, would be tantamount into shooting themselves in the foot.

What Tanzanians need to ask themselves is, if forests in tiny Rwanda coupled with forest cover in Kagera region can link up with the Congo Greenbelt to stabilize climate in Tanzania, what stops Tanzania from protecting their 40 percent of protected area against all forms of environmental degradation?

What stops Tanzania from protecting the 55,000 square kilometre Selous Game Reserve which is bigger than Rwanda (26,000 square km) and Burundi (27,000 square km) put together?

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