Deforestation in Tanzania has been a major environmental problem affecting a large portion of the country for many decades. Although it is difficult to determine the exact rate of deforestation, the World Bank estimates that the average annual deforestation rate between the years 2000 and 2011 was 1.13%. Astoundingly, 32.2% of the total land area of Tanzania is protected. Enforcement is difficult, however, leading to unsustainable use of forest, which can result in many major environmental issues including soil erosion and decreased agricultural productivity. For a country whose national economy relies heavily on crop production, decreased productivity can have a large impact on development. Although the ultimate cause of deforestation is complex, many proximate factors that contribute to deforestation have been identified that we have personally witnessed in Kwakiliga:
- Agricultural Expansion – Almost all land in and around Kwakiliga is used for agriculture production during the two rainy seasons. This land, for the most part, has been completely cleared save for a few scattered fruit trees. The wazee (elders) tell us often that the quality of soil in Kwakiliga is bad and getting worse. As trees become more and more scarce year after year, these wide-open farm plots are exposed to the strong winds and extremely hot sun of Kwakiliga, leaving the soil stripped of moisture and nutrients.
- Unsustainably Harvested Firewood and Timber – Most families in Kwakiliga use one of two sources of fuel to cook: charcoal and firewood. Mothers and daughters walk miles every day in search of firewood, carrying it back to their homes in very large bundles. Often, this firewood is harvested unsustainably, contributing on a small scale to deforestation; however, due to financial constraints these families do not have many other fuel source options.
- Charcoal production – Although we are unsure of the details surrounding charcoal production in the area, we know that charcoal production is a large industry near Kwakiliga. Everyday, nearly 50 men traverse Kwakiliga with two huge bags of charcoal on the back of their bikes. From a few conversations with them, they say that they sometimes travel 40km daily to transport charcoal from production sites to larger towns like Korogwe and Handeni.
There are many efforts to decrease deforestation in Tanzania. If you are interested, I suggest checking out some of the efforts of Wings of Kilimanjaro, who have an innovative approach to reforestation in conjunction with community banks. There is also the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, as well as numerous government initiatives to help preserve the forests of Tanzania.
In an effort to fundraise and do our part in combatting deforestation in Kwakiliga, we are hosting a Tree Drive. The Tree Drive starts today, April 1st (Tanzanian National Tree Planting Day) and ends April 22nd (Earth Day). We are hoping to plant fruit trees around our integrated garden system to provide shade, rehabilitate the soil with root penetration, and enhance water retention. We also want to plant trees on the large farms of our partners to act as wind screens, which will improve the nutrient and water retention capabilities of the soil. We have decided to plant a variety of fruit trees because the economic boost they provide will dis-incentivize unstainable harvesting of firewood. Visit our Tree Drive today and consider donating a tree to Kwakiliga!