April 19, 2021
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha, Tanzania
The Tanzania government has partnered with conservationists and villagers in improving water and land management as well as enhancing climate resilience in Kilombero Valley Ramsar Site (KVRS).
Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant Project (JNHPP) currently under construction within Rufiji Basin will bank on the Kilombero River for over 65 per cent of the water it needs for generating electricity.
The hydroelectric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge within the world-famous Selous Game Reserve is expected to produce 5,920 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of power annually with effect from next year.
The dam and its reservoir lake occupy about 1,350 square kilometres of the 45,000-square kilometre game reserve, one of the largest World Heritage Sites remaining in Africa.
Criticism from local and international environmental activists dogged the power project since it was first mooted in the 1960s, prompting its cancellation several times.
Green campaigners argue that the project would harm wetland areas of the World Heritage Site and the wide variety of mammal and birdlife, including elephants and lions benefiting from the water in dry seasons.
Selous is home to several endangered species, including white and black rhinoceros and crocodiles, lions, cheetah, Sanje crested mangaby, wetland cranes, lesser kestrel, Udzungwa red colobus monkeys, Udzungwa forest partridge and rufous-winged partridge.
To many, it appears the Tanzania regime has proceeded with the project headlong, ignoring scientific advice, circumventing environmental law and crushing criticism from any quarter.
But the Tanzania government has behind the scene partnered with local and international conservation agencies to make damage repair on the project, beginning with the KVRS.
Rufiji River Basin Water Authority mans the KVRS, which covers an area of 7,946 square kilometres straddling Kilombero, Malinyi and Ulanga districts in Morogoro Region.
The flat-lowland plain situated at about 400 metres above sea level, adjacent to Kilombero River with a series of parallel streams, is known for its stable rainfall regime.
The miombo woodland zone of the game controlled area in the site forms part of the Selous Game Reserve and serves as a sponge that collects water from Southern Highlands, Udzungwa and Mahenge mountains before it drains it into Rufiji River.
The valley wetlands with rich biodiversity support farming, fishing, livestock activities and other domestic uses, providing 98 per cent of food security to low-medium income communities.
Its fertility, moisture and ability to provide crop yields throughout the year attract farmers and pastoralists from nearby regions, subjecting the Ramsar Site to intense pressure from cultivation, livestock grazing, irrigation and wildfires.
About 50,000 hectares of sugarcane and teak plantations have, in addition to paddy and cocoa smallholder farms, been established in the valley wetlands, putting the ecosystem under constant pressure of degradation.
The Morogoro Regional Natural Resources Officer, Mr Joseph Chuwa, admits that traditional agriculture is the biggest challenge facing the KVRS followed by livestock grazing, as it destroys natural vegetation cover, exposing the floodplain to the sun.
“Research shows that the amount of rainfall has not declined, but the capacity of the floodplain to retain water has been waning over time,” Mr Chuwa explains.
He blames reduced depth of the Kilombero River on the traditional agricultural practices greatly contributing to soil erosion and siltation.
The government is, in collaboration with conservation agencies, carrying out an Inclusive Green Growth (IGG) project to improve water and land management as well as to enhance climate resilience in the valley wetlands, he says.
“The government’s role in the IGG project is to educate farmers and to set aside game and forest reserves,” adds Mr Chuwa, observing that the quality and quantity of water in rivers is gradually improving, indicating reduced soil erosion in the entire KVRS.
Mr Chuwa insists that the JNHPP does not only need a big amount of water alone, but also clear water to prevent the mud from destroying the power plant prematurely.
Key players in the project, which enjoys funding from The German’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), include the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Global Nature Fund (GNF), Kilombero District Council, Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) and Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) Limited.
“We are advocating for green agriculture across the KVRS to ensure national parks, game reserves, and water catchment areas are safe”, Mr Pastory Magingi, the AWF programme manager for Tanzania, says.
The IGG is striving to strike a balance between conservation and socio-economic activities in the valley wetlands. The project’s focus is on four key areas, namely sustainable livelihoods, agroforestry and landscape restoration, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and ecological monitoring and anti-poaching.
The project has trained 3,858 farmers in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices and forest landscape restoration with over 1,730 smallholder paddy and cocoa farmers already embracing them.
As a result of the CSA practices, paddy farms show an increased yield of 36 per cent from 720 kilograms per acre to 979.2 kilograms per acre, and the cocoa yields increased by 28.2 per cent from 1,872.71 kilograms per acre to 2,401 kilograms per acre.
A resident of Mbingu Village, Ms Christine Masika, who is among the farmers embracing the CSA practices, harvests 6,000 kilograms of cocoa from her 5-hactare farm each year.
She sells the crop at between Sh3, 000 (about $1.3) and Sh3, 500 (about $1.5) a kilogram. “I prefer cocoa because I harvest from three years after planting the crop up to 70 years,” says Ms Masika who has abandoned production of paddy, maize and banana in favour of the fruit.
The mother of six children, who invested an initial capital of Sh1 million (about $435), boasts constructing a house and paying school fees for her children, enabling her first born to have just completed his university studies and the last born pursuing his Form III studies.
Other farmers have planted multipurpose tree species in their homesteads and farms to provide paddy and cocoa with partial shade and the farmers with firewood and timber, and to prevent water from rivers and the soil from evaporating.
The IGG project has restored 2,765 hectares of farmland, riverbanks and has resurveyed and marked with beacons 15 per cent of the 1,800-hectare Ruipa Wildlife Corridor to stop further encroachment on it.
Incidences of human-wildlife conflicts have declined by 45 per cent as a result of awareness on wildlife behaviour and mitigation measures such as Crocodile Exclusion Enclosure for the villagers to protect their life and property.