Sugarcane grown in southern Tanzania’s Kilombero landscape makes up 33 percent of the total sugar produced in the country. African Wildlife Foundation partner Kilombero Sugar Company, the largest sugar producer in Tanzania, works with 8,000 outgrower sugarcane farmers who supply the company to complement harvests from its plantations.
The population of the world’s tallest land mammal is shrinking. Over the last three decades, giraffe numbers have dropped 38 percent — from 157,000 in 1985 to an estimated 97,500 in 2015. This decline led the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2016 to heighten giraffes’ conservation status from “least concern” to “vulnerable.” More recently, IUCN uplisted multiple giraffe subspecies even further: The Kordofan and Nubian giraffes, who together have around 4,500 mature adults, are now classified as critically endangered, while the reticulated giraffe is classified as endangered.
Natural resources abound in Southern Tanzania’s Mngeta Corridor and Udzungwa-Magombera-Selous landscapes, located within the Kilombero Cluster. With a stretch of mountains that harbors major water catchments for many rivers, a dense forest cover both on reserve and community land, and rich biodiversity, the Kilombero Cluster is a vitally important biological area where natural resources and wildlife vie for space in the midst of growing agricultural productivity.
In May 2015, Damas Patrick Mbaga came on board as African Wildlife Foundation’s first hydrologist. Stationed in Mbeya, Tanzania, he spent the next few years teaching local communities how to better manage their water sources in one of the main sub-catchments supplying water for the Great Ruaha River, which flows downstream through Ruaha National Park. Mbaga is still based in in the rapidly changing wildlife-rich landscape of Southern Tanzania, overseeing community-led river monitoring initiatives within Kilombero’s Rufiji Basin as part of AWF’s work with the IUCN Sustainability and Inclusion Strategy for Growth Corridors in Africa (or SUSTAIN-Africa) program.
Ancient elephant migratory routes run through southern Tanzania’s Kilombero Valley, which is part of a dense cluster of wetlands and forests and in the Great Ruaha River Basin and a designated Ramsar site — a distinction bestowed on internationally important wetlands. Allowing elephants and other large mammals to move between protected habitats like the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and Selous Game Reserve, wildlife corridors and dispersal areas are critical in maintaining species health. However, these access routes often cut across large commercial plantations as well as smallholder farms sprawled across the valley’s fertile highlands.
Three ways sustainable agriculture protects natural resources and improves livelihoods in southern Tanzania
The rapid expansion of small-scale farming in wildlife-rich and ecologically sensitive areas is one of the leading threats to biodiversity in the fertile wetlands of Tanzania’s southern breadbasket — and across the African continent.
Until 1993, the Great Ruaha River, the main source of water for wildlife in Ruaha National Park, flowed in the dry season. Since then, between September and late November every year, sections of the river disappear resulting in water scarcity for people and wildlife as well as loss of habitat which is devastating for water-dependent species like the hippo. Over these low-rainfall months, some individuals of other large mammals like elephants and buffalos move out of the protected area, sometimes raiding human settlements and farmland as they look for water.
Space to roam. It is a must for the world’s largest land animal, but across the transboundary Kilimanjaro landscape straddling Kenya’s southern border — known for its sizeable elephant population — that roaming space is becoming harder to find.
With the planet’s human population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the demand for arable land to produce food, fuel and fiber is on the rise. Many look to Africa to meet this demand, viewing the continent as replete with vast expanses of unused land.
Down the slopes of the Udzungwa Mountains, Alvinus Linus Ngwale and his colleagues are enthusiastically wading through a river. Each wearing gumboots, they look focused as they fish out small aquatic invertebrates from Mchombe River in Kilombero District.