WHEN you speak of tourism in Mbeya Region, definitely you can’t avoid mentioning Rungwe Mountain, the fourth tallest mountain in Tanzania, which stands at 2,982 feet above sea level.
It is within this Mountain where the Rungwe Mountain Nature Reserve (MRNR) is found. With an area of 13,652 hectares, MRNR was established in 1949 as a Forest Reserve and was upgraded into Nature Reserve in 2009.
It is a source of biggest rivers in the area namely Kiwira, Mbaka, Kipoke, Mwatisi, Ndala, Suma and Kilasi. These rivers are the sources of water for Tukuyu town, Busokelo and Kyela District, and contributing 58 percent of water to Lake Nyasa.
The Nature Reserve has a very rich biodiversity with dozens of unique and rare species of animals, plants, reptiles and birds. About 85 species of mammals, 230 species of birds, 32 species of reptiles, 36 species of amphibians, 10 species of fish and 283 species of butterflies are found in the reserve.
The forest antelope known as Abbott’s duiker, Tanganyika mountain squirrel and a beautiful coloured Montana forest type of bird called Livingstone turaco are also found in the Reserve.
It is here in the mountain where a rare type of monkey known as Rungwecebus kipunji (kipunji) named after the mountain, where is found. From the top of the mountain, one can enjoy the beautiful view of Mount Livingstone ranges, Kitulo National Park and Lake Nyasa.
There are also crater lakes inside the reserve which include Ng’ombe Crater Lake and Lusiba Crater Lake. There are 13 villages which surround the reserve; namely Ngumbulu, Mbeye One, Ndaga, Unyamwanga, Ntokela, Ilundo, Ilolo, Syukula, Kibisi, Nditu, Kabale, Ibumba and Bujingijila.
According to the conservator Innocent Lupembe, his office which is under the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) has been working with the District Council, World Conservation Society (WCS) and other stakeholders to ensure the Reserve is being protected from harmful practices and at the same time promoting tourism activities in the area.
In the past, fire incidents, cutting trees and illegal hunting were very common in the forest, but efforts by MRNR and its partners have greatly reduced these incidents.
“Since the reserve was upgraded in 2009, we have been implementing a number of projects to ensure that the environment within the reserve is being protected. There are more strategic plans which will also be implemented to ensure that our goal is reached,” he says.
Starting with the issue of illegal hunting, he admits that in the past before the forest was upgraded, the villag ers used to enter to hunt Rungwecebus kipunji (kipunji) and Abbott’s duiker, an act which resulted into decreasing the number of the two species of animals.
MRNR will in the coming financial year conduct a biodiversity survey to establish the exact number of the above mentioned animals, species of plants, birds and other living organisms.
The organisation in partnership with the District Council has managed to provide modern beehives to the villagers as one way of assisting them to increase their income.
Lupembe says that if the villagers have their own income generating activities, it is obvious that they will stop depending on resources from the reserve for living.
Ilolo villagers are doing well in beekeeping project and have been able to launch their own honey brand known as Kipunji with the help from WCS. At Ilundo village, there are two beekeeping groups, which have received 55 beehives and have started beekeeping after receiving training.
Syukula Village Executive Officer Zawadi Lwesya says that his village, too, engages in beekeeping. Arthur William, a villager, testifies on achievements of the conservation project.
“Some years back, we used to enter the nature reserve for hunting, cutting trees and other activities. Now things have changed since the launch of the conservation project,” he says.
“We were disappointed when we were restricted from entering the forest. Now we can see a lot of benefits such as increasing rainfall and the increase in the number of tourists.” Apart from supplying the villagers with the beehives, Lupembe says other projects to be launched in the coming days include butterfly keeping with the help of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Another project in the pipeline is to engage the villages in the business of selling Carbon produced by trees. On the other hand, the MRNR office is preparing a Joint Forest Management Agreement, which will be signed between the villagers soon.
“This will be done after holding meetings with the villagers. The aim is to see how each party, the government and the villagers get the right distribution of benefits from the resources which are found in the reserve,” he explains.
“There are still some villagers who feel that they are not benefitting from the resources of the reserve. By having an agreement, it will help end misunderstandings between the two parties.
Meanwhile, MRNR is working with District tourism office to improve tourism activities in the area. According to the District Tourism Officer, Numwagile Bughali, there are ongoing plans to improve infrastructure at tourist centres -- camping sites, trails and wash rooms.
Other strategies will enable women in making handicrafts to be sold to the tourists as souvenirs. “We have also started a programme of visiting tourist attractions in our area once in a month since last year.
These events draw individuals from different backgrounds aiming at advertising our attractions which are unique in the world,” Bughali explains.