IVAENY and Kashashi are wards that lie across Lawate Catchment area in Siha district, Kilimanjaro region.
People from within and outside the district knew the area as famous for production of various crops, such as maize, banana, yams, beans, coffee and others.
The wards border Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) conserved area and used to get a lot of rain, with its fertile volcanic soil assuring locals of profuse harvest in cash and food crops. Locals carried on with traditional farming and herding practices, with climate change and poor management of the land, slowly saw their production go down in almost all crops.
Mr Thomas Ng’unda, from Kyengia village in Kashashi ward says he is one of those who badly managed land, as had no knowledge on what to do so as to keep the yields high. He says as unfolding days brought them more misery and could no longer provide for their families’ food needs, let alone other requirements such as meeting educational costs for kids.
It is because of this, they resorted to tree cutting, which degraded the environment and left land bare so that degradation started through different means. He says gradually they experienced less rain, and when it kept washing fertile land down the streams hence expose them to unprecedented land degradation.
Mr Ng’unda says when further deterioration of their farms proved too costly to them they moved to KINAPA area and constantly quarreled with rangers who were out to prohibit villagers from encroaching the park.
Kyengia village borders with the park and Mr Ng’unda says he used to go therein to get wood and grass, which is contrary to the laws of the land and even rules set by Kilimanjaro regional authorities.
“When worse came to worse we had to seek alternatives to make both ends meet, and one the means was to cut trees for timber and firewood which we used to sell, because farming was no longer profitable,” he says. Stakeholders saw it prudent to bring the situation to an end.
With support of United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Kilimanjaro regional authorities embarked on a four-year SLM Program.
The main objective of the project was to see to it that management of land is proper so as to make sure they rejuvenate the soil, maintain its fertility and introduce best agricultural practices. He believes that the project could be the turning point for the ecosystem of the region, saying SLM is a very important for the region, given its smallness in size but with a lot of residents.
“The project is very important to us, I could say it is our soul. It is high time the environmental stakeholders read the signs of time, use data from researchers and implement their recommendations,” says Mr Ng’unda.
The importance of the project is also due to the fact that locals at Ivaeny and Kashashi wards, for many years depend on agriculture for their survival and yet have to conserve Mount Kilimanjaro and its adjoining slopes, to avoid adverse climate change effects.
Mr Ng’unda hails the project and says now he has been able to arrest the situation, enjoys bumper harvest in maize, beans and banana. He says SLM officials trained them in theory and later had a tour of areas that had previously adopted such agricultural practices.
“We sat in classroom to learn of the methods, then went on tour in Mwanga district to see how our fellow growers had done. When I came back I communicated with Village Environmental Committee that supported me to excavate the terraces,” says Mr Ng’unda. Before terracing his field, Mr Ng’unda says he did not harvest anything, because the plants stunted and eventually he had to cut and feed his cattle.
It was extremely different in 2011 when he terraced quarter an acre of field, planted maize and harvested four bags in the season and he got nothing from part of land that he did not terrace.
He says he carried on to terrace his land and by January 2015 he had terraced three quarters of the farm and that last season he harvested 11 bags, much to the excess of what he needs, as the family consumes about six bags per year.
Mr Ng’unda says now he sells the extra maize and last season he got 55,000/- per bag, meaning that he got 275,000/- that he deposited at his bank account for future use. The farmer grew beans during short rain season in 2014 and despite the fact that rain was very little, he managed to harvest 40 kilograms in the land he had terraced but harvest nothing in the area he did not terrace.
“If there was enough rain I could have harvested much more, but even what I got is more than what my family needs annually. I have believed now that conservation is very important,” he says. He hopes that by the end of this year he will have terraced all his farm, adding that his success is due to conserving the top soil which is usually fertile but vulnerable to erosion by rain. The terraces reduce the speed and amount of water runoff in the field.
He says having planted fodder grass, he practices zero grazing for his cattle because he has enough grass and no longer enter into conflict with KINAPA officials or rangers. Mr Ng’unda also embarks on planting trees in his field, as a way to attract more rain and restore the lost ecology.
He says the efforts, supported by UNDP are bearing fruits, and sees life changing to the better. Siha District SLM Coordinator, Mr Ernest Marandu says before initiation of the project, the situation was so bad that it pushed families to live below the poverty line.
He says it is rare for people to fell trees now, after SLM officials raised locals’ awareness on the importance of trees, especially the traditional ones.