Stories From the Field: Tree Heroes and Rats?

High above Morogoro in the Uluguru Mountains, farmers have been clearing and burning to grow high quality vegetable products for markets here and in Dar es Salaam. The mountains, renowned for their unique biodiversity, have lost 60% of their vegetative cover over the past few decades. Reforestation is needed for protection of the important water catchment for Morogoro to improve water quality and quality for the town. Trees are also critical for soil stabilization and erosion control, much-needed wood products and agroforest benefits such as mulch, fodder and shade.

And Rats as Heroes? Addressing a worldwide concern for human safety in post war-torn regions of Africa, Asia and South America, APOPO (Website) is a non-profit organization, which trains African giant-pouched rats (their Heroes) to save lives by finding land mines or detecting Tuberculosis. APOPO’s Tanzania Training Center was established in 2000 at Sokoine Univeristy of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro. As part of its social responsibility as an NGO, with growing concerns for global climate change, APOPO believes that it must also take responsibility for its carbon footprint caused by its operations. APOPO is partnering with Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) for their carbon-offset project through Tree Planting Heroes.

Promoting sustainable agriculture to small-scale Tanzanian farmers is core to the mission of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT). With a cadre of trained technical advisors and a fleet of motorcycles, SAT has the capacity and experience to assist villages in the Uluguru Mountains with tree nursery development and tree out-plantings for soil stabilization and improvements. In addition to tree planting, SAT facilitators have already been teaching many of these villagers’ strategies for organic crop production, composting, soil and crop health. SAT focuses on hands-on trainings to promote sustainable solutions for farmers.

On October 27, 2016, Towero Village hosted the opening of Tree Heroes for their community. SAT’s Meddy Njusi moderated the ceremony with community leaders and farmers. APOPO’s CEO Christophe Cox, with many years of management experience in East Africa introduced his organization, explaining that and while working globally, they have interest in establishing their carbon-offset project right here in Tanzania with SAT.

In 2016, trained farmers working with APOPO’s project have already planted 2,000 trees in April this year and are preparing another 18,000 seedlings; 13,000 seedlings will be planted in this year’s rainy season in Mlimani Ward (Ruvuma, Tulo and Kisosa) and Mgambazi in Magadu Ward. Both fruit and timber varieties will be planted, combining food production, soil stabilization, soil improvement and fodder with carbon sequestration. Agroforestry, or intercropping with trees on these steep slopes will bring more sustainable yields to these farmers.  Farmers will learn about the benefits of nitrogen-fixing trees and how their litter production and can improve farm productivity.

Education on the benefits of trees and selection and management involving the farmers has been found to be the key to sustainability of the program. Plantings will focus on river banks (partly completed), with farm intercropping (agroforestry) using fruits and spices in farmers’ fields and in the bare plots reforestation with timber species. Timber species like Tectona grandis, Albizia lebbeck and Pinus patulla have the ability to be coppiced (cut and regenerate) when reaching maturity, which will ensure sustainability of the system. SAT also hopes to reduce deforestation through fuel-conserving stoves and education about the impacts of burning.

The forests hugely support the biodiversity in this area and play a vital role in safeguarding the climate by naturally sequestering carbon. We are proud of APOPO taking this step to restore degraded landscapes and reduce the deforestation, which is driven by basic needs, such as subsistence farming and reliance on firewood for fuel.” Janet Maro, Founder SAT