TANZANIA A river a forest an idea

In Tanzania, companies pay farmers for keeping the river clean

By Sandra Bulling, CARE Germany Luxemburg
If Simon Damian would be a farmer in Europe, he would drive with his big tractor over his vast green fields and harvest his crop by using the latest modern technology. The milk of his cows, which would have been milked by a mechanical milker would be filled in bottles automatically and directly transported to the markets. He would be paid by his government and the European Union to cultivate more than European people could eat or drink. But Simon Damian does not live in Europe. He neither receives money from his government, nor owns a tractor. His most advanced technological aid is an old pickaxe. And although Simon Davis from Tanzania can only dream of a farmer’s life in Europe, people in his village see him as a pioneer of sustainable agriculture. Reason for that is the Ruvu River, CARE and a new business idea.

For a better understanding on how these three things are intertwined, you need to visit Simon Davis in the mountains of Uluguru, in the eastern part of East Africa’s Tanzania. Once, the mountains of Uluguru had been covered by dense, green forests. Heavy clouds towered the highest mountain top of more than 2500 meters and brought lots of rain. Today, the forest is only a shadow of itself. Half of its tree population has been depleted. It had to make room to farmland and for inhabitants who needed wood for construction. Amidst the depths of this mountain forest lies the source of the Ruvu River, the artery of water supply for four million inhabitants of the capital Dar es salam.

Stressed soil

Simon Damian grows beans, bananas, manioc and peanuts on his fields in a village called Kibungo. Many years ago he also had to cut down trees to lay them out. His fields nestle against the mountain and if you cast a glance from the Simon Damian´s fields, you will see a vast uprooted area. The Ruvu flows in the distance and cleaves its way into the valley.

“Our soil is depleted”, Simon Davis says. “Formerly, we had enough to eat. Today, vegetables are scarce, because they do not grow as richly as they used to”. The reason? “In this region, the ground has never been very fertile because there is only a thin layer of minerals. However, farmers don’t give it a chance to regenerate. They continue cultivation without a break. They plant rice, for example, which stresses the ground and needs a lot of water,” the agile 78 year-old man explains.  With increasing frequency, farmers abandon their infertile fields and clear new areas of the forest. A cultivation that happens at the expense of the forest. Inhabitants do not see another opportunity. “We cannot feed ourselves without our fields” admits Damian. Kibungo is reachable only by a dusty, porous road of serpentines. If the inhabitants want to go to the next market, they have to walk many strenuous hours down the valley.

Barely 250 kilometres further east, one can see the consequences of forest depletion of the Uluguru Mountains. Right here, in Daressalam, the Ruvu flows into the Indian Ocean. Because trees are cropped, roots which compress the soil are lacking – and the ground starts to slide into the river. The water, which arrives in Daressalam, is dim and dirty. It cannot be used as drinking water or for industrial production. Nowadays, companies have to invest high sums of money into filtering systems which cleanse the water.

This dependency on forest depletion and water contamination brought CARE and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to an idea: instead of financing expensive filtering systems, companies should rather tackle the problem at its roots - the source or the Ruvu. They should pay farmers to avoid forest depletion and keep the Ruvu clean. CARE staff developed a business plan that shows companies the value of their innovative investment: saving costs in the long term and at the same time safeguarding their primary resource for the future. Coca Cola and a Tanzanian Company called Dawasco jumped into the boat right away. Now, it is CARE’s task to teach farmers how to use protecting agricultural methods and avoid soil erosion.

Terraces for Ruvu

Simon Davis plays a big role in this pilot project. He applies these methods successfully, such as terraces building for his fields. “If you use this kind of cultivation, the soil does not slip away,” Damian says. The experienced farmer, who still cultivates the land alone with his bare hands, produces natural fertiliser himself, in a traditional way. He buries grasses in the ground, waits until they compost and distributes the mass on the soil. “It takes a long time. This is the reason why usually nobody uses this fertiliser,” he explains. “But you can increase the productivity, the crop will grow better. And the ground can be used for a longer time.”

CARE staff regularly visit Kibungo and its nearby villages. They show alternative income methods such as bee keeping or raising small livestock which cut the dependency on agriculture. And last but not least, CARE supports the founding savings groups. Therefore, the project creates three solutions: farmers get a higher income, the ruined forest has a chance to regenerate and Ruvu does not get polluted any longer. And in a longer run, companies will make a higher profit from the investment in clean water, instead of financing the purification plants. This project is unique in this kind of way and furthermore, it is a new approach for the protection of nature. To say it with Simon Damian’s words: “Our forest is destroyed, our rivers are polluted. We need new ideas on how to carry on surviving with nature. But we need help for that.”