Tanzania: UNDP project saves mountain forests for future generations

20 Jul 2010

UNDP has successfully finalized a seven-year biodiversity project that saved thousands of hectares of fragile forestland on a mountain range in northeast Tanzania, a region that the Government has nominated for recognition as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The project for the Eastern Arc Mountains, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), was last month concluded after an independent evaluation reported at least 10,000 hectares of forest saved from destruction and a 10 percent reduction in the rate of forest loss.

River flows from the Eastern Arc are very important, providing the main source of water for at least one quarter of Tanzania’s population. They also power more than half the country’s electricity. Water, hydropower and non-timber forest products from the area generate over US$175 million every year.

The project came about because an estimated 70 percent of Eastern Arc’s rich and unique forestland had been destroyed due, among other reasons, to crop shifting and timber harvesting. Only about 5,400 square kilometres of forest remained on the mountains which span a total land area of 23,000 square kilometres.

UNDP worked on the project with a range of stakeholders - including the Government of Tanzania, non-governmental organizations, academic bodies and village administrations - to develop a conservation strategy and help community-based conservation initiatives.

A focus site as part of the US$5 million project was the Uluguru native reserve, in the Morogoro region, a popular tourism destination and home to more than 100 plants, and various birds, mammals and amphibians found nowhere else on Earth.

Some 300 people from 10 villages in the region were trained in new methods of agriculture and livestock husbandry. Among the methods was contour farming, a system of linear crop-planting on slopes and hills that reduces soil erosion and safeguards fertility.

Adoption of new techniques increased the security of hundreds of livelihoods by raising crop yields and creating income-generating activities. Results from the project helped Tanzania obtain special funds under an international climate-change programme to reduce carbon emissions from forest degradation.

“The Eastern Arc strategy defines what government and other actors in Tanzania need to do to ensure the conservation of the Eastern Arc mountains and their global biodiversity importance, and critical provision of ecosystem services for the Tanzanian nation, particularly water and carbon,” said Nik Sekhran, Principal Technical Advisor for Biodiversity and Ecosystems at UNDP.

The strategy adopted by the Government covers the period to 2017 and prioritizes areas including control of forest fires, enforcement of protection for reserves, taking action against illegal logging, mining, poaching and grazing, creating alternative fuel sources, and spreading awareness about the importance of conservation.

Classification as a World Heritage Site would provide additional legal protections for the area.

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