Conservation on Kilimanjaro

ABCP Involvement in Community-Based Conservation on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Even though mpingo is a lowland species, favoring the dryland habitat of eastern Africa's miombo woodlands, the ABCP is also supporting conservation measures on Mt. Kilimanjaro, by helping community groups who live on the mountain institute tree planting and educational programs. This page elucidates some of Kilimanjaro's environmental problems and explains our involvement in support of community conservation on the mountain. 

flora_kili.jpg (41301 bytes)Mt. Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain, and the highest free standing peak in the world, rising to 5895 meters from a semi-arid plain. Because of its rare and endemic flora, which includes over 1800 species of flowering plants and 700 species of lower plants, it has been designated a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. Addtionally, it is part of the ecosystem comprising the Easteren Afromontaine Biodiversity Hotspot, as designated by Conservation International.

It is said that mountains are the water towers of the world, attracting rainfall and sequestering moisture during wet seasons to slowly dispense into surrounding lowlands when the weather turns dry. Their ability to attract and retain moisture is vitally dependant upon the health of their forests. In Africa, where water is scarce and soil is often thin and deficient, mountains are crucial. In many countries they are the primary agricultural areas because of their rich soil and abundant rainfall. In Swahili, the very words for mountain and agriculture derive from the same root. With the widespread deforestation now occurring throughout the world, rivers and streams that are dramatically decreasing in flow are giving us an ominous hint that we should take another look at the ill-effects of deforestation. The loss of water sources affects large populations of mountain residents, as well as farmers and townspeople living downstream, who need the water for domestic uses and farm irrigation. Additionally, hydroelectric plants located on mountain-fed rivers depend on a steady flow and cease to produce when water slows to a trickle.

Kilimanjaro lies just 3 degrees south of the equator. Early European explorers were astounded to see snow on a mountain in the tropics and the veracity of their claims was doubted for many years within Europe. In modern times it is one of Africa's most popular tourist destinations, with about 100,000 tourists, porters and guides a year attempting the climb to the summit. But Kilimanjaro is more than a destination for the mountain climbers of the world. What most people do not know about the mountain is that it is one of the most productive agricultural areas in Africa. Over a million people live on its lower slopes, taking advantage of its rich volcanic soil and abundant rainfall. Over the centuries people of the Chagga lineage, who live on its slopes, have evolved a unique multi-storied farming system, growing a variety of food crops and hardwood trees on the same plot of land, combining plants, such as coffee, which need shade and wind protection, with banana and overstory trees that protect the coffee and reduce vulnerability from crop failure by offering alternate food and livelihood sources. Since colonial times, a cleverly constructed irrigation furrow system has served to deliver water to the smallholders who live on the mountain.

When Europe laid claim to most of Africa in the late 1800's its settlers on the continent particularly sought out the most productive areas for their own uses and Mt. Kilimanjaro was considered a prize. Because the climate is ideal for growing coffee, large areas of its southern (rainy) slope were converted to coffee plantations and coffee quickly became a primary export crop in the region. The local Chagga were forbidden by the Europeans to grow the crop for fear of competition, but because they are an industrious and resourceful people, some of the Chagga determined that they would themselves share in the monetary gain from coffee production, and so smuggled in seeds and started plantations of their own. In 1924 they formed Africa's first international marketing cooperative, the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU), which specifically seeks out markets for Kilimanjaro coffee. It still operates today, with 92 local coops and over 80,000 members. This cooperative became a highly successful venture leading to the development of a cash economy among the local people.

Yet in a nation in which over 80-90% of the populace are farmers, and in which irrigation, mechanization and chemical inputs are costly and sparingly used, it can be a risky strategy converting to non-food crops and entering into a cash economy. During the late 1960’s and 70’s, the Kilimanjaro Region (and Tanzania as a whole) suffered a succession of severe declines and outright disasters. Coffee trees were getting old and also becoming prone to Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR), resulting in losses of 50-90% of the crop. The world market price for coffee also declined, leading to multiple woes for coffee farmers. In 1972-74 a severe drought led to widespread poverty, child malnutrition, and starvation. In addition to this, the oil shocks of the 1970’s and Tanzania’s war against neighboring Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin, depleted national wealth and increased levels of poverty throughout the young country (independence established in 1961).

As a result, people turned to alternate means for gaining the cash income upon which they had come to rely, primarily land clearing for growing alternative crops and tree harvesting. Many important commercial tree species grow on Kilimanjaro and harvesting of these with no programs for replanting has led to widespread deforestation, causing a multitude of attendant problems, such as widespread erosion and loss of topsoil, decreased water flow in rivers and streams and loss of wildlife habitat. Pesticides that were introduced to attack CDB, have introduced large amounts of chemical pollutants into the ecosystem, causing loss of biodiversity and soil fertility, and affected water users on the mountain and downstream as well.

Today the people of Kilimanjaro Region are suffering the results of these misfortunes and unsustainable environmental practices. Some all-season streams are dry part of the year and other seasonal streams have dried up completely. This, of course, has negative effects on agricultural activities all over the mountain, from coffee production to individual vegetable gardens.  Firewood on Kilimanjaro is increasingly difficult to procure. Since over 90% of energy use throughout Tanzania is based on wood products, trees are crucial to maintaining lifestyle. Women, who traditionally collect firewood, are having to spend longer hours to secure the same amounts of wood and many people are now having to use their precious hard-earned cash to purchase wood. And additionally, the population increase that is happening all over Africa is similarly on Kilimanjaro putting added pressure on available natural resources and arable land.

The mountain is important, not only to the tourists who visit and the farmers who live on the slopes, but to many downstream users. Runoff from Kilimanjaro supplies the Pangani River, which flows over 200 miles to empty into the Indian Ocean. Water from the Pangani is an important and widely competed-for commodity in this rain-poor region. Usage of the river water by smallholders, large scale farmers, high-usage rice farmers, and domestic users along its length decreases river flow.

Besides farm and domestic users, the Pangani also fuels a major national industry: electricity production. It is one of only two rivers in Tanzania that provide electricity to the country's national grid. Three hydroelectric stations on the Pangani operate downstream of Nyumba ya Mungu, a dammed reservoir south of Kilimanjaro constructed in 1965 by the government. They provide 17% of Tanzania's hydroelectricity and depend on adequate water flow in the Pagani Basin. During the dry season, depletion of reservoir water can often reduce electricity production, resulting in blackouts and energy rationing. Scientists have noticed lessening flow during the past 15 years and during extreme drought conditions in the dry season the Pangani has been known to completely dry up.

The ABCP has contributed to reforestation efforts on Mt. Kilimanjaro, because of its vital importance to the ecology of the surrounding region. ABCP trees are being planted by people around their farms and homes for ecosystem protection and livelihood improvement. Fast growing fuel wood trees are helping women conserve time and energy. Food, medicine and lumber producing species are protecting families from spending money on these domestic products.  Valuable commercial trees that have been over harvested are being replaced. We are also supporting efforts to provide fuel efficient stoves that reduce the use of firewood.

schoolchildren-pose-with-Ki.jpg (44729 bytes)Many of our educational programs are in schools on the mountain, such as this group of students in a Malihai conservation club shown with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. There students are being taught that conservation of biodiversity, control of pollutants, and sustainable use of natural resources affect a larger group of people than merely their own family and neighbors. They are being made aware that they are caretakers of one of the nation's most fruitful ecological treasures. Through ABCP funded tree nurseries, thousands of Kilimanjaro volunteers, both youth and adult, are learning horticultural skills and taking direct action by replanting and widely distributing species that will help solve multiple problems in the life-sustaining watershed. They are organizing field days to plant large numbers of trees along stream banks that have been denuded to protect them from excessive runoff, and in burned out and overcut areas to stabilize soil and prevent further erosion. One special project in 1996 was the planting of 15,000 trees along Mweka route, one of Mt. Kilimanjaro's most popular mountain climbing routes, which has suffered from excessive tree cutting because of the large numbers of hikers that use it. All of these efforts are contributing as well to the international movement to plant trees for carbon sequestration in order to offset the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. By June of 2004, Kilimanjaro area groups had planted 1,000,000 trees on and around the mountain. Sebastian Chuwa estimates that within 5 years, they will have planted another million. 

For a paper on Environmental Conservation Problems and Solutions on Kilimanjaro written by Sebastian Chuwa, click here.



ABCP Website maintained by James E. Harris, 2000.
Last revised 07 Aug 2008.