By Sebastian Michael Chuwa

Very few natural features worldwide are as well  known as Mount Kilimanjaro. Its dramatic snow- clad slopes predominate the landscape of north central Tanzania. Mount Kilimanjaro is a Biosphere reserve and a world heritage site, the  same as Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro  Crater. Most of the rare and endemic flora of  Tanzania is found in the moist mountain forests.  Mount Kilimanjaro has a rich and diverse flora,  which includes over 1800 species of flowering plants and 700 species of lower plants.  For generations Kilimanjaro has been a major  source of sweet drinking water. Small farm  holders use it for irrigation and it is also a  power generating source for the National Grid.  It is also a major climate modifier of the  weather in her neighborhoods like Mt. Meru and  Amboseli National Reserve in Kenya. Kilimanjaro  Mountain has attracted visitors for various  reasons including tourism and has therefore become  an important source of foreign earnings for Tanzania. Despite all its beauty it is faced by  environmental hazards.

While doing my botanical researches in a number  of forest reserves; such as the Northern  Highland Forest Reserve of Ngorongoro, the  Coastal Forests of Pugu, Kazimzumbivi and  Udzungwa Mountain Forest Reserves, I detected seven categories of similar environmental problems as  those found in Kilimanjaro. These are the  following: 

1.        Land degradation.

2.        Non availability of good water.

3.        Habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity.

4.        Deterioration of aquatic systems.

5.        Deforestation.

6.        Frequent forest fires.

7.        Pollution.

These problems have a negative impact on the  economy and well being of the people of  Kilimanjaro and other places in the nation.  

1.Land degradation — The process of land degradation is varied and  may not be easily detected or measured. Its  severity can be gauged from the red-brown color  of streams and in floods as the vital top soil  is washed away from upland areas due to bad  habits of cultivation on slopes with a gradient of  more than 50% without terraces. The productivity  of soil has been considerably reduced in many  parts of the highlands and middle ecological  zones of Kilimanjaro. Land degradation also results in the removal of woody vegetation especially when the removal  rate is higher than that of regeneration.

2.Non availability of good quality water, Uncontrolled tree felling for fire wood and construction, encroachment on arable agricultural land on the steep slopes and the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and south Pare Ranges, the destruction of water catchment systems have deprived many inhabitants in the Region of the benefit of smooth enjoyment of the sweet water.

3.Habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity, Closed dense forests cover only 14.3% of Kilimanjaro region (Regional Forest Reports 1998). The remanding forests are comprised mainly of house-hold wood lots, coffee farms, shade trees, street decoration trees and some areas of bush land which contributes a lot in losing natural habitats. Loss of biodiversity in these areas arises mainly from the increasing demand for fuelwood, charcoal and wood for rural and urban industries.

The slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro are agriculturally of great importance both regionally and nationally. These slopes have been for a long time the chief producing area of the famous Arabica Coffee for Tanzania. This product is the chief cash crop of the natives of the area. It has been the backbone of their economic life since the 1890s. It was not until the early 70's that this very source of their income was badly attacked by a disease commonly known as CBD (Coffee Berry Disease). This disease attacks coffee berries before they mature and they dry away and fall off the bushes. In an effort to combat this disease lots of different pesticides were introduced and used in the area but they were of little effect remedy-wise. The pesticides contributed to the loss of biodiversity of the area: e.g. disappearance of butterflies, reptiles, bees, birds etc.

4. Deterioration of Aquatic Systems. From time immemorial Kilimanjaro and its adjacent area has always had sweet water streams providing water to the arable lowlands. As time passed by the population in Kilimanjaro area increased hence the demand for more land to cultivate and graze their animals. There arose the need to cultivate all the available land up to river banks. The need for more housing saw trees being cut down in the forest right up to water stream sources. Due to the need for firewood trees such as Eucalyptus were harvested along river banks and wetlands. This went on for years. Today lots of low land streams have dried up. The unthinkable has happened in some areas - lack of water in streams.

5. Deforestation. Rain forest cover comprises less than 2 percent of Tanzania's land surface. There is much concern at present regarding the features of natural catchment including the Kilimanjaro forest. Forest issues and the danger of deforestation is currently being widely discussed in Tanzania and experts have come up with some ideas to establish educational programs from a grassroots level.  

6. Frequent Forest Fires There is a quantitative loss of mountain forest cover of Mount Kilimanjaro because of logging and fire. The main culprits are honey gatherers and poachers. .This is contributing to the loss of biodiversity and erosion. Again here educational programs are underway to educate the natives on how to remedy the situation.

7.Pollution, The environmental pollution in agriculture is mainly due to the use of agrochemical, and industrial fertilizers. The pollution arises out of improper handling and overuse of agrochemicals, and use of banned chemicals e.g. D.D.T.   to control migratory pests. The small lakes, e.g. lake Jipe, around the mountain and dams are invested by water Hyacinth (Eichloa crasipes). *

Some priorities for conservation of Mount Kilimanjaro. The regional government has come up with some strategies to conserve the Mountain: 1) To establish environmental conservation committee to solve environmental problems. 2) To ensure sustainable supply of forestry products and services are properly controlled. 3) To enhance capacity to manage and develop the forest sector in collaboration with other institutes. 4) To advice experts to increase employment and earnings through sustainable forests based on industrial development trade. 5) To ban all natives from cutting vegetation within the mountain watershed


1. A long term research project on the Mountain should focus on documenting the dynamics of plant and animal communities both within the mountain forest as well as within uplands, especially those areas unreachable.

2. An active program of replanting trees along the rivers and streams needs to be developed and existing laws preventing the cutting of trees should be actively enforced.  

3.People should be made aware of environmental impacts on the farming systems, which have expanded and resulted in a variety of adverse environmental impacts. 

*Portions of above taken from a report compiled by the Government of Tanzania, provided to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. Title of Report: "Implementation of Agenda 21: Review of Progress Made Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992."



ABCP Website maintained by James E. Harris, 2000.
Last revised 21 Apr 2008.