OWL Talks

More Traveling Lectures!

Posted by Helena Rheault on Nov 8, 2016 1:46:16 PM
Helena Rheault

 Hi all! Here’s a summary of some of my final traveling lectures for the semester! The way the program is structured is that students finish classes and exams by the first week of November, with the rest of the time being dedicated to our directed research projects. I have been quite busy and exhausted turning in my final assignments for my classes such as developing a wildlife habitat management plan from our expedition visit to the wildlife corridor, writing multiple cultural analysis essays, conducting interviews on local climate change, assessing the effectiveness of local government structure, and doing an analysis of animal count data from expedition. Sounds like I’ve been busy right? Hope you enjoy reading about my latest travelling lectures! Soon all my posts will be on directed research!

Managing Natural Resources in Rural Communities

 Last week we had a travelling lecture where the local Karatu District environmental officer, who is in charge of managing the natural resources in the district, brought us to various local destinations to look at how rural areas are practicing more sustainable methods. He talked about the major environmental problems that they are tasked with combating: land, water, and forest degradation, wildlife declines, finding more sustainable uses of energy, and climate change. These problems are not really new, as we are familiar with working to solve these in the United States. However, as I’ve talked about the reliance of rural communities on natural resources in previous posts, it comes to no surprise that addressing these issues is not only crucial for the well being of the environment but also for the continued survival of these people.  

The first major declines in natural resources occurred during the colonial era in Tanzania’s history where they were under control of the German then British empires. Forests were cut down to make room for agricultural land and expanding settlements, land fell under stress for agricultural use, and wildlife suffered declines due to habitat loss and increased hunting. This period marked the beginning of further resource degradation leading to the urgent need to address these problems today.

To combat the major impacts of agriculture on land degradation, farmers are being encouraged to plant trees and grasses in between crops to reduce erosion and increase the amount of water that is infiltrated into the soil to avoid compaction. Other solutions such as educating about crop rotation and increased crop diversity are also helping farmers maintain more viable pieces of agricultural land. Two wildlife corridors also fall within the district, and the officer, Stanley, also works tirelessly to conserve these areas, as well as further develop them into better suitable habitat. He is also working to establish a wildlife management area near Lake Eyasi, which also falls under the district and would have a tremendous positive impact on the local communities. Meanwhile, when responsible for all of this he is also assessing local areas for those that would be most vulnerable to climate change and brainstorming preventative methods. I have to say that I definitely did not think that rural communities would be as conscientious or as proactive about the management of natural resources. However, I have no way of knowing how advanced this district is in comparison to others. It is possible that many rural communities need a lot of guidance in learning how to manage their resources. It is also possible that they do not.

Our first stop was at a primary school in Karatu that is a;sp the home of a tree nursery and reforestation project. Karatu district as a whole has the goal of planting 1,500,000 trees a year. I couldn’t help but be taken aback by how big of a goal this district was undertaking and for such an important conservation cause. To achieve this goal, they require that certain institutions and households plant a certain amount of trees each year.  The project also makes recommendations to people of what trees to plant based on the highest number of benefits, such as supplying fruits or slower burning firewood that lasts longer. Every year Tanzania cuts down about 320,000,000 hectares of forest a year to build homes, provide firewood, etc. This will continue for as long as rural households depend on trees as much as they do. Thus, Tanzania also has the goal of reforesting 185,000,000 trees a year for the next 17 years to try and mitigate the damages of deforestation on the environment and people. It was really great to see for the first time how Tanzania and local areas are combating all these environmental problems that we have been talking about all semester. I think it is a good reminder that these people aren’t clueless and are working towards a better overall local environment.

The school also actively participates with the tree nursery project, by planting trees on the school property. They send their students home with seeds to encourage their households to participate in the cause, as well as instill an appreciation and understanding for natural resources in their students. The school saves water through rainwater harvesting and uses alternative, higher efficiency stoves for cooking lunch for the students. These stoves are able to use the same amount of firewood normally used in 10 days for 2 months. The only downfall to these stoves is that they cost about $1,000 each and international organizations are typical responsible for paying for institutions to have them here. However, there is another alternative stove that is much smaller in size that can be used in the home. They are more accessible and can make a bag of charcoal, which costs about 25,000 shillings ($12.50) last for six months. It reduces the amount of tree material that is burned, as well as relieves the family of some financial burdens.

On this lecture we explored two more sustainability practices. Recently, there has been a push for people in the district to build their homes out of bricks instead of wood. The bricks are relatively cheap and easy to produce, providing new sources of employment for local people. We went to one of these brick making sites where they are able to make about 1,400-1,800 a day. The amount of bricks required for one house varies, but their fairly averaged sized demonstration house took about 2,900 bricks. Also, it costs about $1 for 3 bricks.  The downside is that it would cost almost $1,000 to build the demonstration house for a local family. This is quite a daunting cost, even though the benefits for the environment are enormous. The brick making process involves the mixing of sand, soil, and cement and then putting it into this rather small machine that quickly molds the brick. As far as I know, it completely removes the use of trees from the home building process, which provides a promising solution to the deforestation problem.

The final stop we made was at the home of a family that uses a natural system of recycling their cattle dung to provide gas for their household. Basically they have this big cemented hole that is installed underground where they mix cow dung from their livestock with water and let it seep into this container.  Once all in the container, the mixture sits and ferments, building up natural gases that can then be flowed directly into the house. This is highly useful for the local environment, because it eliminates the need for using firewood for cooking as well as produces water vapor as a bi-product instead of methane. Only 700/20,000 homes in Karatu have this system on their property, mostly due to the fact that it costs about $500 to install.

As great as all of these methods are for the environment and using natural resources more sustainably, it is clear that the initial start up costs of more environmentally friendly methods will always be a threat to their implantation and success. This is especially apparent in rural areas where people are so dependent on natural resources but don’t have the income to necessarily use them in sustainable ways. I believe one of the greatest ways that overall global sustainability can be improved is by focusing on finding cost effective ways for rural communities to use less resources. In countries like the United States, more sustainable methods should also be a focus. However, most of our problem is that we have the economic and technological means to not use as many natural resources. It is just that we choose to use them regardless, because overall we tend to be wasteful in our own homes, as well as large corporations want to make the maximum profit. For example, there is no such thing as napkins or paper towels on camp. If your hands get dirty, you simply wash them. I know right, what a concept? I was so completely unaware of how many napkins and paper towels I got through at home! Overall, rural communities can’t just fix their attitudes about the environment like we can, but rather they are in the greatest need of finding new ways for them to support their livelihood. When the world’s resources diminish such as water and precipitation, forests, viable soils, and food, rural communities are first on the pecking order to suffer. We, the people with so much, will have the means to provide for ourselves for longer. Thus, it is rural communities around the world that the greatest attention should be given because in the near future their populations, livelihoods, and biologically diverse geographical locations, such as that of Tanzania, will be in serious jeopardy.

For more stories about my adventures abroad check out my personal blog.

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Gibb’s Farm

 For another traveling lecture we took a tour of Gibb’s Farm which is an old coffee plantation farm/guest house that was developed by a British WWII veteran and his wife. Together they built this big beautiful plantation and expansive vegetable garden. They even had strawberries and blackberries! The ground themselves were absolutely stunning! Apparently Tanzanian coffee is some of the best in the world, but I haven’t had the chance to test out this theory. Here they grow organic Arabica coffee, which prefer high elevations, making the farm the perfect location. I had been to another organic coffee farm in Costa Rica before this, so it was interesting to see how similar the methods were. However, a wealthy couple did not run the farm in Costa Rica so their struggle to maintain a livelihood from such a difficult crop was much harder. They also recycle coffee trees when they are no longer productive as firewood, because apparently they produce very little smoke when burning them. All of the coffee and vegetables produced are to feed/sell to the guests

The farm is now owned by an American family, and has recently been expanded to accommodate many more guests. This beautiful little oasis costs a whopping $900 a night! So much for ever coming back to stay here! To paint more of a picture the guest bathrooms had their sinks open to a picturesque panorama of the flowering gardens. Needless to say as a bum of a field student, I felt a little underdressed. As crazy expensive as this place is, the business does do good by the local community. Most of their staff is hired from the local village, they created an education fund that helps schools in the district every year, and they have a 10,000 L water container that they will give access to local families for free.

I am not totally sure as to why we spent half our morning here honestly. It was more or less just a walking tour of a pretty place. But hey, I wasn’t sitting in a classroom so I was pretty pumped. I think our professors were hoping that our guide would talk more about their conflict with elephant crop raiding because the farm backs up to the Ngorogoro Conservation Area. Gibb’s farm does serve lunch to non-overnight guests so we do have the opportunity to have an all you can gourmet buffet on free days. I will let you know if I go and if it’s as delicious as everyone raves about!

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Do we have a solution to resolving human-elephant conflict? 

After Gibb’s Farm we travelled down the road to my professors’ current project. Both my wildlife ecology and wildlife management professors have a relatively new study going on to measure the effectiveness of new elephant crop raiding fencing methods. From my other posts it is pretty clear that elephant crop raiding is a major problem faced by rural people in many areas of Tanzania. So far there has been no successful ways to keep them away, until now.

They have two different types of fencing strategies at their study site. The first is beehive fencing, where beehive boxes are set up around the perimeter of the crops, attached to the fence. This works as a deterrent because elephants are rather frightened of bees and won’t come near them if they hear them around. Elephants have surprisingly sensitive skin, meaning a bee sting is very painful so they tend to avoid the area entirely. The idea behind this fencing method is that the family can use honey from the hives to sell as a source of supplemental income. It is estimated that the family can harvest honey twice a year and make about 50-100,000 shillings ($25-50) per hive. The downside to these fences is that the bees will take up to six months to naturally arrive at the hives, as well as this has a high start up cost of about $35 a hive.

The other fencing strategy is chili fencing, which involves dipping rope and pieces of fabric in a mixture of old engine oil and chili powder. Elephants also have sensitive smell and they very much dislike the smell of chili. Somebody brought up a good point when they asked how somebody figured that out. They said: “did someone start throwing a bunch of spices at some elephants or something?” Honestly, nobody really knows. One of life’s greatest mysteries I guess. Anyways, this fencing offers no additional source of income, however, it has a much cheaper start up cost. The fencing poles are collected from nearby trees and don’t cost the farmer anything (even though its not super great for the environment), the rest of the material is cheap and easy to get. The rope and fabric cost next to nothing and the old engine oil is easily found from cars in town. The chili peppers are harder to get ahold of, because it is not a locally grown crop. However, I suggested that they teach the farmers to grow their own peppers, which was apparently an idea not previously considered by my professors and a feasible solution to the problem. The downside to the chili fencing is that the rope and fabric need to be reapplied frequently so the smell doesn’t fade. In the dry season they have to reapply every 21 days, but in the wet season it is every 7 days. They need chili powder and engine oil for each reapplication, which will cost about $10 an acre. The labor is non intensive either as most farmers would work together to maintain the fencing.

Overall, the local farmers that are either helping with the project or have been seeing the results are really excited about these new methods. It seems that people tend to favor the chili fences idea because it is a cheap and immediate solution. In the last three months elephants have only been reported as much as three times, whereas people in our previous interviews claimed they came every night.  They never left damage to the fencing, and overall mostly avoided the crops, sticking to the nearby ones without these fences. It is really awesome to see how this work will revolutionize approaches to human-wildlife conflict. It limits negative experiences with wildlife so negative attitudes should subside. It more importantly takes an immense burden off of families and also doesn’t harm the elephants. I am very excited to see where this project goes in the future and how it might spread across Tanzania.

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Learning About & Assessing Local Government Institutions

The last travelling lecture we had brought us to the meeting house of the nearby village, Kilimatembo (Elephant Hill), to sit down and talk to the land use committee. This was an interview exercise that had us practice assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a governing body for my policy class. In Tanzania, there has been more of a recent push for the decentralized approach. This means that the national government wants local governments to have more power to meet their own unique needs as well as manage their own resources. Tanzania is broken down into regions, districts, wards, and then villages. For reference, Rhotia, where I am living is a village in the ward of what is also Rhotia, in the district of Karatu in the Arusha region. Kilimatembo is also in the Rhotia ward so this is where we conducted our interview. It felt very out of place to ask a governing body of experienced adults how they did their jobs and then have to go back to camp to write a paper on what we felt their shortcomings were. However, it was interesting to learn about local government structure.

Generally, the village annually elects members to a council, where a chairperson is determined and then council members are assigned to various committees such as land use. The committees and council each meet once a month. The village is involved four times a year at the village assembly, where everyone is required to attend to discuss recent decisions, new/proposed bi-laws, concerns, etc. Unfortunately, elected officials receive no type of professional training for their positions in a governing or natural resources conservation capacity. Also, members receive a small allowance and accept their jobs as a secondary duty to those at home and individual livelihoods. Overall I found this structure to lead to a passive, less motivated, governing body that lacks transparency in its involvement with the community. However, that being said, I do applaud the village for establishing a governance system that calls for annual elections by popular vote, and for recognition of the need to have village assemblies and a land use committee. I was also super pleased to see that two of the twelve seats on the committee were women, meaning that there are no laws against women voting or holding office. In general, female involvement is low, but not prohibited, which is a step in the right direction.


Check out my blog for more posts about my recent community service and Maasai cultural experience!

Topics: Study abroad

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