The semi-arid Shinyanga Region in central Tanzania used to be called the “Desert of Tanzania”. Trees and woodland were cleared to eradicate tsetse fly, create land and space for agriculture and cash cropping, and cater for the needs of a growing population. But this came at a cost. The goods and services which trees and woodlands provide were lost. Fuelwood took up to four hours to collect; the end of dry season forage so badly needed by the oxen was no longer readily available, thereby compromising land cultivation and wild fruit and medicinal plants were rare to find. In short, all those things that are vital for the livelihoods of the Sukuma people - the region’s agropastoralists - were disappearing.

In 1986, the Government of Tanzania started the Shinyanga Soil Conservation Programme, or HASHI (Swahili - Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga). The Government of Tanzania has been the major donor for this project, with additional funding coming from NORAD (The Norwegian Development Assistance agency).The project relied on the rich local knowledge of the Sukuma people about their natural resources and ways of managing them. “Ngitili – or “enclosures” or “fodder reserves” in the local Sukuma language were traditionally used for conservation and restoration of range-lands and governed under customary law, are now the true driver for the astounding success of the forest restoration in the region.

Shinyanga region has over 2.25 million people with an average annual growth rate of 2.8%, and the region covers about 50,000 The population density is 42 people per km2. The high population density, combined with the people’s agro-pastoral land use system depending on livestock, and subsistence and cash cropping, exacerbated the already serious problems of land clearing. The area is predominantly semi-arid with an average annual rainfall of about 600-800 mm. Rainfall is erratic and poorly distributed with high variability between seasons. The natural vegetation in Shinyanga historically consisted of extensive Miombo and Acacia woodlands.

During a detailed survey in the late 1990’s it was found that in a sample of 172 villages, there were 18,607 Ngitili (group or village Ngitili – 284, and 18,039 household or individual Ngitili) covering an area of about 78,122 Ha. The average size of the group or village Ngitili is 164 Ha, while the average size of the individual Ngitili was 2.3 Ha. Ninety per cent of the people in the 833 villages of Shinyanga have their own Ngitili. By the year 2000, between 300,000 and 500,000 hectares of Ngitili were restored in the 833 villages of the region. The HASHI experience went beyond the dreams of many of the early proponents. This was acknowledged at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 where the HASHI project was selected as one of the Equator Initiative Award winners.

At a time when conservation is increasingly being asked to justify itself in the context of livelihood security, poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals, the HASHI experience offers refreshing and detailed insights into the real and important reasons for considering biodiversity conservation as a key component of livelihood security and poverty reduction. But perhaps more important that any awards or badges of honour are local people’s own comments about what the restoration of trees and woodlands mean to them. “Trees gave birth to livestock,” says one villager, referring to the fact that the sale of tree products allowed him to buy livestock. “I now only spend 20 minutes collecting fuelwood. In the past I spent between 2-4 hours collecting fuel” says a Sukuma lady as she now uses fuel-wood harvested from the family Ngitili. Other Sukuma agropastoralists point out that trees and catchment conservation improved water quality in the region; that restored woodlands provide fodder for oxen at the critical times of the year at the end of dry season; and that revenues from the sale of tree products such as honey and poles pay for children’s schooling.

HASHI started in 1985, when there was little thought paid to climate change and the importance of trees in carbon sequestration. Since then climate change has assumed centre stage across the globe. Though Ngitili restoration helps mitigate risk and enhance resilience, it is only recently that a “post-hoc” carbon assessment has been done. It was assumed that prior to HASHI the only important woody biomass was found in gazetted reserves (and even these were degraded). The main carbon sources included Ngitili, woodlots and boundary plantings include the restored trees and woodlands, the grass and herbaceous undergrowth, the litter on the ground, and the organic matter in the soils. No assessment was made of the below ground carbon sequestration, though this may constitutes 50% of the above ground biomass, so the estimates made are likely to be under- rather than over-estimates. The mean tree biomass on Ngitili was estimated at 7.25 tons/ha while the grasses and forbs yielded 2.7 tons/ha and the litter 0.98 tons/ha. The woodlots, though much fewer, had higher tree densities and were more productive with a mean biomass of about 12.0 to 14 tons/ha. Assuming a total area of about 500,000 Ha on Ngitilis, this gives a total biomass of about 23.21 million tons of carbon from the restored forests and woodlands, which translates to about 11.6 million tons carbon. With the current average voluntary carbon market rates of US $5.0 per ton, the total contribution of the restored Ngitili to reduced emissions amounts to US $213million, and this does not include the below ground portion. However this is averaged over the 25 year restoration time, and does not take into account that the growth of Ngitili is not linear, but more sigmoid. Likewise not all the present carbon value would be available to the communities. But based on this, Shinyanga region could be used as a REDD pilot site.

HASHI recognized the importance of Ngitili, which had not been forgotten, and the traditional knowledge as the basis for the restoration. Unlike many programmes of the time in many countries, the empowering approach of HASHI in promoting Ngitili as the vehicle for restoration was critical as this increased local people’s ownership over, and capacity to manage their own natural resources. The Ngitili example has moved forest management from reserved forests to where even the smallest Ngitili is recognized as being important for farmers and groups. The traditional institutions for managing their natural resources, combined with supportive village governments, was key to creating the right management framework. The main principles underlying Ngitili is simple – common sense, as this relates to forage and tree needs of the Sukuma people. In this respect it is easy to adapt and replication for other areas – as has already happened in at least two other regions in Tanzania, namely Mwanza and Tabora. The multiplicity of tree goods (fuel, building timber, fruits, gum, medicines, fodder) and services (water catchment, erosion reduction, cultural) are being recognized as critical. The increased local interest in natural resource management, for improving their Ngitilis has been fostered by the decision to take a long term (now over 15 years) approach and investment by the Government of Tanzania with support received from the Government of the Kingdom of Norway. Since HASHI started there has been an increasingly enabling policy and legal framework for natural resource management, including those relating to forestry, land tenure and local government reform – some of this HASHI has helped promote. A recent and detailed social, economic, biodiversity and institutional study graphically highlights some of these changes (see key information sources).

This demonstrates that the restored natural trees and woodlands are very important livelihood and economic assets. But in achieving livelihood outcomes, it is clear that significant amounts (in terms of area) and variety (in terms of species) of biodiversity are restored as well in the context of underlying livelihood objectives. It demonstrates that natural resource assets are significantly more important in terms of livelihood security and economic benefits than is generally assumed. There is a clear message here for future Government investment in its Poverty Reduction Strategy implementation that the environmental goods and services have to be more clearly taken into account and invested in at the local, district and national levels. Though not part of the original objectives, Ngitili have made a very significant contribution to carbon sequestration as well as being important for risk management and resilience enhancement. Environmental and natural resource assets are important livelihood options for many rural people to meet their cash needs (education, building), for fuel and building timber, to provide valuable medicinals at the local levels, and improve the ground water supply.

Yet within this success there are dangers that need to be acknowledged, understood and, where possible, mitigated, including for example elite capture – as the powerful and rich try and usurp the process for their own benefit, and consolidate and further strengthen their own rights at the expense of the less powerful and so creating landlessness and inequity; or differential benefit accrual and wealth capture – as men may benefit more than women, and those with large land holdings can benefit disproportionately to those with smaller holdings. Such issues need to be taken into account, as part of an on-going process of interaction. Successful processes such as Ngitili cannot be left to “take care of itself”. Balance and equity need to achieved, and constantly re-negotiated so that the poorer and less powerful can also improve their livelihoods. Putting in place participatory (so that all different groups in the village are involved) monitoring (to assure that some of those danger signs are picked up and addressed) and evaluation (so that external perspectives can help point out potential problem areas together with the means to address them) is an important long term process. This demonstrates the importance of the need for continued interaction with such a process, and ensuring that there are mechanisms to ensure equity both within the family (gender) and within the village (to reduce elite capture). Here fair and equitably negotiated tenure rights would appear central to fostering equity, and reducing incidences of elite capture.

Key Messages

1. HASHI (Shinyanga Soil Conservation Programme, or HASHI in Swahili - Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga) recognized the importance of Ngitili (traditional enclosures or fodder reserves), and the traditional knowledge as the basis for the restoration of the degraded Shinyanga landscapes, since about 1986.

2. The empowering approaches increased local people’s ownership over, and capacity to manage their natural resources, where traditional institutions and supportive village governments created the right management framework.

3. The Ngitili example moved forest management from reserved forests to where even the smallest patches are recognized as important. Approximately 500,000Ha of Acacia and Miombo woodlands have been restored by farmers, groups, and villages across over 825 villages in Shinyanga region over a 25 year period, and the process has now spread to at least two other regions in Tanzania.

4. The multiplicity of tree goods (fuel, building timber, fruits, gum, medicines, fodder) and services (water catchment, erosion reduction, cultural) are recognized as central to success.

5. The restored woodlands are very important livelihood and economic, with a value of $14 per person per month for the 2.25 million people of Shinyanga – nearly 1.5 times the rural average for Tanzania. In achieving livelihood outcomes, significant amounts and variety of biodiversity have also been restored.

6. These natural assets are important rural people to meet cash needs (education, building), for fuel and building timber, to provide valuable medicinals, and improve the ground water supply. For example over 35% of people use the products of Ngitili to pay for school costs (fees, buildings etc.).

7. Natural resources are more important for livelihood security and economic benefits than is assumed. Environmental goods and services need to be more clearly taken into account and invested in at the local, district and national levels.

8. Though not part of the original objectives, Ngitili have made a large contribution to carbon sequestration (an estimated 23.2 million tons of Carbon sequestered with a value of approximately $213 million), though not all the benefits would be available to communities, but the region could be used as a REDD pilot site.

Key Information Sources

Barrow, E. and W. Mlenge (2003). Trees as Key to Pastoralist Risk Management in Semi-Arid Landscapes in Shinyanga, Tanzania, and Turkana, Kenya. International Conference on Rural Livelihoods, Forest and Biodiversity, Bonn, Germany, CIFOR.

Kaale, B., W. Mlenge and E. Barrow (2002). The Potential of Ngitili for Forest Landscape Restoration in Shinyanga Region - A Tanzania Case Study. International Expert Meeting on Forest Landscape Restoration, Costa Rica.

Kilihama, F. B. (1994). Trees and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge about Agroforestry practices in the Rangelands of Shinyanga Region, Tanzania. Forestry and Agriculture. Bangor, University of Wales.

Maro, R. S. (1995). In situ Conservation of Natural Vegetation for Sustainable Production in Agro-Pastoral Systems. A Case Study of Shinyanga, Tanzania. Centre for International Environment and Development Studies, Noragric. Aas, Agriculture University of Norway.

Mlenge, W. (2005). Ngitili: An Indigenous Natural Resources Management System in Shinyanga, Tanzania. Nairobi, Arid Lands Information Network - Eastern Africa.

Monela, G. C., S. A. O. Chamshama, R. Mwaipopo and D. M. Gamassa (2005). A Study on the Social, Economic and Environmental Impacts of Forest Landscape Restoration in Shinyanga Region, Tanzania. Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, Forestry and Beekeeping Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, United Republic of Tanzania, and IUCN - The World Conservation Union Eastern Africa Regional Office: xvii +205.

Otsyina, R., C. Rubanza and E. Zahabu (2008). Contribution of Tree Planting and Conservation Activities to Carbon Offsets in Shinyanga. Dar-es-Salaam: 31.

Edmund Barrow is Regional Forest Advisor for the Forest Conservation Programme, IUCN International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Nairobi, Kenya.