Tan­za­nian herders, hit by drought, trade fire­wood for food

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -


It is only 6 am but Veron­ica Le­mu­ngat is al­ready set­ting up shop at the Na­manga open-air mar­ket, on the Tan­za­nia-Kenya bor­der. She brushes twigs off her striped red and blue dress, and places a bun­dle of fire­wood at her feet. Her back still aches from car­ry­ing the 10 kg (22 lb) load on the two-hour jour­ney from Longindo, her vil­lage in north­ern Tan­za­nia. “I col­lect the fire­wood from the bush in the evening and go to the mar­ket in the morn­ing be­cause it is not too hot,” she ex­plained. Pro­longed pe­ri­ods of drought in the re­gion have de­pleted graz­ing land, forc­ing pas­toral­ists to travel with their herds for weeks at a time - some­times months - to look for greener pas­tures.

With their men gone, pas­toral­ist women like Le­mu­ngat must find new ways to boost their in­come - by col­lect­ing and sell­ing fire­wood, for ex­am­ple. “Drought dries up range­land veg­e­ta­tion, mak­ing fire­wood read­ily avail­able in the bush,” Le­mu­ngat told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. For a 10 kg bun­dle of fire­wood, the mother of three makes 4,310 Tan­za­nian shillings (about $2) each day. “With this money, I buy maize flour and veg­eta­bles to cook for my fam­ily,” she said. “It’s bet­ter than stay­ing at home like I used to, with only sour milk to sur­vive on dur­ing drought.”

Kenya ban

Al­though Tan­za­nian law doesn’t ex­pressly for­bid col­lect­ing fire­wood in the wild, the coun­try’s min­is­ter for agri­cul­ture, live­stock and fish­eries, Charles John Tizeba, told a con­fer­ence in Nairobi in Septem­ber the prac­tice could lead to de­for­esta­tion and en­croach­ment of pro­tected ar­eas. Har­vest­ing range­land veg­e­ta­tion is il­le­gal in Kenya, how­ever, which drives Kenyan traders to cross the bor­der at Na­manga, look­ing for fire­wood. “I rely on fire­wood to make char­coal,” said Thomas Mwanzia, a Kenyan char­coal trader who buys wood at the Na­manga mar­ket. “Get­ting fire­wood in Kenya is be­com­ing very dif­fi­cult be­cause the govern­ment pro­tects nat­u­ral re­sources like forests and range­lands.” An­other loom­ing threat for Le­mu­ngat and other traders is Tan­za­nian youth, who have also iden­ti­fied fire­wood as a po­ten­tial in­come source and trade it rid­ing mo­tor­bikes.

“A mo­tor­bike can carry five times what I can carry on my back and reach the mar­ket faster,” said Le­mu­ngat. “The higher num­ber of sell­ers is bring­ing fire­wood prices down in Tan­za­nia.” Col­lect­ing and sell­ing fire­wood is not what she had hoped for in life.

In 2014, she tried to con­vince her hus­band to sell part of the fam­ily’s live­stock and use the money to in­vest in a fresh milk busi­ness in Na­manga. But he re­fused, say­ing his an­i­mals were more important. Ac­cord­ing to Hellen Ntin­ina, a Maa­sai com­mu­nity leader in Na­manga, “the main oc­cu­pa­tion among the Maa­sai is live­stock herd­ing - a man who owns live­stock is re­spected by oth­ers”.

Bracelets and bees

Dyno Keatinge, chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­ters for Agri­cul­ture, a food se­cu­rity al­liance, ac­knowl­edged that prac­tices like col­lect­ing fire­wood may lead to de­for­esta­tion in East African coun­tries with­out laws to pro­tect forests and the en­vi­ron­ment. But there are other ways for pas­toral­ists to boost their in­come with­out de­plet­ing range­lands, he added. “Rather than di­rectly ex­ploit­ing nat­u­ral re­sources, herders should have a good mix­ture of in­come-boost­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to then with­stand re­cur­ring drought if needed,” he said. “Maa­sai women, for in­stance, are very good at mak­ing or­na­ments like bracelets and neck­laces - the govern­ment should sup­port that ac­tiv­ity by link­ing the women to mar­kets.”

Ge­orge Marona, a com­mu­nity el­der in Na­manga, said non-profit groups like World Neigh­bors are train­ing com­mu­ni­ties to set up mod­ern bee­hives on range­lands, in­stead of har­vest­ing the veg­e­ta­tion for fire­wood and char­coal burn­ing. The bee­hives have wooden frames where the honey is stored, which can be re­moved with­out crush­ing the bees, he said. “This pre­vents peo­ple from us­ing fire to scare away bees and har­vest honey, as they nor­mally do for tra­di­tional bee­hives, with flames that can lead to dan­ger­ous bush fires,” he ex­plained. — Reuters

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