Tanzanian pastoralists, hit by drought, trade firewood for food
IT IS only 6am 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 10kg load on the twohour 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.
For a 10kg 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.”
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.
Another looming threat for Lemungat and other traders came from 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. – Thomson Reuters Foundation