Tanzania – soil conservation


By Paul Ndiho

June 4, 2012

The slopes of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro play an important role in the nation’s socio-economics and ecology.  The mountain is a contributor to agriculture, forestry and eco-tourism.  Now, the government is teaming up with the United Nations food and agriculture organization, to access the forest’s carbon pools.

Field workers from Tanzania’s national forestry assessment project or naforma– have arrived to take tree measurements and soil samples near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania.  The team is collecting information on the number, size and quality of the trees as well as assessing the forests so-called carbon pools– one of which is soil.  Forest soils are a massive carbon stock.  The deforestation process releases carbon from the soil, significantly increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Soil stores two to three times as much as living plants, so it it’s really important.  And the problem is that we don’t know yet how this carbon stored in the soil can be released to the atmosphere if the land use for example changes from forestry to agriculture.   And this is one of the questions that the naforma soil survey tries to address.”

Soil samples are brought to this laboratory where they are analyzed to establish the carbon content.

“Now we know we have some areas which are highly fertile, and those need to have some ways of conserving it so that we can maintain the carbon stocks in those areas.”

Farmers on the slopes of Kilimanjaro have been developing their own form of climate smart agro-forestry for centuries.

The principal crops are coffee and bananas grown under a canopy of trees. While farming is intensive, the farmers conserve water and recycle all organic matter to ensure their methods are sustainable.

Scientists say, if Tanzania can successfully sustain and even increase its carbon stocks it stands to gain from the United Nations initiative to reduce carbon emissions through deforestation and degradation – also known as red – which aims to reward developing countries who can demonstrate a reduction in their carbon emissions.

“The main aim of the red initiative is to try capturing the excessive carbon within the atmosphere to the forest. We will come out with the change of how much carbon has been added from the atmosphere to our forest stores and how much we should then be paid for that storage.  You see red will pay for the additional carbon.”

The soil survey being carried out here is one of the most extensive efforts undertaken in tropical forests to gather more information on the role of soils in climate change.

If that can be understood, it will provide not only Tanzania but also other tropical nations with the information they need to sustainably manage their forest resources, allowing them to better provide for their growing populations and reduce their carbon emissions.

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