An interesting case of science-policy interface in Tanzania

By Claudia Sometti1, Massimo Zortea2 Silvia Ricci3

The Udzungwa Mountains National Park (UMNP) is an extended protected area of the Eastern Arc Mountains in Tanzania. Founded in 1992 by the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), UMNP was closed to public in 2011 to safeguard and protect the delicate ecosystem; one of the most interesting hotspots of the world for its tropical biodiversity features. There are several endemic plant and animal species find place within the park like the critically endangered Old World monkey, Sanje mangabey (Cercocebus sanjei), and the gray-faced elephant shew (sengi) (Rhynchocyon udzungwensi), a new species discovered in 2008 by a group of researchers of MUSE Science Museum, a public institution based in Trento, Italy with a field station in Tanzania (Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre, UEMC).

Previously, local communities entered the park to collect firewood and forest products and even poaching was rife, but after 2011, such activities were banned. At the same time, in order to soften the consequences of such a drastic change of land politics, in the areas bordering to UMNP projects of environmental awareness and education have been implemented jointly with MUSE-UEMC, supported by an European partner (Mazingira, a non-profit is managing community-based projects and activities along with stakeholders to implement conservation schemes and strategies based on MUSE scientific researches and monitoring programs).

Environmental education projects have been mainly carried out in primary and secondary schools in order to create a bottom-up environmental culture, directly involving new generations. Sensitization activities have also addressed the adult audience by showing environmental videos during cinema evenings to raise awareness and introduce conservation ethic among communities. Another activity aims to promote alternative energy and reforestation techniques to reduce the heavy use of firewood and coal in the area. Women groups manage nurseries from which villagers buy seedlings to plant and use as alternative fuel, fruit trees or timber. These groups have been trained to use new energy efficient technologies which should replace traditional fuels, such as briquettes: compressed flammable bricks, made up of recycled paper, leaves, sawdust, rice husks or other agricultural wastes when used properly are a valid alternative to coal. The Mayon turbo stoves made up of metal sheets and fueled by rice husks are now in vogue.  Such fuel doesn’t cost much and it has a lower impact on environment and health than traditional fire on three stones.

These are just two examples of what is being implemented in cooperation with communities to raise awareness on the importance of taking care of the environment through a sustainable use of resources, in order to grant future generations a healthier environment. In 2015, University of Trento started a research project for the integrated management of social, economic and environmental aspects of biodiversity conservation in the UMNP along with local authorities and communities and it comes with a commitment for sustainable use of natural resources in one of the sensitive hotspots of Africa. 

1 University of Trento Italy; 2 University of Trento Italy – UNESCO Chair in Engineering for Human and Sustainable Development; 3 MUSE Sciences Museum – Mazingira, Trento, Italy.