Category: informational

the ‘search in Buger.

So a few weeks ago I told you that I was embarking on a research journey until the end of the program. Wednesday we will arrive at our big destination – community presentations. After a month of data collection, analysis and documentation we will be presenting our results and conclusions to the community as well as representatives from the government and park management spheres. Since all of you can’t be there I thought I would summarize my paper for you… the whole 29 pages might be a bit much.


Climate change impacts and local adaptation strategies within the Iraqw community in Buger Village, Karatu District, Tanzania

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that average annual and daily temperatures in Tanzania will rise 2-4°C by 2075 as a direct result of anthropogenic climatic changes. Predicted resulting decreases in rainfall have the potential to undermine current and future efforts to eradicate poverty in Tanzania. Over 90% of the population is dependent on agriculture or agricultural activities. The variability and unpredictability of precipitation strongly affects agricultural production through poor water availability and soil erosion, as well as increases of pests and diseases. In rural regions of Tanzania modern adaptation methods to these challenges can be expensive, confusing, and difficult to access. As a result, these communities rely on traditional practices for adaptation that should be documented and analyzed for potential standardization and replication. This study documents the current impacts of climate change on the village of Buger in Karatu District, Tanzania and the existing local adaptation methods.

The primary methods used in the research were focus group discussions and structured interviews. The focus groups ranked the impacts of climate change by severity and several agricultural practices by effectiveness in increasing production. A semi-structured questionnaire was completed through interviews at 106 households in the village.

Through this study it became clear that predicted climatic changes are already being felt in Buger, primarily increased drought frequency and duration. The villagers reported decreases in the rainy season by five to six months. A high reliance on natural resources leaves villagers vulnerable to these changes through effects such as decreased agricultural production, pasture availability and water availability as well as increases in malaria.

Climate adaptation methods were documented, most directly related to agriculture. In general, the respondents preferred traditional methods (such as manure as fertilizer, terracing, tree planting, crop rotation, and intercropping) to modern methods (such as the use of short season seeds and the use of inorganic fertilizers and/or pesticides), suggesting that traditional methods are more accessible, affordable and effective and should be preserved and advocated within the region.

The beautiful village of Buger.

The beautiful village of Buger.

This information is from a paper produced as a part of an academic directed research semester at the School For Field Studies Center for Wildlife Management Studies (SFS) under the TAWIRI – permit 2012-241-NA-2012-57 and supervision of Professor John Mwamhanga. Please contact with questions or concerns.

tribal experiences.

Tanzania is home to 120 different tribes of people. I have encountered individuals from maybe 15 of them. Each group maintains very unique traditions and values and I have noticed that somehow a persons personality always seems to fit their tribe. Tribal identity is something celebrated, something to be proud of. Talking to people about their tribes makes me feel weird that I don’t have one, like I am lacking some form of identity. I already described the Iraqw community that populates the village we live in in this post. Last week we toured the homes of members from two other tribes – the Hadzabe and the Masai.


The Masai drip with pride from their shaved heads to their ear jewelry, their shukas to their anklets and tire shoes. The tribe’s homeland spans much of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Masai live in “bomas” which are circles of small stick and mud huts with a corral in the middle for livestock at night. Each boma holds the family of one man, with his many wives each in a different house. They are known for eating only meat, milk and blood and will often walk over 25 miles a day with no water. They also have intensive coming-of-age traditions involving ceremonies, exile, circumcision and age classes. I am not even going to pretend to understand them.

While many have been educated in English and Swahili they have resisted abandoning their traditions and dress and still practice pastoralism throughout their homeland. It is not unusual to see fully dressed Masai chatting with businessman in town. In addition, they have capitalized on the international attention they receive by setting up cultural bomas (or homes) to share their life style with tourists for money. The history of the tribe is less beautiful then their clothing. In the late 1800s many Tanzanian Masai were forcibly removed from a section of their original homeland, the Serengeti, by colonial governments. They were resettled in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as an experiment of combining human settlement and conservation and they maintain rights to live and graze there. The history of the NCA is also riddled with horror, but today the Tanzanian Masai now call it home.


The Hadzabe are easily the coolest people in the world (fact, not opinion). Shaking hands with them was like traveling back in time to a place I never dreamed still existed. Less than 1,000 Hadzabe remain in Africa and 300-400 of them live as hunter-gatherers outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area around Lake Eyasi. Smaller and more muscular than other people in the region they are not closely genetically related to any surrounding tribes and have inhabited this region, living as they do, for thousands or even possibly tens of thousands of years. They are the last full-time hunter-gatherers in all of Africa. The Hadzabe travel in roaming groups of 20-30 individuals, changing camp every few days. Unlike many other neighboring tribes they marry based on mutual desire, choosing partners based on work ethic and physical appearance. Partners predominantly practice monogamy and limit themselves to under 3 children per couple, another tradition distinct from their neighbors. Children are raised in a high quality communal manner with all adults taking care of all children. Generally, Hadzabe men and women gather. They hunt with only bows and arrows and are the only people in Tanzania allowed to hunt without a permit. They’re also the only people in Africa who (as I understand it) are legally allowed to smoke marijuana. The Hadzabe have managed to escape the pressures of modern social and economic development in Tanzania and they clearly expressed this indifference to modern culture through their indifference to our presence (our guides were actually Iraqw neighbors of the Hadzabe). The fact that I met them still astounds me and I will never forget what their presence stands for.



a ngorongoro dream.

If Arusha is my favorite park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the location of my dream job.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a unique conservation site not only in Tanzania but throughout the world. Unlike many other similar projects the NCA strives to “reconcile environmental conservation and human development.” Administered in 1959, it is an experiment in multiple land use where pastoralism, conservation and tourism can coexist. The human inhabitants are primarily Masai who were relocated from the Serengeti to the North in the 1950s when the Serengeti was cleared of all human use. The historic relationship between the NCA and its human residents is shady and was riddled with challenges, especially concerning population growth, but the goals of the park stand strong.

The jewel of the NCA is the Crater – the largest unflodded and unbroken caldera in the world. (In the crater human led grazing is allowed but not settlement). This past week I had the unbelievable priviledge of driving through it for an entire day. It is a zoo of wild animals. I saw more zebra, wildebeest, flamingos and buffalo than I could count. I also spotted black rhinos, hyenas, and jackals for the first time in my life.

Every day I’m reminded how lucky I am to be here and to be experiencing these things. This really is the stuff of dreams.


social capital – a homestay reflection.

Mwalimu Mwamhanga told us in one of our first classes that the western world possesses high economic capital but the tribal communities of eastern Africa can boast of a greater social capital. Our camp in Rhotia is located between two tribes. The first, the Maasai, are the stereotypical African nomadic peoples who extend through large parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The second tribe, the Iraqw peoples, are pastoral-agricultural. They were probably the first food producing inhabitants of East Africa and have a smaller homeland stretching through the elevated parts of the Mbulu highlands in Tanzania.

Historically, the Iraqw built their houses into the sides of hills (much like a hobbit would do) in order to protect themselves from the neighboring Masaai. Nowadays their houses are above ground, traditionally made from acacia trees and clay but more frequently from bricks and cement by those who can afford it. They keep cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys and historically grew small grains and subsistence foods. Recently, with the introduction of cash crops such as maize, wheat and beans, they have begun cultivating for profit at local markets. Men usually take responsibility for grazing large herds and conducting large scale agriculture. Women are primarily responsible for at home activities, such as milking, cooking, cleaning, gardening, fetching firewood and water, and raising children.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Iraqw is their social structure. They have huge families where all older people are equally responsible for raising younger children, regardless of relation. They advocate mutual accord and solidarity over almost all other values. For instance, groups of neighbors will work each others fields in rotation, attending work parties at each house where the only responsibility of the homeowner is to brew buura, sorghum beer, for everyone afterwards. Similar parties will occur if one family faces misfortune that threatens their viability. They will organize a party, serve buura, and the guests will bring gifts of cows or other items to help the family recuperate. It is understood that each person gives according to what he has and each receives according to his needs. This ensures all families have an equal workforce and therefore an equal chance of surviving.

A traditional Iraqw proverb states, “if we all agree with each other, then Looaa must agree with us.” Looaa is their traditional deity and communal support and stability is the presupposition for contact with her. As a result, disputes between individuals or groups threatens this spiritual connection and are dealt with quickly by all members of the community. Buura is used as a symbol of friendship and reconciliation in such situations.

Some of these traditional views and activities are changing with the introduction of a market economy, shifts in gender roles and the expansion of the Iraqw homeland. However, the basic implications of these practices and values are still strongly prevalent in the culture. Many of my staff friends in the kitchen are Iraqw and they are undoubtedly some of the most genuine and accepting people I’ve ever met. In addition, I recently spent my a day with an Iraqw family. in Rhotia. My family, who I had never met before, took our intrusion into their home with excitement and grace. They taught us how to cook, taught us new Swahili words, played katikati and spent an afternoon relaxing with us. They invited us back and I fully intend to return.

Old accounts of interactions with the Iraqw reported that anyone could settle among them as long as there was enough land and the immigrants were willing to adjust to their norms and behaviors. Many outsiders who encountered them accused the Iraqw of putting herbs in the Buura they shared that “make strangers forget their homelands and want to stay with them.” I don’t think the Iraqw would need herbs to do that, just a little alcohol and a lot of their unchecked, unconditional, appreciation and love.

For information cited in this post please see “Money, Milk and Sorghum Beer: Change and continuity among the Iraqw of Tanzania,” from Africa, v. 3, 1996.

One of the most attractive aspects of the School for Field Studies Wildlife Management Program are its expeditions. Each semester two separate weeks are spent on a camping expedition to three national parks in Northern Tanzania. Last week was our first expedition and it was beyond words. So instead of explaining the trip in a post I’m going to start publishing snippets of the trip and moments that inspired me. To sum it up though, here is a brief overlook of the two places where we stayed.



Tarangire National Park

The first park we visited was exactly how I imagined an African savanna to be. It was hot. It was dry. It went on… forever. In fact, my little travel guide describes it so beautifully I don’t think I have to:

“Day after day of cloudless skies. The fierce sun sucks moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shriveled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometers knowing that here, always, there is water.”

Elephants, elephants, elephants. I’ve never seen so many in my life. And my god. The tsetse flies were SO BAD (think African black fly). During exercises we would stop the car just long enough to write down GPS coordinates, swatting in every direction to protect ourselves from the vicious monsters. Here I encountered cheetahs, lions and ostriches as well as many other herbivorous mammals. We camped just outside the park at a small campground surrounded by Maasai bomas while we were there.

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kwa nini?


Tanzania is in the middle of the East African countries, bordered by eight other countries and the Indian Ocean. The country has a complex climate stratification system due to an elevation difference of almost 6,000 meters from sea level to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is a biodiversity hot spot – home to 310 species of mammals (lions, rhinos, elephants, etc.), 1,060 bird species and over 1,500 endemic plant species. These natural phenomena are found in the park’s 16 national parks, 33 game reserves and 43 game controlled areas which constitute 23% of the country’s entire area. The tourism industry in Tanzania is huge, accounting for 16% of total GDP.

The School For Field Studies was founded in 1980 in response to concerns about “widespread environmental illiteracy among young people.” The vision of the organization is to provide students with the opportunity to explore the “human and ecological dimensions of complex environmental problems.” The first station opened in 1985 in East Africa.

Why East Africa? Why Tanzania?

Tanzania itself is a relatively new country, formed out of the countries Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. It is comprised of 120 different tribes. Per capita income for 2012 was only US $1,328.  Most of the country is rural and 75.4% of the country’s 40+ million people rely on agriculture for survival (a whopping 25% of the country’s GDP). Temperatures are high year round because it is near the equator. As a result, water is scarce and 58.7% of rural people walk an average of 27 minutes to get water. Up to 90% of the average person’s energy input comes from wood fuel, including firewood and charcoal. The result of these socioeconomic factors is that the short-term survival of Tanzanians is entirely dependent on using natural resources; however, the survival of Tanzania’s unique wildlife is reliant upon conserving natural resources.

This sounds like a doomed catch-22 unless the key-word “short-term” is addressed. With a population growing at nearly 3% Tanzania must use its natural resources in ways that are sustainable so they are not depleted. With global climate changes and increasing anthropogenic pressures intense protection of Tanzania’s wild areas is crucial. However, for Tanzania’s biodiversity to be protected Tanzanians must want to protect it – if local people do not have personal incentive to conserve than they will not – not when survival is in question – and there is little the government can do about it.

So, why SFS East Africa?

Because the long-term prosperity of both wildlife and Tanzanians is 100% dependent on the successful conservation and management of natural resources. The research done at SFS East Africa can help to iron out a plan or at least instill an understanding in students who later might be able to.

the view from just outside camp.

the view of Tanzania from just outside camp.

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