How the World Owes Tanzania to Keep Eastern Arc Mountains & Forests Standing

Kilimanjaro Mountain Aerial View during scenic flight.

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The Eastern Arc Mountains and forests sustain the lives of millions of people living in Eastern Tanzania by providing a clean and reliable water supply and protecting fragile mountain soils. The woods are a vital source of non-timber forest products, fuel, and food for millions of rural people. The forests are also a biodiversity hotspot home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on earth and store as much as one hundred million tons of carbon, which might otherwise be released into the atmosphere to contribute to climate change.

Believed to be tens of millions of years old, these forests contain high endemic plant and animal species levels. The mountains of the Eastern Arc are remnant islands of the once more extraordinary tropical forest extending east to west across Africa.

According to Conservation International, it is one of WWF’s Global 200 priority Eco regions that contains at least 800 endemic plant species, 10 endemic mammals, 19 endemic birds, 31 endemic reptiles and 40 endemic amphibians.

About Eastern Arc Mountains

East Africa Acar has 23,700 sq. km and stretches in scattered mountain blocks from the Taita Hills in southern Kenya to the Udzungwa Mountains in south Tanzania; the Eastern Arc Forests are among the world’s oldest and most biologically diverse forests. From north to south, the prominent mountains are Taita Hills, North and South Pare, West and East Usambara, North and South Nguru, Ukaguru, Uluguru, Rubeho, and Udzungwa.

Over 70 international and Tanzania researchers spent 10 years gathering the data in east Arc, which stretches for 650 kilometres (400 miles) across the east of the country, through studying flora and fauna by surveying thousands of farmers, charcoal produce, pit sawyers, hotelier and forest reserve their estimate that in 20 years mountain and forest will provide nature-based benefits to both Tanzanians and the world worth a staggering $8.2 billion, after factoring in conservation costs.

Why Does Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains Have Potential?

More than five million people reside in and depend on these mountains for their livelihoods, which are used to cultivating various food crops for their needs; there is also a significant production of fruits and vegetables sold in multiple cities. This is attributed to the favourable climate and scenery in the forests of these mountains.

These forests’ unique flora and fauna are unparalleled, with over 100 animal species and 800 plant species reportedly exclusive to these mountainous areas and not found anywhere else.

READ MORE Lessons From Nature: How Climate Adaptation Strategies Can Help Mitigate Pandemic Diseases Risks.

Furthermore, the forests are essential for the livelihood and well-being of millions of Tanzanians. The Uluguru Mountains, for example, are the primary water source for Dar es Salaam, home to 10 % of the Tanzanian population. The forests also generate a significant percentage of Tanzania’s electricity through hydroelectric power plants.

In addition to that, the forests also provide medicinal plants, fuel wood, forest foods and building materials for forest-adjacent communities. These same local communities retain a wealth of indigenous knowledge about the forest’s flora and fauna, which has been poorly documented and is at risk of being lost forever.

According to the study conducted by international and Tanzanian scientists and researchers, the benefits to the international community total $10.1 billion over 20 years due to carbon absorbed and emissions avoided by keeping the trees standing within the Eastern Arc’s forest reserves, while Tanzanians, on the other hand, incur costs of $1.9 billion for conservation.

How Many Areas are Reserved?

Approximately 15%, equivalent to 5,400 square kilometres, of the Eastern Tao Mountains area is covered by moist forests. Protected areas, including conservation forests, national wildlife parks, and natural reserves, make up 25%, total 7,400 square kilometers of the entire Eastern Tao Mountains region.

Small pockets of protected forests within villages, such as ancestral forests and burial grounds, constitute additional areas. The remaining traditional habitats in the Eastern Tao Mountains, particularly forests, are primarily in these protected zones. However, there is limited financial capacity for managing these areas.

Forests Under Pressure

More than 70% of the natural forests in the Eastern Arc Mountains have been severely damaged. A significant portion has been converted into agricultural land over the past 200 years. Expanding areas for agriculture remains a significant concern, considering the long lifespan of the forests and the wildlife within them.

Other challenges include reckless wildfires, unsustainable logging for timber and fuel wood, mining extraction and illegal hunting, especially of large animals.

Approximately 300,000 hectares were deforested or degraded from 2000-2005, leading to a loss of almost 50% of the Natural Mountain and sub-mountain forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains belt. Deforestation and degradation have led to approximately 90 million tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

Eastern Arch Strategies

The Conservation and Management of Eastern Arc Mountains Forests (CMEAMF) initiated the East Arc Mountain Conservation Project in collaboration between government departments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism – Forestry and Beekeeping Department playing a significant role in project implementation.

The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to provide education, forest conservation around Eastern Arc Mountain and Monitoring of forest resources, biodiversity and services of water and electricity to the community.

Measuring the value of ecosystem services in biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Arc is a critical first step toward raising external funding from global beneficiaries to compensate local communities responsible for keeping ecosystems intact.

The international community must acknowledge the global benefits of the Eastern Arc Mountains, from clean water and carbon sequestration to unique biodiversity and research opportunities, by supporting conservation efforts, providing financial resources, and recognizing the value of ecosystem services.

This is not just a matter of environmental stewardship but a recognition of our planet’s interconnectedness and our shared responsibility for its future.

A digital personnel and Content Producer who has made a significant impact on media outlets with his exceptional writing skills. He is passionate about creating informative content and conducting research. Salvius obtained his degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Augustine University of Tanzania, where he gained valuable experience through internships at Mwananchi Communication Newspaper. Salvius worked as a news editor and article reviewer at Scooper, also The south African website as the article writer, further refining his skills. Salvius's outstanding work in the field of digital journalism was recognized by Reuters which awarded him a digital journalism certificate. Salvius also is an environmental influence.

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