Tanzania Pemba Project: Sowing the seeds of change

1 February 2016

On a small island in the Indian Ocean, the combination of hard work, friendship and financial support has helped protect vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change.

What started as a tenacious “one-seed-at-a-time” replanting scheme on the Islet of Kokota has grown into an expanding programme of actions including educational films, infrastructure-building and knowledge-sharing among communities dotted across the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

Pemba, is one of three pilot eco-village projects, selected by the GCCA.  All of them have different types of ecosystems deemed particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Soon a series of educational films and a documentary - Kokota: Islet of hope  will be released, with the financial help of the GCCA Intra-ACP programme.

Showing how a handful of small Tanzanian islands realise that climate change is only going to worsen their dwindling fisheries, water shortages and growing deforestation, then resolve to adapt to this new reality, the films will help to spread these messages across the island, country and the whole continent.

The featured project was implemented on Pemba Island by the local NGO Community Forests Pemba (CFP), in collaboration with Zanzibar government authorities.

Tanzania's economy is very dependent on sectors affected by climate variability and change, notably agriculture. Current climate variability already results in significant economic damage. It is estimated that climate change will lead to large future additional economic costs, possibly amounting to 1-2% of GDP per year by 2030.

By taking matters into their own hands, the community acts as a shining example for other vulnerable areas.

Actively adapting

Local endeavour backed by outside support, including GCCA funding, has given hope and the chance of a better future to islanders as they face the impacts of climate change. Community Forests Pemba has shown the importance of working together, good communication and the need to set achievable goals.

“Kokota is not the kind of place you’d expect to find people actively adapting to climate change… but that’s exactly what they’re doing,” according to Kokota: Islet of hope,  a film being produced to tell the story of how an island community like Kokota can rise to the climate change challenge.

As the population on the island grew, pressure on the land, forests and biodiversity intensified. Poor topsoil, water shortages and erosion made growing food nearly impossible. Meanwhile, fish stocks were severely stressed or “bankrupt”, as one villager described it.

This was about the time when Mbarouk Mussa Omar visited from the neighbouring islet of Pemba. He was shocked at the state of Kokota and saw it as a warning sign that his community was on the same ill-fated path if it didn’t take immediate action. He rallied community support and, together, they identified the key issues to address first: water and forests.

Mbarouk started out with a small-scale tree nursery built and run “on a smile and handshake”, according to Jeff Schnurr, a young Canadian who stumbled upon the islands’ plight and put his tree-planting expertise to good use. It took months of hard work to scale up the effort. Mbarouk focused on local engagement while Jeff looked for international backing.

Pounding for Pemba

That backing came from the Finnish Embassy, a GCCA investment and other contributions. Jeff even persuaded his tree-planting colleagues in Canada to donate a day’s pay to the ‘Pound for Pemba’ cause – a reference to the way in which soil is pounded or compacted down around new seedlings.

“Fortunately, the people of Kokota decided to wake up before they destroyed themselves,” Mbarouk noted in the film. Thanks to the work of his NGO, Community Forest Pemba, and timely financial assistance, they are rebuilding what they destroyed and using natural resources more efficiently.

Following successful efforts to save and collect more water, the reforestation programme could expand. Today, roughly 50 percent of Kokota is set aside for reforestation: “It’s a good example, a benchmark for the world… Kokota is recovering,” commented Mbarouk.

Jeff, who has set up a sister NGO to Mbarouk’s called Community Forests International, underlines the importance of scaling up projects in a natural and achievable way: “We didn’t plant 1.3 million trees overnight,” he said, “it was one seed at a time.”

Leaping into the future… with education, technology, infrastructure

Reinforced by new schools and awareness-raising programmes, early success on the islands has encouraged villagers to tackle other issues too, including problems with health, infrastructure, and electricity.
And a series of educational films is being developed to help spread the word about best practices in land care, agroforestry, kitchen gardening, plant nursery development, apiary care, and even how to build clay stoves and sturdy housing with earth blocks.

“The clay stoves alone have had a huge impact,” according to Craig Norris, the film-maker who spent over two months documenting the efforts of Tanzanian islanders working to recover their natural assets. “They’re twice as efficient as open-pit fires and that means less trees need to be cut for firewood. It also gives replanting programmes a chance to take root,” he said.

Like many communities in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, the villagers are using mobile technology and energy innovations to leapfrog the need for more costly installations. Power is generated in a purpose-built mini-plant where individuals can recharge a motorcycle battery to transport electricity into their homes. This small innovation has spin-off benefits for education too, helping children to revise at night what they learnt in newly-built schools.

The educational videos themselves are also benefitting from leapfrog technology – Bluetooth – which allows villagers to stream films phone-to-phone, in lieu of a functioning internet. “Little innovations like this are really having a huge effect on daily life for these island communities – it’s plain to see and inspiring,” Craig observed.

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