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I visited Bunda in Tanzania from the 27th of March to the 2nd of April 2001, on behalf of Plant A Tree In Africa, in order to visit The Environmental Conservation and Development Project which is a local organisation involved in reforestation activities.

Bunda, Town and District

Tanzania mapBunda, situated about 15km from Lake Victoria, is a town of about 30,000 people and is the seat of the Bunda District Council. The Bunda District covers about 3,000 square kilometres and is one of the four districts that makes up the Mara region, the Tanzanian administrative area immediately to the east of Lake Victoria.

The town of Bunda is just a few kilometres from the western entrance to the Serengeti National Park, being divided from the park by a small range of rocky hills. There are, however, absolutely no facilities in the area for would-be park visitors (i.e. no safari operators, tourist hotels, etc).

This is no surprise as for the foreign visitor Bunda is rather remote, being about 30 hours bus ride from the capital, Dar es Salaam (via Nairobi!). As a result all visitors to the Serengeti enter from the eastern end, from Arusha through Ngorongoro. Indeed, from some of the (friendly) reactions I received while in Bunda I gather the sight of a white man in town is rare!

Bunda district is primarily an agricultural and fishing area. The chief cash crop is cotton, mostly grown by small holders. There are two cotton-ginning factories in town that, along with the local government are the largest employers.  However, most people are self-employed working either in the agriculture and fishing sectors or running micro-enterprises such as small shops and market stalls.

Bunda has grown considerably in the last 30 years, from a small village to a sprawling town, and at its current growth rate the district will double in population in 25 years.

Lake Victoria mapThe growth of the town itself is due to Bunda’s importance as a local “junction” town, being between Musoma, the Mara region capital, Mwanza, one of Tanzania’s largest towns and the foremost port and economic centre of the lake region, and the fishing villages to the west and agricultural areas all around.

Forestation Situation

Bunda district was largely forested up until the 1950s however, due to the large population increase since then and in particular since the 1970s, the area can now best be described as a lake coastal plain with only a few trees and small copses.

The land has been cleared of trees for a number of reasons:

The agricultural use is by small holders and family-owned farms, there is no large scale “agribusiness” in the area.

Charcoal seller
Charcoal seller
Traditional vs brick house
Traditional vs brick house
A local brick kiln
A local brick kiln

The fuel wood and charcoal use is two fold, first they continue to be the only fuel sources for home cooking. Secondly, wood and charcoal are used for brick production for local home construction; this appears to be a major wood consumer in the area.

Fired bricks have largely replaced the traditional sun-dried mud bricks used previously for building houses due to their much improved durability. Some houses are being built with cement blocks however as this is about 50% more expensive than using fired bricks it isn’t a very popular option.

The bricks are fired in individual “kilns”. When a family wants to build a house they either make and fire the bricks themselves or employ local craftsmen to do it. The bricks are made and piled into a large mound with tunnels underneath in which the fire is lit. Typically only sufficient bricks for the house, and a few extra, are made, although sometimes a couple of houses worth are fired and the excess sold off.

There is no brick factory or large-scale production in the area and the kilns or remnants thereof are to be seen all over the suburbs of the town. As the town is still growing this use of wood will continue to put pressure on the ecosystem.

The area around Bunda has already been mostly deforested as a result of these needs. In fact, most wood is now fetched from further away. The business of collecting wood and the making of charcoal is another micro-enterprise conducted by individuals rather than large-scale business concerns. It is quite a common sight around Bunda to see donkeys loaded with bags of charcoal and women selling small piles of charcoal and bundles of wood in the streets.

One area of particular note is the range of hills behind Bunda. These were apparently covered in trees until the 1970s and are now bare except for shrubs and a few small trees. I was taken to one spot where water used to flow across the rock all year from a natural spring – the locals used to go there to do their laundry. It is now dry except during the rainy season due to deforestation of the upper slopes having destroyed the ground’s water retention ability.

The hills are district government land and have been deforested illegally by people collecting firewood, and even though there are hardly any trees left this still continues. While visiting the hills I saw some freshly cut young trees – trunks barely a couple of inches in diameter – left to dry before collection.

However, the outlook is not totally bleak. While I was in Bunda the district council declared the hills behind Bunda a reserve and has stated its intention to reforest them. Also, there are a considerable number of trees in and immediately around the town itself.

Many streets in the centre of the town are lined with trees, these having been planted six years ago by a previous district commissioner (now deceased). There are also copses around the local hospital and school, these trees having been planted to provide shade and wind protection for the buildings. However, neither of these plantations are used for income generation, which is regrettable as they could be supplying funds for the school and hospital while satisfying some of the local wood demand, as well as providing their environmental benefits.

One thing that struck me about the town is that, despite the obvious “third worldness” a lot of the houses have small but pretty gardens. These are planted with trees to provide shade and wind protection as well as fruit bearing trees such as papaya and both edible and ornamental plants.

The Environmental Conservation and Development Project

The Environmental Conservation and Development Project's aim is to create a tree nursery that will give away or sell saplings at low cost in order to promote the reforestation of the area. It is also planned to sell ornamental plants for people’s gardens. The venture is intended to be financially self-sufficient once running and be income generating for its members.

The project was originally started on a self-funded basis, in 1994 with 15 people involved, most of them farmers. However due to lack of income most of them have gone off to pursue other activities. The project has had its logistical problems, including the death last year of one of the leading members whose land was being used, and hence is now on its third site.

Project siteThe current site is a 1.5 acre plot. It is divided into two areas, both surrounded by a “living fence”. The first has an all-season well and irrigation tank and a seasonal stream on one side. Half of this part is currently planted with soybeans, the other half is cleared but not in use. The whole area is bordered by lots of papaya and banana trees.

It is estimated that 70,000 saplings can be raised in this area and it is intended to raise and sell, amongst others, the following species:

The other area, slightly smaller is very garden-like with some grass and lots of ornamental plants such as hibiscus, bougainvillea, roses, etc, as well as more fruit trees including banana, papaya and sour sop. It also has an approx. 15x12m house foundation which, when complete, will provide an office for the project.

Solar cookerIn addition the project members are starting a fuel saving cooking methods project, showing awareness that reducing demands on forests is also an important part of the equation. They were prototyping, and were about to test as I left, two products: a solar cooker and a version of the traditional hay box. The plan for both products is to start a small scale manufacturing business and sell them in the local market as alternatives/supplements to fuel wood and charcoal. It is hoped and intended that this will become an income generating activity for the participants.

The solar cooker is of a parabolic design, about a metre across, and is made of thick cardboard lined with aluminium foil for reflecting the sun’s heat towards the centrally positioned black cooking pot.

Hay boxThe hay box is based on a wicker basket, is insulated with paper lined with plastic and, of course, comes with a thick cushion as a cover. Unlike the hay box variants I demonstrated in Ghana and India which were designed to be home made using the cheapest locally available materials, this version looks rather stylish, as it should for a marketable product.

Bunda District Geopolitical Statistics

Area, land:   2888 sq. km
          water:   200 sq. km
Population:   283,074 (year 2000)
Growth rate:   2.9% p.a.
Population density:   104 per sq. km.
Annual rainfall:   900-1300mm
Annual temperature range:   20-35°C
Cash crops:   Cotton, sisal, sunflower, chick peas.
Food crops:   Cassava, maize, millet, sorghum, rice, sweet potatoes, legumes.
Chief economic activities:   Agriculture, Fishing, Trading, Livestock.
Administration:   3 divisions, 20 wards, 93 villages.

Postscript: Lake Victoria Situation

A few years ago the South American water hyacinth was accidentally introduced into Lake Victoria.  It had a drastic affect, spreading quickly and clogging up local ports affecting fishing activities and local livelihoods.

As evidence of the engulfing nature of the plant I was shown a local pond that the fishmongers used to wash out their trucks after collecting fish from the fishermen at the lake. Small bits of water hyacinth inevitably came with the catch and now the pond is completely covered by the plant.

However, the news for Lake Victoria seems to be good. The battle against the water hyacinth seems to be being won since the introduction of biological control in the form of a South American weevil that feeds on the plant. While it is not yet completely eradicated, large tracts of water that were totally covered are now clear again.

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