Tanzanian villages struggling with shifting weather, prolonged drought



Emerging from his hut to yet another day of cloudless skies and scorching sun, Pusindawa Ndaskoi watches as hawks circle and feed on the carcasses of dead cattle scattered on the dusty ground.

\”We\’ve had no good rains for the past eight years,\” said Ndaskoi, 50, of Meserani Bwawani, a village in northern Tanzania\’s Monduli district.

\”In the last four consecutive farming seasons we had no crop to harvest. Everything failed and we are now surviving on emergency food handouts brought by the government,\” he said.

Meserani Bwawani has been decimated by drought.

Its residents, almost 1,000 people, depend on farming and cattle breeding but the population has halved in recent years as people move away to Manyara and Tanga regions in northern Tanzania to find water, Ndaskoi said.

Migration has wreaked havoc on the village and its traditional way of life.

As a result of progressive migration, our village is left with children and elderly people

Meserani Bwawani and many other towns and villages across Tanzania are suffering as climate change alters weather patterns, bringing longer periods of intense drought followed by torrential rains that lead to flash floods, local experts say.

Tanzania\’s rain-fed agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the weather shifts climate change is bringing.

\”We are observing that temporal characteristics of rainfall over many areas have changed in recent years,\” said Emmanuel Mpeta, acting director for research and applied meteorology at the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA).

\”For example, rainfall onset and cessation, and length of crop growing season for many areas seem to be changing,\” he said.

\”With the decreasing rainfall over many areas, water sources are drying thus impacting the rural population. With climate change this situation might worsen. Rivers which were previously perennial are now seasonal as they dry up during dry seasons,\” Mpeta said.

Large parts of Tanzania\’s population of 40 million are suffering the effects of drought, although the exact size of the affected population is not known, experts say.

Struggling to feed families

An official assessment of the country\’s food security situation, carried out in May and June 2009 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, showed that prolonged dry spells had left 61 districts of Tanzania, or about half the country, at risk of food shortages.

In Monduli District, 76,889 people out of a population of 110,000 are in need of food aid, according to official statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. The majority of the people affected are pastoralists.

Families say the changes have come on so suddenly they have had no time to adjust.

Climate change has not been a gradual phenomenon. It has been sudden and dramatic

Ndaskoi, a member of Tanzania\’s ethnic Maasai community, said he harvested between 200 and 300 bags of maize per year when weather patterns were normal and area fields would be filled with sunflowers, beans and millet.

But over the last four years he has not managed to harvest a single bag of maize and his fields are little more than dust. He now struggles to meet the daily needs of his four wives and 10 children.

Some pastoral communities have been driven away from semi-arid central Tanzania to southern regions, settling in wetlands and water catchments. There they sometimes struggle to be accepted in their new communities.

The same story of drought is told throughout Monduli District.

\”Our cattle are starving and dying in droves. Surviving animals are emaciated to the point that we cannot sell them,\” said Kimani Merendei Ipanga, 40, whose eyes filled with tears as he looked out at the dusty farmland of Orkatan village in Kisongo district.

\”The future looks bleak,\” said Merendei, who is Massai.

The dams where the village\’s 1,200 residents once watered their cattle have dried up, as they often do in spells of drought, Merendei said.

\”Significant changes in rainfall patterns have been noticed in the district since 2005,\” said Ebernhard Meinrad Mbunda, the district agriculture and livestock development officer.

Livestock insurance failing

Traditional pastoralists bank on their livestock as insurance against risks but the herds are also failing, he said.

\”Because of the unfavourable pasture conditions, bulls are generally weak and do not have enough energy to service the cows,\” Mbunda said.

This has led to falling output of calves, milk and meat.

As herders move in search of water and pasture, children are becoming particularly affected, with those in school missing classes and those who herd animals needing to walk ever further distances to pasture and water, Mbunda said.

Over the past 30 years, 21 meteorological stations across Tanzania have measured a steady increase in temperature, said Richard Muyungi, assistant director of environment in the Vice President\’s Office.

\”The impacts (of climate change) are already vivid. Frankly, when it comes to agricultural production, we\’re in for trouble,\” said Muyungi, a member and first chairperson of the Global Adaptation Fund Board and an advisor to the African Heads of State and Government Committee on Climate Change.

Shifting growing zones

Hubert Meena, director of the Centre for Energy, Environment, Science and Technology (CEEST) Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, said he had noticed a shifting of agro-ecological zones after repeated crop failure caused by changing rainfall patterns.

Farmers face other problems as well. In West Kilimanjaro, wild animals from a national park devastated by drought invaded wheat farms and destroyed this year\’s crop, he said.

Muyungi said climate change was not only affecting rural communities but also the country\’s growth as a whole.

\”Due to the increasing temperatures, the adverse impacts are now felt in all sectors of the economy and are threatening human life,\” he said.

In 2009, Tanzania\’s economy grew 6 percent while the agricultural sector grew 4 percent.