Nature Conservation in Dar es Salaam

Some considerations regarding protection of nature in Dar es Salaam

The continuous loss of natural habitat and biodiversity in Tanzania is not very different from what took place in Europe at the end of the 19th century. More than hundred years later at the time the average standard of living in the West has improved say ten times, the first reports of the return of indigenous animals and plants are appearing in the media. Although the overall biodiversity in Europe is still declining, forests are doing well and are showing increase in size and biodiversity. Does this mean we would need to wait some hundred years before matters start improving for Nature in Tanzania? 

The proximity of the Pugu and Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserves to Dar es Salaam has clear advantages in terms of favorable conservation opportunities compared to more remote Forest Reserves. However, concluding from the present status of these forests the disadvantages related to the proximity to Dar es Salaam seem to outnumber the advantages of being close to the financiers of conservation and the decisionmakers. After most valuable timber was removed from Pugu and Kazimzumbwi, the demand of charcoal is the driving force behind completing the clearing job of both reserves.

The familiar sound of a tree being cut with a machet can still be heart in the reserves but the peak of charcoal production in Pugu and Kazimzumbwi is sometime back now. With the loss of the forest cover the border between public (forest reserve) and private land, surrounding the reserve, becomes unclear and encroachment which already took place along some of the borders of the Pugu and Kazimzumbwi Forests will gradually claim more areas.

Without an obvious Owner making use of forest and taking care, reversing the gradual destruction of the Pugu Forest is not easy. The most logical use of the forest is recreation for part of the 5 million Dar es Salaam dwellers. Recreation can be combined with environmental education and regeneration of the forest. The determining factor for the use and resulting protection of Pugu and Kazimzumbwi forest is the Dar es Salaam middle class. But before they are expected to make a difference, there is some grand scale of awareness creation required to make the growing middle class appreciate the healing and relaxing effect of a visit to nature. Fitness is expected to be a more effective starting point for the Dar middle class than anything else.

Around the Pugu Forest, a considerable part of the new settlers is middle class while water is still bought and expensive, in the absence of natural aquifers in most parts and living cost high. Also relatively modest land prices allow buying of larger plots which are among the ambitions of the middle class. The pressure on the forest along the property of middle class owners is expected to reduce. But it is not ony the middle class in Pugu who should be targeted but the families in the endless unplanned settlements of Dar es Salaam, who will appreciate a break from the noise polution and traffice congestion which is becoming more and more disturbing in Dar es Salaam (including Pugu).

Pugu Hills Nature Centre could play an important role in creating interest in the Pugu Forest and its declining bio-diversity and create interest among Tanzanians to both pay more attention to their personal and family's physical and psychological health which are both under stress in an urban environment. Interesting the middle class of Dar es Salaam in "Nature" will only be possible by Tanzanians who are already aware of the importance of these last open spaces in Dar es Salaam which could be used for offering "green" recreation as alternative next to "urban" recreation, which is now available in Dar es Salaam in all its noisy variants. 

After securing appreciation of the fitness aspect of Nature and Pugu Forest, other benfits of conserving Nature could gradually follow. In the Netherlands 4 million citizens are member of some sort of "green" organisation (2010) almost a quarter of the total population. Comparing to more than one million Dar es Salaam residents. At that time awareness campaigns exposing the Helath benefits of Nature have achieved the interest of this sort of numbers of TZ Hikers, Cyclist, Joggers and Bird Watchers, the Pugu and Kazimzumbwi Forest will have to be connected to Ruvu South Reserve to absorb such numbers of recreationists, a decades all dream of many conservationists in the country.