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The Tanzania Pole Pole Club -Reviving Mount Kilimanjaro’s Forests through Cooperation with Tanzanian Villagers -

Tanzania Pole Pole Club Representative Mr. Shunsuke Fujisawa

Tanzania Pole Pole Club Representative Mr. Shunsuke Fujisawa

This month’s Close Up introduces Tanzania Pole Pole Club, a citizens’ group that supports tree-planting activities undertaken by local villagers in the East African nation of Tanzania, in areas of that country where there is an ongoing threat of deforestation. In Tanzania, along with a growing population, demand for firewood and charcoal has climbed, etc., and it is said that such developments have contributed to the annual loss of some 412,000 hectares of forest. On this occasion, we spoke to Mr. Shunsuke Fujisawa, Representative at Tanzania Pole Pole Club, who believes, “to protect against the destruction of forests, it is important that tree-planting efforts continue on an ongoing basis with local populations fulfilling a central role.” During the interview, we discussed with Mr. Fujisawa the nature of the activities being carried out by the Pole Pole Club locally in Tanzania, and the current state of forests in the vicinity of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Q.What led to the establishment of the Tanzania Pole Pole Club?

A. It was my first opportunity to visit Tanzania while being involved in a tree-planting job, and at that time I conducted some forestry research. While doing the research, I became aware of the residents of Tema, a village located at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, who were engaging in tree-planting activities. On meeting the five leaders who comprised the core of these activities, the first thing they said to me was; “we don’t want any money, what we want is to focus our knowledge together.” When it comes to getting behind research (in developing countries such as Tanzania), you meet numerous people who want to do this or that if there is money and materials, technology or human resources forthcoming.” However, the five individuals I met were different in that they were already doing what they could do by themselves, little-by-little and bit-by-bit. On realizing their attitude, I was very much moved by a strong desire to work together with them on tree-planting measures, and it was such feelings that led to the Tanzania Pole Pole Club being established in 1997.

©Tanzania Pole Pole Club ©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Villagers planting trees on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro (left), and the same location afterwards (right).
©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Q.What is the current situation of forests in Tanzania? What activities are being engaged in locally?

A. Speaking overall, Tanzania is losing its forests at a rate of 1.2% annually. If this trend continues unabated, in around 80 years from now, every tree in the country will have been lost. Deforestation has an impact in terms of insufficient firewood, the drying up of water sources, and soil-runoff issues; and these developments place further pressure on the livelihoods of people living in impacted areas. Thus, in order to halt such environmental degradation, and so as to protect the livelihoods of people, through cooperation with local non-government organizations (NGOs), the Pole Pole Club is focusing on three areas as pillars of its activities, namely tree plantings, supporting economic self-reliance and the improvement of livelihoods.

Q.How are these three activities linked to one another?

A. The Pole Pole Club started by cooperating in tree-plantings, and we then moved to make the planting activities themselves independent. Additionally, we also took steps to improve the lives of those who were actually involved. It should be noted that we are not in a position to make promises regarding cooperation that lasts 100 years into the future; rather the best we can do is help establish matters so that the activities in Tanzania are possible without being dependent on external support. Thus, so that the income of local people is improved and they obtain the ability to engage in activities on an ongoing basis, support has been offered in the form of introduced projects such as apiculture, aquaculture and cattle breeds that offer greater milk yields. Effort has also been put into group finances, with the reserves built up over time through participant hard work used to fund new projects. The issue of funding is as to whether or not it is sufficient so as to allow the local people to engage in tree-planting activities. However, in that on a livelihood level they also need to consider more mundane issues such as what they will be eating tomorrow, expecting local people to devote long hours to tree plantings at the expense of their own livelihoods is totally unrealistic. In that we see the relationship between improving livelihoods and environmental protection much in the same light as a tire and a motor vehicle (each inseparable from the other); we feel that livelihood improvement and environmental protection should continue apace of one another.

©Tanzania Pole Pole Club ©Tanzania Pole Pole Clubブ

Apiculture, which has brought higher incomes to villages the more diverse forests have become
due to tree-planting activities, is a project that kills two birds with one stone.
©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Q.What sort of organizations are your local counterparts?

©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Pictured together with TEACA leaders,
the photo was taken during an onsite survey in 2012.
©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

A. Confronted with lower rainfalls, water sources that were drying out and reduced crop yields, the villagers of Tema saw the cause as being the reduced forest areas surrounding their village. By way of response, they started to re-plant trees on denuded land. The five leaders I mentioned earlier acted as flag bearers for these activities, however, the local residents’ group that subsequently developed is an NGO called Tanzania Environmental Action Association (TEACA). In that the Pole Pole Club is a very small citizens’ group, there are limits to what we can offer in terms of financial assistance. Furthermore, we are not in a position to dictate to the people in Tanzania about how they should proceed. Rather, we view our role with TEACA as the focusing of our knowledge together and cooperating to decide what paths should be taken.

Q.What activities have you been focusing on recently?

A. Among local people, there is a sense of pride in having protected the forests in the past and continuing to do so. However, in believing that “residents themselves have caused deforestation,” the Tanzanian Government has expanded the national parks put in place to protect Mount Kilimanjaro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also prohibited residents from entering the forests. In believing this conservation policy is mistaken in that it ignores the livelihoods of long-term local residents, and in that any national park expansion will not necessarily result in forest protection, we are opposed to these policy initiatives. What the Pole Pole Club seeks is the removal of forestry areas that residents use from the national park boundaries, we also wish for a system of forestry ordinances that allow local people in the region of Mount Kilimanjaro’s forests to assume a major role in their management. These issues are the activity to which we are devoting our energies currently.

©Tanzania Pole Pole Club ©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

The “Village Pride Cards” give children the opportunity to play
while learning about the importance of the forests.
©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Q.In what ways can people here in Japan help?

©Tanzania Pole Pole Club

Mr. Fujisawa: “There are
a variety of ways to
get involved.
What about bringing
together the areas in
which each individual
excels?”

A. I feel that people here in Japan can offer their support by taking the side of the Tanzanian villagers and showing an appreciation of their desire to “protect the forests.” For example, so as to heighten the sense of pride felt in the forests, a Pole Pole Club project team created a guidebook that draws on ancient forest knowledge and wisdom possessed by village elders. A deck of cards was also created here in Japan to convey this information to village children. Cutting up the paper used in these cards, as well as the drawing of illustrations, represent ways in which people can get involved in protecting Mount Kilimanjaro’s forests. Based on the perspective of “moving forward with citizen-based activities along with many citizens,” the Pole Pole Club uses “Club” in its name. Our motto is “rather than a million arguments, engage in a single action!” Thus, we would ask that those people who are interested in helping us initiate some form of action themselves.