The Return of Ngitili

31 Mar 2008

Using traditional agriculture and agro-forestry techniques, success is finally being achieved in reclaiming vast tracts of degraded land in western Tanzania — two decades after work began to rehabilitate the declining ecosystems.

Once thriving and diverse woodland environments with great flora and fauna diversity, western Tanzania’s dryland ecosystems easily supported the livelihoods of local communities. However, under government policy in the 1920s, much of this territory was cleared and converted to agriculture, causing soil degradation, overgrazing and the loss of traditional agricultural systems.

By the 1980s, there was growing concern that the damage was irreversible. Today, estimates show that more than half of Tanzania’s land — around 40 million hectares — is highly degraded. Fortunately, through the work of the HASHI regional development program and the World Agroforestry Centre, scientists have identified and implemented several traditional land management techniques to stabilize the area.

The most successful of these has been the use of the Ngitili system. Ngitili requires large areas of land to be left fallow, leaving vegetation and trees to be nurtured over the rainy season, and ensuring adequate feed for the animals during the drier months.

Economists estimate that more than 800 villages in western Tanzania are now using variations of the Ngitili system. This increases local incomes, reduces women’s labor hours and sustains biodiversity.

Bess Mucke


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