WWF and partners help to restore near extinct, medicinal plants

01Apr 2019
Gerald Kitabu
LINDI
The Guardian
WWF and partners help to restore near extinct, medicinal plants

A ray of hope has spark in the Southern Tanzania after the Erythrina schliebenii, one of the unique, rare, medicinal and lucrative coastal tree species have been restored.

Salum Ally Mususa, Mchakama Village Chairman, admiring one of the planted 30,000 seedlings of Erythrina schliebenii tree at Uchungwa Village Land Forest Reserve approximately 34km from the village. Photo by Gerald Kitabu

The coral species are found not elsewhere in the world except in Tanzania ,has been restored in Mchakama village, some 98-kilometers from Kilwa Masoko town, Lindi region. 

Characterized by jagged ferocious spines along its stem, this coral tree is widely known as “Mnungunungu”  in Swahili and "Mlindimila" to the local communities. For many years the barks of this tree, which thrives in rocky areas has been used for medicinal purposes.

According to Dr Lawrence Mbwambo, in 2008 Erythrina schliebenii tree was one of the declared near extinct species by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). During the 2012 botanical exploration in south-east dry coastal forests of Tanzania, a group of scientists reported in the Journal of East African History the rediscovery of about 50 Erythrina trees.

"After discovering shrinking number of  Erythrina species, WWF began pioneering its restoration in 2016 in collaboration with WWF German  with funds from  Germany Cosmetic Company (Kneipp) .On the ground WWF partnered with Kilwa District Council, Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) and began restoration at Uchungwa Forest  at Mchakama Village. Our overall objective is to restore the tree in its natural environment by planting approximately 30,000 seedlings thus in order to increase the species population and contribute to conserving natural biodiversity,”explained Dr Mbwambo.

 

According to Salum Ally Mususa, Mchakama Village Chairman, Erythrina restoration has been done at Uchungwa Village Land Forest Reserve approximately 34km from the village.

"For local communities this WWF initiative is considered of great importance because Erythrina is one of our oldest source of medicine. Its barks are widely used to cure fever in children, women use it during postpartum period, as well as sexual and reproductive health to mention a few. Secondly, the restoration processes have enhanced knowledge and commitment towards forest conservation.  

Last but not least economic welfare of individuals have improved as a result of engaging in the entire restoration process from seeds collection, to planting, to forest patrol, said Msusa.

I frequently join my people to patrol the forest and I can attest to this by 98 percent of the Erythrina seedlings we planted in Uchungwa have survived, this has contributed to the increase number of Erythrina trees, thus forest cover."Speaking on the restoration journey, MCDI Forest Officer Jonas Timothy said the  process began with gathering of seeds around July and August, 2016 followed by preparation of nurseries which started from October, then planting of seeds that started around January or February. After 3-months the Erythrina seedlings were  ready to be transferred to the forest.

‘’Restoring a near extinct species is not an easy task but we have succeeded with Erythrina. From 2016 to date approximately 20,000 seedlings have been planted in Uchungwa Forest.

Despite the success, Erythrina restoration faces some major challenges too. According to Mr. Salum, Uchungwa forest is not accessible during rainy season, due to poor access roads.  Such a hiccup hinders their effort to monitor the progress of the trees. On the other hand, Erythrina is a delicacy to monkeys noted, Jonas.

""One thing we did notice early in the process is  that monkeys love to feed on Erythrina seedlings. Thus, the first week is very crucial for the seedling survival. Together with the local communities we have came up with an innovative way to keep the monkeys away. We use a local deterrent locally called “Sifa” which is made of fish remains. We sprinkle the powder on the seedlings, its smell  keeps the monkey away thus the seedling  thrives. This has been one of our biggest win so far before we used our patrol people to chase the monkeys away which was neither a sustainable nor effective way to address the challenge" said Jonas

Used as medicine for people and animals

Speaking on Erythrinas' medical values,  Hadija Abdallah Masambala, a member of the village council said that the powder from the trees barks  is considered a  first aid service by majority of the villagers.

“We are a rural community, we do not always have timely access to health services. Therefore,  Erythrina is our first medicine we use before seeking further medical attention, I remember one time my son had high fever  we used Erythrina and his condition improved, it has saved a lot of lives.,” she said. 

According to Hassan Ally Stambuli, who is poultry keeper, Erythrina has kept his flock from seasonal Newcastle disease.

"When we first began collecting seeds I remember I took some seeds with me home. Having a bigger compound I just threw the seeds around the house and went on my business. After sometimes I noticed my chicken eating the seedling I didn't mind. Then we had an outbreak of Newcastle disease in the village. It was sad people lost their flocks but mine remained healthy. That’s when I discovered it is because they fed on Erythrina seedlings. Therefore I shared my discovery with others and we have since then maintained health chickens," says Mr Hassan

Erythrina schliebenii restoration efforts contributes to good governance  in forest 

According to the secretary of the Village Natural Resource Committee Ahamadi Abdallah Ligambe, the trainings  and conservation campaigns carried out by WWF, the District Council  and MCDI on the importance of forest

conservation and Erythrina schliebenii in particular, have invoked them a sense of commitment and responsibility. As a result, the villagers understand the value of their forest and play key role in protecting them, include through patrols.Good governance trainings have enabled the Natural Resources Committee to effectively play their role in managing the forest and facilitated benefit sharing. On the same note, women engagement has improved with now six women holding position in the committee

“We have benefited a lot from Erythrina schliebenii restoration. The Village Natural Resource Committee and the Village Council have been trained, acquired conservation knowledge and skills that are used in day to day decision making,” he explained.

The future of Erythrina schliebenii trees,

Fatuma Said Umande explained that Mchakama villagers are very lucky for having the support of WWF, the District Council and MCDI saying it is now the duty and responsibility of the villagers to honor and respect the support on the forest conservation.

However, Fatuma who is a member of the Village Natural Resource Committee cautioned "the Erythrina schliebenii  will be well protected and conserved if the villagers will see more benefits and incentives trickling down to the ordinary villagers.

“In the near future we believe the tree will improve our livelihood. We hope we can sell the seeds to other part of the world and even the tree itself to make development happen from the earnings. Apart from Erythrina restoration, WWF also funds on- going Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) which generates both individual and communal income and spurs the village economy.  We are happy our forest is thriving and we are benefiting from the harvesting of other trees in the forest. 

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