#EYD2015: Chololo Ecovillage in Tanzania

tanzania chololo ecovillage
tanzania chololo ecovillage

This is the second post in my #EYD2015 project series – a project during which I visited five countries on three different continents in ten days, three of which I spent in the air. 

If you’d like a little more background, check out my post about how it all began and my first post from the trip in which I talk about empowering women in Addis Ababa and falling in love with Ethiopia.

Today I’m here to tell you a different story. It’s a story of surviving in the arid plains of Tanzania, fighting against climate change and improving lives despite harsh conditions.

dodoma auric air 5htds

I’ll be honest. After my two days in Ethiopia filled with new people, heart-breaking stories with wonderful resolutions, the best coffee I’ve ever tried, smiling children and one lost backpack, I was already feeling slightly drained. Excited, but tired – and we’d only been to one out of five countries.

Having to get up at 4am to fly from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma in the tiniest airplane I’ve ever seen – a minivan-sized contraption holding nine people – while desperately trying to edit photos and update my social media on semi-functioning internet did not help.

tanzania chololo ecovillage

But the bumpy drive to Chololo village woke me up. Here’s what I know about Tanzania – it’s home to Lake Victoria, Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s sparkling blue, lush green and snowy white.

The capital city of Dodoma and its surroundings? A dry dusty orange occasionally interspersed with a shock of muted brown or a brief viridescent patch. Not what I was expecting.

The lush vegetation in many parts of the country conveniently downplays one of the many problems it faces – widespread desertification. According to studies by the University of Dar es Salaam, around half of Tanzania’s land is degraded because of over-exploitation of its resources.

What that means in practice is drought, deforestation, as well as poor harvests and water shortages which quickly leads to malnutrition and poverty in a country where 80% of the population depend on rain-fed agriculture. Losing an average of 400,000 hectares of land every year through these processes, Tanzania’s development is far from sustainable.

tanzania chololo village

That is what makes Chololo ecovillage so special and so important. The project focuses on climate change adaptation and finding creative ways of achieving sustainable development. These innovations span a number of sectors including agriculture, livestock, water, energy and forestry.

I won’t go into depth about all the technical aspects here, so if you’d like to learn more please check out this document. Instead, let me tell you a few stories of the people who live there…

tanzania chololo woman

The woman with the fabulous blue shirt in the photo above is Jeri Masianga, a livestock keeper whose life has changed significantly thanks to the project. The local goat breeds she used to have are quite feeble, weighing between 6-13kg and only producing enough milk to feed their offspring.

But after being cross-bread with stronger breeds at Kongwa Pasture Research Centre, the new and improved goats (a term which makes them sound like futuristic robots, although I assure you they’re anything but) weigh double and sell for double the price.

With her herd of forty-five goats, Jeri has raised enough money to build a new house for her family – complete with solar panels on the roof – and get schooling for her three children, including her son who studies mechanical engineering at university in Dar es Salaam. She supports her entire family, including her husband who is unemployed.

chololo ecovillage eco leather

Jeri’s neighbour Stephano Chifwaguzi is a jack of all trades. On top of having a herd of forty-five goats, he runs his own eco-leather production business and is about to become a landlord as well.

Thanks to a series of training workshops he has learnt how to make lovely leather sandals and this has made him self-employed and independent. It has also allowed him to buy a new house in a neighbouring village, which he in planning on renting out as soon as it’s finished.

tanzania chololo woman

In fact, eco-leather production has done so well in the area that the project is currently funding an eco-leather factory. A plaque announcing the start of its construction was put up only one day before my visit and by the time I arrived, stones were already being crushed by local women to prepare building materials.

While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the role of women in Chololo because the changes that happened over the past five years are quite fascinating. Women’s position in the region is particularly precarious because of their role in collecting water and firewood as well as caring for children and the elderly.

tanzania chololo

Take the example of water – when the project started in October 2011, Chololo had no drinking water supply and women had to walk two hours every day to fill their buckets in the neighbouring village. Thanks to the instalment of a solar-powered well (a very practical solution in this sunny part of the world) this is no longer an issue.

Similarly, now that biogas created from cattle dung is replacing firewood as the heating medium in the village they no longer have to walk six hours every week to collect wood in this rapidly deforesting area. Better yet, biogas is not harmful to the environment and produces no smoke during cooking making it a sustainable alternative.

tanzania chololo children

Now I don’t want you to get me wrong. Although the ecovillage has done incredibly well there are many challenges ahead. But it’s a great project which puts the locals into the driving seat with clear and useful directions. This is precisely the kind of development work the world needs more of.

I’m hopeful it’s happening – a neighbouring village called Gekomo is already adopting these practices and being dubbed Chololo 2.0. I for one hope we’ll have at least as many Chololo projects as we do iPhone models. It would seem only fair – after all, most of the climate change problems in the developing world were largely caused by those who live in the now developed West.

What are your thoughts on the Chololo ecovillage project? Do you do anything in your everyday life to help with climate change?

  • Another amazing post, Sabina! These people make me feel guilty for not recycling my paper from time to time… it’s such an easy thing to do compared to what they are doing, and yet I still sometimes am too lazy to walk downstairs and put my paper in the right bin! This post is very motivating: seriously, right here, right now, I vow to do better.

    http://www.adventureatwork.co.vu

    • Thanks so much for that awesome comment Claire, and for reading of course! I totally know what you mean… it seems unlikely that such a small act could even make a difference. But I believe it really does! I vow to do better too! <3

  • Incredible, and absolutely fascinating! I try to always be aware about sustainable living, but honestly, Australia is so far behind, even though it is part of the western world. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I hope Australia changes soon, but with this government, it’s so unlikely.

    Chalsie x
    Wayfare | Travel and Life Blog

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Chalsie! It can be so frustrating – here in the UK shops only recently (literally a few months ago) stopped freely giving out plastic bags. So many little things that add up to a big mess 🙁

      And sadly it’s these developing nations that suffer the most because of their geographical location – as well as lack of money of course. I’m so happy I got to visit but it’s really made me realise how much there is I’m NOT doing… Here’s to getting better! 🙂

  • Yet again a great article. I love this new series as it goes way deeper than the usual travel post on sights and culture and actually shows problems other countries face. This hopefully makes more people reflect on sustainability and what little things they can do to help. Recycling is a big deal and I alwazs make sure to separate but when travelling I find myself often confused as to how (so many different rules on what qualifies or different categories, even within one country!) and whether there are options at all. Water is another issue and after having spent some time in South Australia, the driest state of the driest continent, I am now much more conscious about the water I use. Seeing your post now and the spread of desertification of Tanzania has mae both sad and hopeful for change. Thanks for doing all this in 10 days. You must have been super exhausted! Will there be videos as well? And how did you get internet access?

    • Amazing, thank you for sharing!! Chololo village sets such a wonderful example 🙂

  • I read somewhere about this village way back and now, after reading your post, it´s my new destination! I love what you wrote and your pictures too! I was really surprises reading bout the importance of women there: such a good news!

    Anyway, congratulations for your blog and bon voyage!

    https://pandaonavespa.wordpress.com/

  • Amanda

    Very interesting read! It makes me want to do more! What can we do to help?

  • Rebecca Sharp

    I’m loving these posts! It’s such a refreshing read to other blog posts (not that I still don’t read them every day!) and you seem to be really focusing on the people of the villages and how they feel and how their situation impacts their lives – I can’t wait for the others!

    • Thanks so much for that awesome comment Rebecca!! 🙂 I love writing this series because – as you said – it really allows me to dig deeper. Currently working on the next one, this time from the Philippines. Thank you for reading <3

  • You’re making such a difference my friend. Keep on helping, keep on empowering and keep on changing the world. These folks appreciate you and what you’re doing. They can sense a bright light when they see one. Side note; the climate shift throughout Tanzania is stunning, as far as the diversity with temperature, etc. Absolutely awesome stuff….thanks for sharing your insight with us.

    Signing off from Nicaragua.

    Ryan

  • Fascinating! When I visited Tanzania and stayed Arusha I was very curious about how those not in the tourism industry survive. Interesting to hear the behind the scenes story! I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs about your Africa trip.

  • Great story and I’m sorry I have to ask but probably not only me asking ;), is there possibility to join that kind of project in 2016 😉 ?