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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?