Forest landscape restoration in Shinyanga, the United Republic of Tanzania

E. Barrow, B. Kaale and W. Mlenge 1


The Shinyanga region, in the central region of the United Republic of Tanzania, is semi-arid and used to consist of extensive acacia and miombo woodlands. High population densities (42 people per km2) combined with an agropastoral land-use system exacerbated existing problems of clearing land for cultivation. However, there is much local knowledge about their natural resources, for example, the practice of making Ngitili (or "enclosure") fodder reserves. Ngitili involves the conservation and restoration of rangelands for livelihood security. Ownership and management rights of Ngitilis were governed under customary law. Since 1986 HASHI (Shinyanga Soil Conservation programme) has emphasized the in-situ conservation of wood and grasslands. Between 1980 and 2001 a total area of 78 122 ha was restored in 172 villages that HASHI has focused on. By 2000 between 378000 and 472000 ha of Ngitili were restored in the 833 villages of the region. This example illustrates important lessons, including:

1. Introduction

Forest landscape restoration, is a planned process to regain ecological integrity, restore forest functions, and enhance human well being in deforested or degraded forest landscapes (Maginnis & Jackson 2002 in prep). Emphasis is given to the relationship between various functions within the landscape, and requires the informed consensus by stakeholders, resulting in an acceptable balance between ecological integrity and enhanced human well being.

In Shinyanga, there is considerable knowledge relating to cultural values and uses of trees. Of particular importance is the Sukuma practice of making "Ngitili" fodder reserves. But high population density (42 per Km2), combined with an agro-pastoral land use system exacerbated the problem of clearing land for cultivation. Land clearing started in the colonial era to eradicate the tsetse fly, and has been perpetuated since then to increase agricultural productivity. The area is semi-arid, receiving 600-800 mm of erratic and poorly distributed rainfall per year. The natural vegetation in Shinyanga historically consisted of extensive miombo and acacia woodlands (Malcolm 1953).

Traditional knowledge about natural resource management is an important basis for improving landuse (Barrow et al. 1992; Dery et al. 1999). Farmers, through years of traditional experimentation, have developed strategies to cope with environmental and production problems (Otsyina et al. 1993). "Ngitili" is one such indigenous natural resource management system involving the conservation of range lands for use in the dry seasons. Ngitili developed in response to acute fodder shortages due to droughts, diminishing grazing land due to increased cropping, rapidly declining land productivity, and shortages of herding labour (Kilahama 1994; Maro 1997; Otsyina et al. 1993).

By independence (1961), almost every Sukuma family had a Ngitili (Maro 1995). Then, the Villagization Act (1975) involved the relocation of farmers from traditional villages to newly created settlements. In the process, many household assets including houses, farms and ngitilis were abandoned. By the early 1980's very few Ngitili remained, and the management institutions had been dismantled. But neither ngitili nor the customary institutions been forgotten, and both are now important for forest and grazing land restoration and management.

2. Rural People Taking Responsibility for Restoration

Forest restoration is a key component of the Shinyanga Soil Conservation Programme, HASHI (Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga), which started in 1986 as a government under the Division of Forestry and Beekeeping. HASHI supported villages' traditional system of Ngitili, and assist them manage their Ngitili (Barrow et al. 1988). . Efforts were made to understand the different Sukuma institutions, and how they can be involved in the conservation of natural resources (Barrow et al. 1988; HASHI 2001; Matiko 2000).

HASHI used various strategies to empower the people to restore their Ngitili. Educational awareness demonstrated the importance of restoring natural resources to conserve the soil, and contribute to livelihood security. Participatory Rural Appraisal tools helped identify important natural resource problems and how they could be solved. This resulted in the need for the training and provision of advice to farmers, for example which natural species should be selected for, or used for enrichment or boundary planting, and which tree species and soil conservation methods are best used on farm. HASHI also built the capacity of government institutions, e.g. village government and environmental committees as the de jure basis for ngitili, and traditional institutions, such as the dagashida or local assembly. HASHI worked with village law enforcement and two traditional law enforcement institutions, the sungusungu or traditional guards, which are now part of the village security committee, and the dagshida to ensure effective sanction.

These strategies have empowered villages and people to restore their ngitili, and take responsibility for woodland restoration and improved soil and water conservation. This local ownership has been key to the success and spread of ngitili restoration not just in Shinyanga, but to other regions. The Sukuma people had suggested that restoring ngitili was an easier option than planting of trees, many of which were exotic and not of the people's choice anyway. The ingredients of a successful restoration effort had now come together, namely the

This type of approach is increasingly recognized in policy, and the Tanzania Forest Policy places a strong emphasis on participatory management. The principles of multiple-use forests has been adopted, where biodiversity conservation guidelines are incorporated in management plans. Local communities are encouraged to participate in managing forests through collaborative and community based forest management. Villagers are supported to select, and set aside degraded and village forested areas to be conserved as village forests (Alden Wily & Mbaya 2001; Barrow et al. 2002a).

The major constraint relates to a lack of security of tenure for Ngitilis. Even though the ngitili are still being registered, their tenure status is still not clear. Surveys of village boundaries have helped ensure that villages obtain village and individual title deeds. The National Land Policy of 1997, the Land and Village Acts of 1999 are helping to provide solutions to land tenure problems, and support the formal establishment of Ngitili. Now, village governments enact village by-laws for conserving Ngitilis.

Ngitilis are established on degraded croplands and rangelands, but site selection is influenced by land availability, proximity to homesteads, production potential, and the ease of protection. Potential sites are demarcated in the wet season and protected. The initial siting is the responsibility of the family heads in the case of private Ngitilis, and a group of elders for communal ngitili (Otsyina et al. 1993). Although Ngitili boundaries may not be rigidly demarcated, ownership rights are respected and protected through local community by-laws (Otsyina et al. 1993).

The importance of traditional institutions is underestimated in natural resource management. The institutional responsibilities for the management of Ngitilis are as important as the technical aspects. There may be a wide range of institutions concerned with issues such as access, control and responsibilities within a community, e.g. the role of Sungusungu in Ngitili conservation. To the outsider they may not be obvious; if obvious, their role may be underrated in natural resource management (Barrow 1996). These institutions have been used as the basis for ngitili restoration, and HASHI has made determined attempts to locate control over the ngitili in the village itself (Shepherd et al. 1991). Traditional sanction mechanisms and fines (mchenya) have been the basis for enforcement. This maintenance of a range of non-formal organizational mechanisms for dealing with land use matters, which may often operate in near isolation from formal government is an important feature (Shepherd et al. 1991). This blending of the traditional and modern has clearly been an important factor in the success of ngitili restoration.

3. Expansion Of Ngitili from Late 1980's to 2001

Many more individuals now make their own Ngitili. There is noticeably more vegetation now than in 1988. The in-situ conservation programme has had a positive impact on the environment in Shinyanga Region (Barrow et al. 1992; Maro 1995; Matiko 2000). This improvement is from both direct and indirect HASHI intervention. Farmers are reclaiming previously owned ngitilis, while others plan to establish new ones. But the establishment of new ngitilis is limited by scarcity of land, and insecurity of tenure. Only 35% of the owners said they have enough land to expand existing ngitilis. Individual or private ngitilis are located around the homestead (51.6%), along low-lying rivers (23%) and farmlands (14%) (Otsyina et al. 1993).

In 1986, there was only about 600Ha of ngitili. Since then over 18,000 Ngitili in 172 villages sampled, had been restored covering 78,122 ha. (Table 1). The average individual Ngitili size is 2.2 ha, but range from 0.1 ha - 215 ha. Ngitili are equally widespread in all the districts, and most respondents (90%) have access to an individual or village reserves for use in the dry season (Table 2). Using data from HASHI target villages and other sources, the total area of restored land in Shinyanga can be estimated (Table 1, and (Kilihama 1994; Maro 1995; Matiko 2000). By 2000 between 378,000 and 472,000 Ha of Ngitili have been restored in the region. This gives a strong indication of the scale of the restoration of Ngitili. Only 9% do not own or have access to Ngitili (Otsyina et al. 1993).

Table 1: Ownership of Ngitili, Shinyanga Region (1980-2001)





Total Area









































Shy (R)








Shy (U)
























Source: (HASHI 2001)

Table 2 Ngitili Ownership and Distribution in Different Districts


District (% respondents)







Own individual Ngitili






Don't own but have access






Don't own and no access






Private Ngitili






Communal Ngitili






(Kilihama 1994; Maro 1995; Matiko 2000)

4. How Have Ngitili Contributed To Improved Livelihoods

Ngitilis enhance the availability of fodder, wood products and environmental services, thereby reducing the time to fetch these products. They also contribute to soil conservation, and improved agricultural and livestock production. A wide variety of tree species are conserved on farm. In one farm, 23 species were recorded, with over 16 being indigenous, indicating the importance of Ngitili to conserve biodiversity.

Farmers views on Ngitili management varied. Most respondents (80%) admitted that there were positive changes, including ownership patterns, degree of Ngitili protection, location in relation to homestead, conflicts associated with use, grazing period and types of animals. Farmers (90%) expressed the value of Ngitili as an important source of pasture for animals at the critical times of the year, including pasture and browse security (62%), availability of thatch (12.5%), control of soil erosion (5.8%), restoration of soil fertility (8.0%), source of wood products (4%), and as a source of income (4.4%) (Maro 1995). About 94% of respondents expressed the need to improve ngitili and management to alleviate problems of low grass productivity, rapid soil degradation and erosion, reduced tree cover and low fodder quality (Table 3). It is clear that securing livelihoods through agriculture is not enough, as agriculture does not take into account the many and varied needs of people.

Table 3 Perceived Methods of Ngitili Improvement

Method of Improvement

% of Respondents

Introduce improved fodder grasses


Plant fodder trees


Close Ngitilis for longer periods


Provide technical advice


Apply fertilizers


Strip ploughing to improve water infiltration


Rotational grazing


Expand Ngitilis


Improve availability of water


Introduce by laws to protect Ngitilis


Thin existing trees to encourage grass growth


Reduce stock numbers (destocking)


Source: (Otsyina et al. 1993)


The benefits of devolution are becoming clear in Shinyanga, as the ngitili examples demonstrates. With the reforms of the 1980's, combined with increased security of tenure at an individual and village level, the restoration of ngitili in Shinyanga has proceeded rapidly. The right conditions of decentralization, increased tenure security and the empowering approaches of HASHI were there, combined with the traditional knowledge about ngitili management. This demonstrates how traditional rules and the institutions responsible can complement de jure village law, which is an important lesson, not just in terms of knowledge and management, but also in terms of law.

Need has driven the resurgence of a traditional natural resource management systems to meet contemporary demands - need for dry season grazing, timber and now wood forest products. This need has been driven by necessity, due to years of agricultural practices which caused degradation, erosion and the resultant loss of woodland goods and services. HASHI was in the right place, at the right time, and with the right approach and attitudes to translate this need into the present day reality of a restored landscape. The organic growth of ngitili, in terms of number and area attest to this transformation.

The Shinyanga example illustrates two important lessons. This is a Sukuma traditional mechanism, as opposed to imposed cures of perceived (and sometimes real) land degradation problems. There is a strong social structure, through various customary institutions, to implement improvements and changes. The remarkable changes in the attitudes to, and restoration of wood and grasslands, both ecologically and socially, since 1986 is due to:

The Ngitili study demonstrates that rural farmers do restore significant areas provided the incentives are right. In this case, the need for dry season forage for livestock, combined with the increasing need for timber and non wood forest products are the two main drivers. The individual areas restored may not be large, but the number of people who individually or jointly own ngitili is great, and spread over the region. This example is not built on the desire to restore ecosystems per se, but rather the need of local people to have functioning forest ecosystems as a livelihood resource (Barrow et al. 2002b).


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1 Coordinator Forest Conservation and Social Policy, IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Eastern African Regional Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. EGB@iucnearo.org
Consultant, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
Project Manager, HASHI, Shinyanga