Traditional knowledge secures a future for young farmers

‘Kihamba’ protect the future of forests and farmers on the slopes of Kilimanjaro

For the Chagga community living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kihamba (plots of land with a home and vegetable garden) are an essential and traditional part of young people’s lives. ©FAO/Felipe Rodriguez


On the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, in the Chagga community’s Shimbwe Juu village, much of the area is divided into ‘Kihamba’, plots of land with a traditional home and garden. Here, the Kihamba help form a multilayered agroforestry system that boasts over 500 types of plants and is rich in biodiversity. Coffee, yams, bananas, ginger, taro and cassava thrive amongst fruit trees that are irrigated even in the dry season by a network of water channels flowing 17 kilometres down the mountainside. This site is recognised by FAOas a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS), a place that exemplifies how generations of traditional knowledge preserve, protect and sustainably manage the area’s natural resources.

According to Chagga tradition, Kihamba are passed on from generation to generation and are considered the centre of family life. However, despite agriculture providing employment for the majority of Tanzania’s population and this sector accounting for 26.7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, many young people do not see agriculture as a viable career path.

Diomedes Kalisa, a Programme Officer with FAO in Tanzania, explains: “Young people are starting to show little or no interest in pursuing employment opportunities in the agriculture sector. They’ve seen their families struggle, so they fail to understand how being a farmer actually means you can always feed your family and even improve your income when the conditions are right”.

However, agriculture can provide more opportunities than young people realize, and FAO’s GIAHS programme helps maximize agriculture’s potential by providing specialized training to local farmers. 

Remy Temba, who has lived on his Kihamba for as long as he can remember, describes, “Before the FAO training we were not producing nearly as many fruits and vegetables. The trainers taught me how to use organic fertilizers, prune the coffee trees properly and grow more vegetables and a greater variety of fruits that I’d never thought about growing.” This has increased the food security of farmers in the area, and it has allowed them to grow additional products, which they are able to sell, increasing their financial security too.

Left: Kihamba, and the agroforestry system of which they are a part, are vital for preserving the incredible biodiversity of the area. ©FAO/Felipe Rodriguez. Right: Elizabeth Kilewo with her family. The Kihamba is the centre of family life. ©FAO/Felipe Rodriguez

James, Remy’s youngest son who is proud of the family’s Kihamba, spoke with wisdom not always common in 18-year-olds.

“I see three main benefits in our traditional cultivation: We are protecting the environment; we are eating nutritious and organic food, and we have some income through selling produce and animals.”

The villagers in and around Shimbwe Juu are proud of their culture and their heritage. However, due to land scarcity and population growth, siblings who will not inherit land may move to cities or other farms further afield but the Kihamba remain central to their identity.

Remy’s neighbour, Elizabeth Kilewo, who won a scholarship to secondary school and dreams of becoming a lawyer, described how the Kihamba will always be home. She returns every holiday not to relax, but to work on the land.

The Chagga community’s “Kihamba” are recognized as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). Combining biodiversity and resilient ecosystems, these GIAHS sites have stood the test of time and can protect food security for many communities, even in a changing climate. ©FAO/Felipe Rodriguez

Young people are compelled to preserve their Kihamba, which in turn protects the larger agroforest of which they are a small part.  Trees and dense vegetation on the Kihamba contribute significantly to carbon storage both above and below ground and protect the land on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Urban communities and commercial farms in the lowlands critically depend on Mount Kilimanjaro, which ensures the supply of fresh water to the whole region.

There are many benefits to the traditional agricultural practices of the Kihamba. These are both respected by their own communities and celebrated globally as a GIAHS. This is why the Shimbwe Juu village was selected to be part of FAO’s GIAHS programme, which aims to preserve, improve, promote and celebrate farming techniques and agricultural heritage sites around the world. Combining biodiversity and resilient ecosystems, GIAHS sites have stood the test of time and ensure food security for many communities, even in a changing climate.

With almost 50 percent of Tanzania’s population under the age of 15, ensuring decent livelihood opportunities for rural youth is paramount. FAO’s support and advocacy for the employment of young people in the agriculture sector has resulted in the revision of Tanzania’s National Agriculture Policy, which now includes provisions on youth involvement in agriculture and decent rural employment. These policies are the foundation for providing youth with opportunities for the future and achieving  Sustainable Development Goal 8 of ensuring decent work for all. 

Learn more:

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 15. Life on land