Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Shimbwe Juu Kihamba Agro-forestry Heritage Site, Tanzania

GIAHS since 2011
©FAO/Felipe Rodríguez


Detailed Information



Site location:  Shimbwe Juu Village, Moshi Rural District, Northern Tanzania

Area of GIAHS: 615 ha

Population working for this system: 2569 persons

Topological Characteristics: non fertile soils

Climatic Classification: Humid tropical mountain forest

Ethnic Groups/Indigenous People: Chagga community

Primary Income Sources: agro forestry system


Global importance

In Northern Tanzania, farmers have developed agro forestry systems adapted to their environment. Fertile soil and water are two issues which needed to be overcome. Thanks to a synergic and integrated multilayered system including four main vegetation layers, livestock and harvest from the forest, the local population has been able to satisfy their needs.

However, Upland Agro-forestry system is facing serious threats. Among the major ones are: land scarcity, population growth, migration of younger generation leading to a disruption of the traditional transmission from one generation to the next, changes in dietary habits, land use changes and fragmentation.

Food and livelihood security

First of all, these very rich systems allow growing many food crops such as banana, cassava, yams, taros, ginger and pineapple which are part of the basics local food. In addition, fruit trees help to meet fodder, fuel, medicines, fire wood and timber requirements for the community.

Moreover, introduced during the 19th century, coffee has been cultivated as a cash crop allowing increasing the income of the farmers. Today it is still the major cash crop. The animals not only enhance the nutritional status of the household members but also help to augment the farm income by the sale of milk, eggs, and kids.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

As a multilayered system, these home gardens have a high biodiversity reaching over 500 used plants including 400 not cultivated but preserved in their system. The most important are coconut, banana, cassava, yams, taros, ginger, turmeric, pineapple, cashew, jackfruit, mango, and banana.

Because of its high biomass and on farm recycling of organic matter, it contributes significantly to carbon storage, above and below ground. Its trees and dense vegetation allow it also to contribute significantly to the role of Kilimanjaro as a water-tower for the region. Urban communities and commercial farms in the lowlands surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro critically depend on this

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

The traditional Kihamba system has a multi layered vegetation structure similar to a tropical montane forest, composed of four main vegetation layers. The uppermost layer is formed by sparsely spaced trees which provide shade, medicine, fodder, fruits, firewood and timber, and fix nitrogen. Under these trees multiple varieties of bananas are grown. Under the bananas there are coffee shrubs and under these, vegetables of variable species, including climbers are grown. This multilayer system maximizes the use of limited land and provides a large variety of foods all year around. No food deficit was found during the project’s baseline study.

The Kihamba are irrigated by a traditional irrigation system complimented with storage ponds (Nduwas), which help overcome water shortages in the dry season.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

The community displayed a strong sense and cultural custodianship towards conservation of the agricultural land. The Kihamba or (Chagga home garden) is central to the identity and culture of the Chagga tribe.  It is the central locus of social and ceremonial life. People are born, come of age, marry and are buried on their Kihamba.

Traditionally, the kihamba is managed by the family. There is a division of labour whereas pruning of coffee trees, de-suckering of banana, clearing of water canals, irrigation of the kihamba is done by men while collecting firewood, weeding, feeding cattle, cleaning the shed and milking is done by women. Men are the supervisors of the kihamba and their roles were passed to the boys by fully involving them in related duties.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water resources management

The Chagga home garden is characterized by the unique feature of multilayered vegetation structure similar to a tropical montane forest. As a synergic system, lands and water resources are efficiently used and sustainably maintained. Functioning as a tropical mountain forest, the farmers have succeeded in keeping a landscape integrated to its environment.

The home gardens are irrigated by traditional canals tapping water from perennial streams/rivers originating from the montane forest, as well as by trapping run-off in furrows.