They were selected by the village governments to participate in a two-week training course that ended early March. "It has been an interesting training. We are now going to spread this education to our colleagues in the village", said Yohana Konerei one of the participants from Olerienmagaiduru village shortly after attending the training.
Yohana said he will be in frontline line to condemn human activities that threaten Loliondo forest reserves after receiving the training that was sponsored by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS). "We will sensitise people to preserve the environment and at the same time say no to human encroachment on forests," he added.
The eager participants thanked FZS for supporting the training, saying that it has made them understand how best to preserve and conserve forest reserves. "We thank FZS for enabling us to get this education. We will mobilise the community to take part in protecting our forests," Solomon Mtarin said.
Ngorongoro District Council Natural Resources and Environmental Officer Mr Masegeri Tumbuya said Loliondo is home to three crucial forests reserves covering about 10,000 hectares. Mr Mbuya cited increased farming activities as major threat facing the forests forming part of the Serengeti and Lake Natron ecosystems.
The training has been conducted so as to broaden participatory forest management with the Sarian community forest reserves that is shared by the two villages. "We had six representatives from each village and the aim was to equip them with techniques to preserve and conserve Sarian forest," said Mr Tumbuya, adding that the training has been conducted in line with the national forest policy that gives communities wide opportunity to participate on forest management.
The trainees conducted forest assessment on the entire forest of Sarina covering 1500 hectares in seven days. "We spent seven days on theory and the other seven days were practical and we moved around the entire forest to make forest assessment and to identify threats," Mr Tumbuya said. He is pursuing an environmental degree at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.
The team came across illegal timber saw mills scattered in the forest during the training among other things. According to Tumbuya, Loliondo forests have been under serious threat since 2008 when pastoralists began cultivating crops like maize and beans within forests. A move that was triggered off by a prolonged drought that killed thousands of livestock in the area.
"Pastoralists are now opting to farming activities and this is dangerous to Loliondo forests," he said. It is estimated that there are over 300 farms within the Loliondo forests at the moment. Introduction of farming activities in area is accompanied by massive deforestation on the forest reserves. Tumbuya hailed FZS for supporting environmental education in the communities, saying that the move will play a crucial role in making the villagers realise the importance of preserving the forests for their own good.
FZS, he said has been since 2008 supporting awareness campaign on forest management in the area through Ngorongoro District Council in Arusha Region. "For example in 2009 we sent about 20 village environmental committees in Tanga Region to learn how Amani Nature Reserve is protected", he said.
"We are very grateful for the FZS efforts but still we need more help because these forests are not even surveyed," the official pointed out. He suggested beekeeping as an alternative source of making a living for the villagers. "It is even possible to tap water from the forests to villages.
Such projects are needed to discourage people from entering into the forests", Mr Tumbuya added. FZS Technical Advisor for Serengeti Community Outreach Programme Dr Dennis Rentsch said the training was promoted by an interest in conservation by the communities around the forest.
"But we also saw that this forest is really under serious threat especially last year due to massive encroachments. We are now providing forest assessment to the villagers so that they can first understand which resources exist in the forest but the most important thing is that this assessment is done by the communities themselves. There is an idea that if they have a better knowledge of the resources they will be more encouraged to put more conservation activities in the area", said Dr Rentsch.
The FZS Africa Programme Regional Office Manager, Mr Gerald Bigurube, underscored the importance of protecting Loliondo forests, citing crucial water sources that supply water within the Serengeti and Lake Natron ecosystems. "Some of the rivers that distribute water in Serengeti National Park and Lake Natron as well as Lake Victoria originate from Loliondo forests. But these forests are also important for the sustainability of water sources used by both human being and livestock in Loliondo.
It is therefore important that Loliondo people become aware of this and do everything in their capacity to preserve the forest," says Mr Bigurube who served as the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Director General before moving to FZS.