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Pemba’s Deepening Shade of Green

In Focus, July 2006

By Ben Jolliffe

Visible for miles around against the dazzling blue of the Indian Ocean, the lush, dense forests of Pemba, Zanzibar’s second island, so struck the early Arab traders that they named the island "Jaziiratul Khadhraa" or "green island."

Today, although Pemba remains green, it is because of the clove plantations for which this island is so famous rather than its native fauna and flora.

Lying 50 kilometers off Tanzania, Pemba has lost 95 percent of its original forest. Even the Vulnerable Pemba flying fox (Pteropus voeltzkowi), the island’s most distinctive endemic animal – and favored local delicacy – only avoided extinction in the early 1990s due to the swift action of Zanzibar’s Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits, and Forestry (DCCFF).

Working with the community that lives around the forest remnants and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and CARE International, the DCCFF helped the flying fox population rise to more than 12,000 from a low of just 200 animals.

Support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is now helping FFI to build on its past work with DCCFF to expand conservation efforts from the flying fox to include the forest remnants and other endemic species found on Pemba.

The project forms an important part of CEPF’s strategic direction of improving biological knowledge across the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya region.

Scaling Up

The last remnants of Pemba’s primary forest lie within the Ngezi-Vumawimbi Nature Forest Reserve and Msitu Mkuu Forest Reserve, both of which are located at the north of the island.

These areas provide a vital habitat for some of the island’s vast array of fauna: two endemic mammals, seven endemic reptile species, and seven endemic bird species, including the Vulnerable Pemba scops-owl (Otus pembaensis) and the Vulnerable Pemba green-pigeon (Treron pembaensis).

A recent survey funded as part of FFI’s project found that, in addition to these threatened species, the Ngezi-Vumawimbi Nature Forest Reserve also contained 74 previously unrecorded plant species, nine of which were new to science.

“One of our first priorities has been to ensure the increase in the flying fox population continues,” said Said Juma Ali, chief forester at the 2,000-hectare Ngezi-Vumavimbi Nature Forest Reserve. “But the new funding has helped us to widen our scope of activities to include this biodiversity inventory as well as a trial eradication program of the invasive tree species Maesopsis eminii.”

CEPF funding has also helped FFI and DCCFF to co-develop a management plan for Msitu Mkuu Forest Reserve and to build the capacity of staff from both reserves, as well as to develop guidelines for potential tourism investors in the region.

Planning for the Future

The management plan for the 300-hectare Msitu Mkuu Forest Reserve is one of the project’s cornerstones. It has been agreed and approved by all stakeholders and is now awaiting the approval of Zanzibar’s Minister of Forestry before becoming law.

The plan includes detailed sections on natural resource management, tourism development, capacity building, and infrastructure development, as well as information and educational development, biodiversity monitoring, and research.

“Local people at the village and district level have taken the opportunity to fully participate in developing the Msitu Mkuu plan and they have become much more involved in conservation as a result,” Bakari Asseid, DCCFF director, said. “They have had good experience with the many different factors involved – such as education, raising awareness, and natural resources planning.”

Sustainable quotas are also under discussion for hunting wild meat, catching fish, and collecting wild fruits, medicinal plants, and wood for fuel, construction, and handicrafts.

The project has brought other benefits to the local communities around both reserves.

Of the 13 staff at Ngezi-Vumawimbi Nature Forest Reserve, 10 are from the surrounding villages. Together with other DCCFF staff, they have learned new conservation skills with a focus on sample design, data collection, and recording techniques for monitoring and evaluating conservation outcomes.

Local people are also involved in eradicating the invasive tree species Maesopsis eminii which has taken hold in a small area within the Ngezi reserve. About 15 workers trained in identification and eradication are employed in a pilot project in a 6-hectare area.

Effective Ecotourism

Although the project has already generated a small number of sustainable livelihoods, the biggest opportunity for the local communities to increase their incomes without negatively impacting their environment is through controlled ecotourism.

“Several attempts have already been made to create mass market tourism developments,” says CEPF Grant Director John Watkin. “But they would have undermined the traditional Islamic culture of the Pemba islanders as well as degraded the island’s fauna and flora.”

The FFI project brought together a range of stakeholders including government officials, community representatives, and existing hoteliers on the island to give input to sustainable investor guidelines under development by the Zanzibar Investment Promotion Agency and the Ministry of Tourism.

“The guidelines should help future businesses to be aware of the benefits and difficulties of working with local communities,” said Julia Bishop, a representative of the Fundu Lagoon Hotel in the west of the island that employs about 10 local people.

Legal conditions, building regulations, and policies for energy and natural resource use as well as community engagement have been drafted that include options for developing tourism-related jobs for local villagers such as supplying fresh food to hotels, building, guiding visitors, and making souvenirs.

"Over the generations, people here have built up an incredible knowledge of plants and animals they live alongside," said Arthur Mugisha, FFI’s Technical Specialist – Eastern Africa Region. "Working together with them, we hope to build on that indigenous knowledge, and develop sustainable livelihoods that will ensure Pemba remains the 'green island' in more ways than one."

For more information, contact:

Bakari S. Asseid, Director, DCCFF,

Arthur Mugisha, Technical Specialist – Eastern Africa Region,

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© Evan Bowen-Jones, FFI
With characteristic dog-like facial features, the Vulnerable Pemba flying fox (Pteropus voeltzkowi) is endemic to Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania.

Conservation groups like Fauna and FIora International work with local villagers to develop a management plan for the Msitu Mkuu Forest Reserve.

© Eleanor Carter, FFI
A road winds through the Ngezi-Vumawimbi Nature Forest Reserve.

To find out more about CEPF’s work in this region, visit the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya section of our site.

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Photo credits for banner images: (Frog) © CI, Haroldo Castro; (Chameleon) © CI, Russell A. Mittermeier