VILLAGERS living around the Udzungwa Scarp that rises majestically over the Kilombero Valley are realizing importance of changing challenges into opportunities.
The villagers are making millions of shillings by selling trees they planted for timber thanks to Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund (EAMCEF) .
The Fund enables villagers to engage in alternative activities instead of feeding cattle in the reserve, cutting trees for timber and firewood and other illegal activities.
Now, after 18 years since the villagers started getting support from EAMCEF, fruits are vividly seen. Some of beneficiaries in the tree planting, said they were contented with the alternative project, with Mr Exavery Kasimba from Idegenda village, Kilolo district saying he made more than 30m/- by selling trees on his 10 hectares out of 50 he planted and also constructed two houses in Iringa town.
Mr Epsion Mgata is another beneficiary who started with five hectares but now has added up to 25 hectares, by getting the seedlings from EAMCEF. Mr Mgata said after selling trees from six hectares he made over 18m/-.
He said he was passing on the tradition to his children by taking them to the field so that the project is sustainable.
The Eastern Arc Mountains, are extending over 32,763 hectares in Kilolo, Mufindi and Kilombero districts. USFR Chief Conservator, Mr Elimoo Mkiramweni said that the reserve is surrounded by 26 villages and EAMCEF supports them with 26m/- annually.
The fund is used to clearing and safeguarding the borders by putting beacons, clearing trails, as well as in tree-planting projects.
He said successes include improvement of forest condition while villagers were making money from different economic activities that have initiated with support from EAMCEF, hence have increased income.
EAMCEF Project Officer for the Southern Zone, Ms Rosemary Boniface, said they were contented with the situation as bush fires, illegal entry to the forest to get wood and timber has been almost ended.