Natural Resources, 2011, 2, 212-223
doi:10.4236/nr.2011.24027 Published Online December 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Change Impacts, Local Knowledge and
Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River
Catchment Area, Tanzania
Richard Kangalawe1, Shadrack Mwakalila2, Petro Masolwa3
1Institute of Resource Assessment, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; 2Department of Geography, University of
Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; 3WWF Tanzania Country Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Received June 24th, 2011; revised August 8th, 2011; accepted August 20th, 2011.
Climate change has profound implications for managing freshwater resources and species dependent on those resources.
Water is an essential componen t of the life support system of the ea rth, and a basic resource for socio-economic deve-
lopment. The Great Ruaha River Catchment Area is a dynamic and complex ecosystem requiring inclusion climate
change adaptation in the management of the freshwater and natural resources available to reduce the severity of cli-
mate change impacts. Rainfall has decreased considerably during the last 10 - 30 years, and characterised by high in-
terannual variability, seasonal shifts and variable seasonal distribution with unpredictable onset and ending of rains
and shortened growing seasons. Temperature has increased considerably during this period causing increased evapo-
transpiration losses and incidences of pest and diseases. The freshwater of Ruaha River and it tributaries are vulner-
able to changing climate, such as drought, which can negatively impact on the livelihoods of the people through de-
creased crop and livestock production, and on local biodiversity. The changing climate has had negative impacts on,
among other aspects, land use and water shortages for irrigation, livestock and domestic uses. This has compelled ri-
parian communities in th e catchment to devises co ping strategies in cluding practicing irriga tion to provide supp lemen-
tary water to crops, using drought tolerant crop varieties, rationing of irrigation water in farmlands, wetland cultiva-
tion, and diversification to non-agricultural activities. Despite the existence of many indicators used for local climate
forecasting, there are limitations to lo cal adaptation, including among others, poverty, institutional aspects and limited
integration of climate adaptation in various sectors. The bulk of indigenous knowledge could be integrated into formal
adaptati o n pl anning, and may be important components of environmental conservation at the local level.
Keywords: Climate Change, Local Knowledge, Coping Strategies, Great Ruaha River Catchment, Tanzania
1. Introduction
This paper presents a part of findings from a study un-
dertaken in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area
(GRRCA) to analyse ways in which climate change ad-
aptation can be mainstreamed in the management of fre-
shwater resources. Climate change has profound impli-
cations for managing freshwater resources and the people
and species dependent on those resources [1]. Water is
an essential component of the life support system of the
planet earth, sustaining both people and nature. Water is
also a basic natural resource for socio-economic deve-
lopment. However, the hydrological regimes of rivers,
lakes and aquifers are changing due to population growth,
irrigation expansion, limited capacity for water resource
management and climate change. Freshwater is fast be-
coming an international crisis, largely brought upon by
mismanagement and climate change [2,3]. Of all the con-
tinents, Africa, and particularly semiarid East Africa may
be evolving the fastest towards such a major water crisis
The Great Ruaha River Catchment of the Rufiji Basin
is characterized by multiple land uses (e.g., irrigated ag-
riculture, livestock keeping, hydropower production, en-
vironmental conservation, wildlife and tourism), dyna-
mic and extremely complex ecosystem consisting of a
variety of biodivers ity [5]. However, the Great Ruaha Ri-
ver Catchment Area is threatened by the persistent dry-
ing of the basic natural resource that suppo rts livelihood s
in the area—water. Inequities ha ve intensified in the cat-
Climate Change Impac ts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania213
chment causing concern about the potential threat to so-
cial cohesion as competition for the decreasing water re-
sources intensifies [6]. The Tanzania National Vision
2025 and National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of
Poverty (NSGRP) articulate the need to achieve sustain-
able broad based an d equitable economic grow th through
community participation and good governance [7]. Among
the requirements for the attainment of such development
vision regarding the growth of a competitive economy is
the need for effective reversal of adverse trends, loss of
and degradation of environmental resources e.g. forests,
fisheries, freshwater, soils and biodiversity. Sustainable
water resource management at the catchment level is
largely dependent on sound management of both land
and water resources. Thus, management and implemen-
tation of water related policies in the Great Ruaha Cat-
chment Area may be influenced by a gambit of legisla-
tions affect ing land u se.
Climate change is one of the great challenges facing
the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area as well as other
river catchments in Tanzania. The impacts of climate
change on freshwater ecosystems can be characterised by
shifts in water quality (e.g., pollutants, temperature, and
dissolved oxygen), water quantity, and water timing
(normal flood and dry periods). Globally, water timing is
likely to be the most important impact for both humans
and other species since it directly affects both water
quantity and quality and because humans and other spe-
cies often exhibit behaviours that depend on predictable
changes in flow [1]. It is urged in literature that the as-
sessment of vulnerability to negative effects on freshwa-
ter systems from climate change should distinguish be-
tween “impacts assessment”, which attempts to project
future biophysical and ecological changes in a determi-
nistic manner, and “vulnerability assessment”, which ate-
mpts to combine an assessment of future suites of chan g e
with an assessment of the resilience of ecosystems and
management institutions [1]. Generally, assessing vul-
nerability must focus as much on adaptive capacity of
communities and/or related institutions, while consider-
ing the nature of the freshwater resources. Freshwater
ecosystems differ in their relative vulnerab ility to climate
change. For example, large rivers will respond less ra-
pidly than small streams exposed to the same extent, type,
and rate of climate change. Similarly, some societies and
institutions will be better adapted to change, and there-
fore less vulnerable to negative impacts [1].
Vulnerability to negative impacts of climate change is
influenced by the inadequate adaptive capacities of the
communities. Climate change adaptation involves dif-
ferent initiatives and strategies on how to cope with its
impacts. It should be noted however that climate change
pattern varies from one place to another and so are the
impacts and magnitude. Climate change is a global con-
cern which necessitates two types of responses—mitiga-
tion in terms of controlling greenhouse gas emissions
and adaptation to reduce the vulnerability to climate
change impacts. Developing countries, like Tanzania,
where people are closely dependent on natural resources
for their livelihoods, will be most vulnerable to the im-
pacts of climate change [8]. Both public and private sec-
tors need to respond to climate change and mitigation
and adaptation actions can be effectively achieved through
inclusion of climate change issues in all sectoral policies
and plans. Thus considering that climate change impacts
are already being felt in most parts of the Great Ruaha
River Catchment Area, interventions aimed at reducing
negative impacts and risks are necessary.
An example of a climate change adaptation is the more
efficient use of available rain water , for example through
rainwater harvesting to reduce drought vulnerability for
communities living in the impacted semiarid areas of
Tanzania [9]. Another example concerns water harvest-
ing and damming practiced along the Waseges River in
Lake Bogoria area in Kenya, which apart from provid ing
water for small scale irrigation, it was integrated with
tilapia and cat fish farming hence providing additional
income to the farmers [10]. Under this intervention far-
mers harvest storm run-off and stock fish during the
rainy season and harvest th e fish the end of the rainy pe-
riod, while the remaining water is used for irrig ation d ur-
ing the dry season, without interfering with the river
flows. This adaptive strategy has had positive results for
the community liv elihood and the enviro nment [10]. The
key lesson from the above example is that integrated wa-
ter resource management interventions may help build
resilience to and reduce vulnerability to climate change.
This paper draws experiences from a larger study under-
taken in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area to ana-
lyse ways in which climate change adaptation can be main-
streamed in the management of freshwater resources.
2. Indigenous Knowledge of Climate Change
Impacts and Local Coping Strategies
2.1. Local Perceptions of Climate Change
Responding to the inquiry on changes in rainfall pattern
in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area during the last
10 - 30 years community members living in the catch-
ment showed a general concern that rainfall has de-
creased in amounts over the years, including some sea-
sonal shifts. All the respondents in the area have lived in
the catchment area for between 15 and 40 years, which
indicates a considerable experience with the local envi-
ronment. The trend perceived by the local communities
seems to be supported by long term rainfall records for
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Chang e Impacts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Iringa meteorological station (Figure 1). Although there
seems to be a slightly increasing trend, the high interan-
nual variations and shifts in seasonality are lik ely to h ave
influenced the local perceptions of decreasing and/or low
amounts of rainfall received in the area. Long term rain-
fall monitoring for Iringa stations shows a steady de-
crease in amounts between the early 1960s and late
1970s [11].
This is an indication that rainfall is one of the parame-
ters that may be seriously affected by changing climate.
Similar concerns of decreasing rainfall were raised in
Mbeya, and supported by meteorological data that shows
that since the 1980s the annual rainfall in Mbeya has
been decreasing (Figure 2). However, extreme rainfall
events associated with El Niño recorded large amounts
some ten years ago. Furthermore, in many parts of the
GRRCA the seasonal distributio n of rainfall was claimed
to be highly variable and characterised by unpredictable
onset and ending of rains and shortened growing seasons
[11]. One of the consequences of the reported changes
has been decreased crop productivity, which has com-
pelled farmers to practice irrigation to provide supple-
mentary water to the crops.
All the respondents in the study being reported here
Iringa Oct- M a y Rainfa l l Tot al s (1 980- 2009)
Ye ar
M ean annual ra i nf a l l (mm )
Figure 1. Long-term trend of mean annual rainfall for Iringa (1961-2005). Source: Computed from TMA data (20091).
Mbeya Oct-May Rainfall Totals (1980-2009)
M ean a nnual r ainfall ( m m )
Oct-May Linear (Oct-May)
Figure 2. Long-term trend of mean annual rainfall for Mbeya (1980-2009). Source: Computed from TMA data (2009).
1Metrologica l data obtained from Tanzania Meteorologic al Agency (TMA).
Climate Change Impac ts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania215
indicated that during the same period temperatures have
increased. It was argued by local communities that wh ile
in the past people needed blankets to protect themselves
from cold at night, the situation has almost disappeared
in the recent years. This local perception of changing
conditions is also supported by meteorological data (Fi-
gures 3 and 4) which shows a steady rise in temperature.
Both the warm (February) and cold season (July) tem-
peratures have increased over the last few decades. Fur-
ther details on how communities comprehend changing
climate and local climate forecasting are presented in
Section 2.2 .
2.2. Local Indicators Used in Climate
Discussion with the stakeholders in the GRRCA showed
that the local people are aware of the changing climate
and variability, including seasonal forecasts, and they are
using various indicators to explain the changing condi-
tions (Table 1). For instance, the Wasangu, a dominant
ethnic group in the Usangu Plains, use Mipalamba trees.
Usually these trees produce flowers during the dry sea-
son, and if they do not produce sufficient fruits it indi-
cates that the following season will have little rains,
while the reverse is true when it produces many fruits.
Early sprouting of Mihango trees also indicates an early
onset of ra ins. The Wanji (another major ethn ic group in
the Usangu plains) use birds know as Njigu, also known
as Sangual nyanzala (Nyakyusa). When these birds fly
very high in the sky and start singing, they are locally
used to indicate that the following seasons will have
good rains. Similarly, when Dudumizi and Kolekyaka
(birds) start singing they are locally interpreted to mean
the rains are near. Members of the Mpolo Water Users
Association committee and other community members in
their areas reported to use the sprouting of Acacia trees
(locally known as Mipogoro) in the dry season to indi-
cate a good rainy season thereafter. Other indicators re-
ported included flowering of Christmas trees (Delonix sp)
which once they flower they indicate that rains are not
Temperature (°C)
Annual meanLinear (Annual mean)
Figure 3. Long-term temperature trends for Iringa (1980-2009). Source: Computed from TMA data (2009).
Mbeya Mean Max, February (1980-2009)
Tempe ratur e °C
Figure 4. Mean maximum, February temperature at Mbeya Municipality. Source: Computed from TMA data (2009).
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Chang e Impacts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
Table 1. Local indicators use in climate forecasting in the GRRCA.
(with local names) Starting of rainfall/ Ending of rainfall /Dry season
Kolekya (birds) When Kolekya (birds) start singing indicates that rainfall is about to come and usually, farmers start to prepare their
farms. Kolekyaka means “Kamata jembe”, literarily meaning “get ready with your hand hoe”.
Dudumizi (bird) Indicates coming of rains when started to cry and fly. Usually they are coming out when rain s are about to come.
Njigu (bird)-Sangual
Nyanzala (Kinyakyusa) Usually fly very high in the sky and sing, which indicates the following seasons, will have good rains especially in
Kibarila (birds) Normally, these birds lay eggs once in a year. When they start preparing nests for laying eggs, it indicates the period
when rains are about to start. Farmers use these birds as an indicator for when to prepare there farms.
(small insects) These insects appear and play on stones-indicates coming of rainfall, usually heavy rains.
Sardines For fishermen, they rely on the sighting of a certain small fish species (sardines). When they are easily available it is
when it rains.
Mihango Early sprouting o f M ihang o trees also indicates an early onset of rains.
Mipalamba Usually these trees produce flowers during the dry season, and if they do not produce sufficient fruits it indicates that
the following season will have little rains, while the reverse is true when they produce many fruits.
Mipogoro (Acacia)
The sprouting of Acacia trees (Mipogoro) in the dry season usually used locally to indicate a good rainy season is
coming. In the past flowering of Acacia trees (Mipogoro) was also interpreted to indicate that rains were about to end.
For instance, in the pasts they used to flower in May, but now they flower in March; indicating that rains have been
ending much earlier in recent years.
(Christmas Trees) Flowering of these trees usually indicates rains are not very far (often flowers in November).
Mkwe Sprouting of Mkwe tree indicates rainfall is about to begin.
Miembe (Mango Trees) Mango trees used to flower between September and October, indicating that rains were near. Early flowering in
Mango trees is used to indica te an early onset of rains, while late flowering indicate a late onset.
Butterflies When Butterflies shift from west to east it symbolizes that rainfall is near, i.e. (September).
mushroom When people saw mushrooms sprouting in the bush it was used to indicate that the soils were moist and rains were
coming. Farmers immediately rushed to prepare farms.
Vinyunyu Trees These trees produce fruits only when the rains is about come.
Mihemi trees These trees shed leaves when the rains are about to end, local communities associate them with the beginning of dry
Source: (Kangalawe 2010).
very far.
2.3. Changing Rainfall Patterns and Increased
The communities around the GRRCA associate climate
change with the occurrences of droughts, rising tempe-
rature and decreasing rainfalls. Results obtain ed from va-
rious stakeholders revealed that, since the late 1980s and
early 1990s rivers in the GRRCA experienced decreased
flows and rainfalls availability associated with droughts
almost after every five years. It was reported by the con-
sulted stakeholders that since the 1990s rainfall has been
decreasing except in 1997/1998 when most areas were
flooded, especially along Chimala River. Harvests of
lowland crops like rice were very low; but maize grown
in upland fields performed well and there was a bumper
harvest. The rainfall amounts decreased thereafter, as it
was revealed by District Facilitating Team for the WWF-
Ruaha water programme in Mbarali district [12]. Mbarali
district, for instance receives an average of 450 - 750 mm
of rainfall per annum, which is generally low for produc-
tive rainfed agricu lture. Like elsewhere in the country the
climate of the GRRCA experiences a high seasonal and
interannual variability [9,13], which according to mem-
bers of Mpolo Water Users Association Committee in
Mbarali district, has led to significant variations in crop
productivity over the years [12].
Members of Mpolo Water Users Association Com-
mittee also noted increasing temperature especially since
the 1980s, which has increased irrigation water require-
ments for their crops. It was argued that before the 1980s
the weather remained cool for several months after the
rains have ended, but in recent years it immediately be-
comes warm after the end of the rains. The lowest tem-
perature is experienced in June-July (19˚C), while the
highest is from August to December (35˚C). According
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Change Impac ts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania217
to Mkewe Water Users Association in Mufindi, some
places that used to experience frost between June and
July have become warmer and no frost is experienced in
those places anymore. Instead, heat intensity has in-
creased around southern highlands, including Mbeya and
Iringa regions. It was noted by the farmers in Ipatagwa
and Majengo, for example that it is nowadays common
to see mirage during the dry season, indicating intensive
heating of the landscape. Increased temperature and heat
intensity were claimed to have further caused skin rashes
to many people including children and adults.
Teachers at Kising’a Primary School (which won the
award of the best school in environmental conservation
and protection in Iringa Region for the year 2010) moni-
tored temperature, winds, changes in air moisture, rain-
fall availability as ways of detecting the changing cli-
mate. When interviewed during this study, they ob served
that in the early 1980s up to 1988, the temperature was
normal, that is, generally cold, and frosts were very co m-
mon and could be seen everywhere. Rains were more
timely in the seasons and were more reliable. During that
time the natural vegetation was intact, there was no
thorny vegetation (like Mbigiri) as it is nowadays. The
situation changed since the 1990s. Nowadays there is no
frost, thorny bushes characteristic of dry environments
are now everywhere in their area. Rivers were also re-
ported to be drying up early in the dry season and some
have dried out completely. They also reported that now-
adays there are mosquitoes in the village and other nei-
ghbouring highland villages, a situation that was not
there in the past, and malaria has become a common oc-
currence. As for livestock, ticks were reported to have
become abundant. This demonstrates that the climatic
conditions of the area have changed. Furthermore, in-
creased temperature has facilitated the emergency of new
insect pests and snakes that were not there in the past.
2.4. Perceived Impacts of Climate Change in the
Great Ruaha River Catchment Area
Climate change has profound implications for managing
freshwater resources and the people and species depend-
ent on those resources, but water management long pre-
dates any awareness of anthropogenic climate change.
Many of the largest construction projects in human his-
tory have been attempts to consume, control, allocate,
and regulate water, perhaps most notably the construc-
tion of tens of thousands of dams and irrigation infra-
structure. Moreover, population growth, expansion of
water uses for agriculture and domestic consumption and
discharge, pollution and the conversion of perhaps half
of all wetlands globally to productive uses have had dire
impacts on the many aquatic and terrestrial species that
rely on freshwater resources [1]. The impacts of climate
change have also been observed in different places in and
around the Great Ruaha River Catchment Are [12].
Different respondents had different views on the im-
pacts of climate change in GRRCA. The Regional Water
Resources Advisor in Mbeya region observed that the
delayed onset of rains has made it difficult to follow the
cropping calendar, which is affecting planting and har-
vesting seasons. Other observed impacts of climate
change included increased health risks, such as increased
incidences of human diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera,
malaria (more mosquitoes) and skin diseases. Increasing
water scarcity is resulting in poor hygiene with more
risks of spreading of water-borne diseases. In livestock,
parasites like ticks and tick-borne disease have also in-
creased. It was noted that during rainy season livestock
fail to attend dips because of too much water. However,
in some areas water availability has decreased tremen-
dously to the extent that some areas have started ration-
ing of irrigation water, which has resulted in water use
conflicts, especially in the Usangu Plains where irriga-
tion is most practiced. Most conflicts here are between
crop cultivators and livestock keepers. The cropping
systems were reported to have also changed. For exam-
ple, it was reported that some 20 - 30 years ago potatoes
were used to be planted before 15th of November of each
year, and harvested in February, and beans planted in
those fields thereafter. Today the situation is completely
different; the staggered planting that used to be practiced
in the past is almost disappearing as all crops have to be
planted at the beginning of the rainy season, lest they
may not come to maturity before the rainy season ends.
Mkoji Apex association of Water users in Mbeya rural
district noted that in the year 2009 most of the farmers in
the catchment did not get bumper harvests of crops like
maize because of inadequate rains. Similarly, livestock
did not have adequate pastures which resulted in en-
croachment into the ecologically sensitive areas such as
water catchments. Decreasing water availability, destruc-
tion of natural environment in the river catchments thus
regarded as being among the consequences of changing
climatic conditions in the GRRCA. Also the quality of
the water was also perceived to have changed in the re-
cent past, mainly du e to pollution attribu ted to the use of
Environment changes in the Great Ruaha River Cat-
chment areas have had other socio-economic impacts. For
instance, it was reported by members of Mbukwa, Mti-
tafu, Lumbidzi Water User Association (MBUMTILU-
WUA) in Njombe District that as a result of changing
climate crop failures have become a common occurrence,
leading to poor harvest and low cash incomes. To some
families this was reported to have been a cause for them
failing to pay school fees for their children. Thus ad-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Chang e Impacts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
dressing adaptation issues to climate change was seen as
a timely consid eration to enable their community to main-
tain a sustainable livelihood.
3. Impacts of Climate Change on Freshwater
Management, Ecosystems, Health and
Climate change threatens agricultural production throug h
higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns
and increased occurrences of extreme events like droughts
and floods [14,15]. In the great Ruaha River catchment
area climate change impacts are obvious to farmers—
crop cultivators and livestock keepers alike, as well as
business people. For instance, it was reported by agri-
cultural and water experts in the river catchment area that
crop cultivation has decreased substantially due to water
shortage. It was observed also that in the liv estock sector,
among the problems experienced as a result of changing
climate include occurrence of animal diseases; loss of
body weight due to inadequate pastures; decreased milk
production; and dips lacking water that makes the infra-
structure to be inefficiently used. It was claimed in Mba-
rali district that in fisheries, the fish catch becomes small
when there is too much rain. Larger catches are realized
with average rains.
Rain-fed agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate
variability, seasonal shifts, and changes in precipitation
patterns [16]. Any amount of warming will result in in-
creased water stress, with consequent impacts on crop,
and livestock production, as well as household incomes
[17-19]. In agribusiness, it was claimed that with good
rains there may be increased crop production but with
subsequent fall in market prices as affected by demand-
supply forces. The reverse becomes true with decreased
harvests. This calls for the need to have more sustainable
climate change adaptation strategies that enhance agri-
cultural productivity while at the same time safeguarding
the producer prices for various crops.
In Kilolo area among the notable impacts of climate
change was reported to be a shift in seasons for planting
tree. With climate change trees are now planted around
the same time as the main arable crops while in the past
used to be around April or May, activities related to ar-
able agriculture were at the lowest. Since in the recent
past rains have been ending earlier that usual, tree plant-
ing activities are currently facing competition with the
major agricultural activities during the crop planting
season in terms of labour allocations.
3.1. Impacts of Climate Change on Freshwater
Management and Utilization
Rivers contribute significantly to socio-economic deve-
lopment of the continent. However, these rivers are un-
dergoing rapid changes due to human activities and cli-
mate change. This has altered ecosystem processes and
resulted in several threats on the rivers including loss of
biodiversity, over-fishing, proliferation of poisons from
agricultural inputs and illegal fishing, siltation, toxic
contamination and over-abstraction of water. If they are
not carefully managed, rivers risk over-exploitation and
loss of sustainability for future generations as what is
happening in various African rivers including Great
Ruaha River [20].
Most surface freshwater is derived from precipitation.
Across the planet, numerous aspects of precipitation are
changing, such as the amount of annual or seasonal pre-
cipitation; and the seasonal timing of precipitation [1].
Water sources in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Ar-
eas are similarly changing as a result of climate change;
they are drying out due to drought as well as human ac-
tivities such as cultivation in the catchment’s areas.
Dwindling water flows from the Great Ruaha River Cat-
chments, especially during the dry seasons, negatively
affect the existence of important ecosystems such as wet-
land and threatening the Ruaha National Park [12,21].
Human activities such as unsustainable use of water, for
example, through overfilling the rice bunds to suppress
weeds affects downstream users who may not get enough
water for irrigating their plots and for environmental
The District Facilitation Team for the WWF Ruaha
Water Programme in Mufindi mentioned that when crop s
dry out in upland f ields due to drou ght, people move in to
water catchments and cultivate valley bottoms (Vinyun-
gu). This practice claimed to destroy the water sources,
degrading the environment and leading to water scarcity
especially to downstream users causing conflicts among
water users. Also, rise of temperature in the Great Ruaha
River Catchment Areas has increased irrigation activities
of crops, thereby increasing water requirements in the
Catchment. For instance, in the past farmers used to wa-
ter their crops once in a week but now crop fields need to
be irrigated 3 - 4 times per week. The challenge faced
here is attributed to the little amounts of water available.
3.2. Impacts of Climate Change on Human
Climate change may have critical health implications. It
was noted during this study that for the southern high-
lands malaria was not a problem in the past, but nowa-
days incidences of malaria are common—mosquitoes are
found everywhere and even during the dry season. Due
to the temperature increases, the mosquitoes multiply
very fast, and malaria has been observed to be on the rise
in these highland areas. Other diseases include diarrhoea
and Schistosomiosis/Bilharzia, as pointed out by experts
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Change Impac ts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
at Uyole Agricultural Centre. It is documented in litera-
ture that changes in rainfall patterns will affect the pres-
ence and/or absence of vector- and water-borne patho-
gens [22,23]. For example, it can be expected that small
changes in temperature and precipitation will boost the
population of disease-carrying mosquitoes and result in
increased malaria epidemics [24]. Although it was not
supported by hospital data, the District Facilitation Team
for the WWF Ruaha Water Programme in Njombe Dis-
trict, pointed out that malaria has increased considerably
and it is considered as the leading killer disease in that
district. It was reported that nowadays there are many
mosquitoes, which never was in the 1970s to 1980s.
Personal observation from the area attests to the experi-
ences thirty years ago. The first author of this paper lived
in Njombe from 1977-1980 and never saw a single mos-
quito in the area becaus e it was too cold for their survival.
Thus what is reported by stakeholders consulted during
this study demonstrates a real concern of considerable
climatic changes in the area.
Records from Igogw e Hospital located in the southern
highlands confirm the increasing malaria trends (Figure
5). The number of both inpatient (IPD) and death cases
increased steadily over the last thirty years. Climate
change has also increased the rate of malnutrition associ-
ated with poor crop performance. Also it was reported
that during the same periods there have been increased
incidences of diarrhoeal diseases due to pollution of wa-
ter sources [25].
In some populations climate change is expected to ex-
acerbate problems of access to safe water at the house-
hold level, thus increasing the negative health impacts of
drinking unsafe water. An increase in food-insecurity
due to the impacts of climate change on crop yields will
also have negative health impacts. Flooded sanitation fa-
cilities can further result in the distribution of human ex-
creta across neighbourhood s and communities, with clear
health impacts. In addition, habitats may change, which
consequently alter the spread of vector borne diseases
such as dengue fever and malaria, as mosquitoes spread
to new areas [26].
3.3. Impacts of Climate Change on Plant and
Animal Health
Impacts of climate change are being felt in every sector
in Tanzania. There has been increased severity of com-
mon plant and animal pests and diseases, and emergence
of new ones that were not common in these areas espe-
cially around the GRRCA. For instance, incidences of
rift valley fever (RVF) and Black quarter (Chambavu) in
livestock have increased, and are many particularly in
warm years, the way it happened in 2009. Parasites like
ticks and associated tick-borne diseases have also in-
creased especially during the rainy season. In addition,
scarcity of pastures and water that are closely related to
climate change, cause poor health in livestock. This was
a particular concern among stake holders in Mpolo Wa-
ter User Association in Mbarali District. The worsening
health of livestock alongside deteriorating pasture quan-
tity and quality and dry i ng water sources was also report ed
for other semiarid areas of Tanzania [27].
District Facilitation Team of the WWF Ruaha Water
Programme in Njombe acknowledged noticing signify-
cant impacts on animal health in the surrounding areas.
Newcastle disease of chicken has become more preva-
lent than it used to b e in the past. Others include boils in
y = 8 . 84 18x + 945.07
= 0.0574
y = 2.08 21x + 29. 38
= 0 . 0771
Numb er of mala ria ca se s
IPD Deaths
Linear ( IPD)Linear ( Deaths)
Figure 5. Malaria trends at Igogwe Hospital, Rungwe District. Source: Modified from Kangalawe [25].
Climate Chang e Impacts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
poultry, which causes deaths particularly to chicken.
Foot and mouth disease was also claimed by members of
Mkewe Water users Association, in Mufindi District, to
have increased over the recent past. However, its linkage
to climate change was not immediately established. Crop
plant diseases were also reported to be on the increase.
For instance, it was reported by agricultural experts in
the catchment area that there are new diseases on fruit
trees such as Guava (where the fruits are increasing be-
ing infected with black spot). Farmers expressed also that
they must spray pesticides to control insect pests like
bean fly (Bemicia tabacci) otherwise they can not har-
vest anything, a situation that did not exist some twenty
to thirty years ago. This was locally claimed to be asso-
ciated with warming up of the area as a result of climate
4. Climate Change Adaptation Initiatives in
4.1. Traditional Ways of Coping with Risks of
Climate Change Impacts
Various ways were reported by the stakeholders con-
sulted to be used in coping with the changing climate,
including alterations in the farming activities. The WWF
Ruaha Water Programme District facilitating team for
Mbarali District observed, for instance, that due to in-
creased prevalence ticks, farmers practice hand spaying
of livestock in cases where they cannot take their animals
to dips. They often use local herbs such as Neem tree
(Azadiracta indica) leaves and Utupa (Swahili name). In
crop production, among the coping strategies included
the use of early maturing crop seeds in rice and maize,
and use drought tolerant varieties in other crops. Mem-
bers of the Mpolo Water Users Association admitted that
farmers in their areas prefer looking for fields with per-
manent irrigation canals, planting drought tolerant crops
like cassava and sweet potatoes, rice, sugarcane, vegeta-
bles, maize and beans.
Wetland cultivation and migration to other areas, such
as Morogoro (Kilomber o, Mb ingu area) were also report-
ed to have become common among community members
in the Mpolo catchment. Other ways mentioned included
in-situ water harvesting using tied ridges and mulching
to preserve moistures. Ensuring equitable water alloca-
tions for irrigation was also reported as an important at-
tribute of farmers coping with water scarcity particularly
in rice fields. In Ipatagwa and Majengo villag es, in Mko-
ji sub-catchment of the GRRCA, farmers had clear irri-
gation timetables for all members of the community to
ensure that every farmer gets water (in traditional canals)
according to specified rounds. Another coping strategy in
these catchments was the planting of drought tolerant
crops/varieties like sweet potatoes, cassava, and planting
early maturing varieties of maize and beans.
Others local coping strategies include engagement in
alternative enterprises that are not climate dependent. For
instance, in Mufindi District farmers in the Mkewe Wa-
ter Users Association acknowledged to have been re-
ceiving entrepreneurship trainings on diversification of
economic activities, such as raising and selling chickens.
This was reported to be facilitated by a savings and
credit society (SACCOS) that has been formed at the
district council to support people, especially women to
undertake alternative financial activities. In some places
local people are planting new fruit trees that were not
grown in the past, such as mangoes, avocadoes, and
pineapples. It was reported that as a result of increased
temperature these fruit trees now flourish well, a situa-
tion that wouldn’t be possible in due to the cold tem-
peratures of the past. Banana trees are also grown nowa-
days in places that were not producing such a crop only a
few decades ago.
To cope with risks related to climate change impacts,
farmers in Kilolo District are now relying on planting
crops which were in the past considered to be for the
warmer and drier areas because they now seem to do
fairly well due to the changing climate. Crops such as
cashew nuts, onions, sunflowers, and pepper are nowa-
days commonly produced in the area. Farmers are practi-
cing valley bottom cultivation (locally known as Ma-
limbichi system) to cope with the changes in climate that
has limited productivity in the upland fields due to sea-
sonal variations in climate.
Other farmers also reported to practice fallow where
they abandon their farms for a while to allow for natural
fertility regeneration and to control pests and diseases.
However, this is done by those with large land areas.
Some practice crop rotation, while others plant their crops
e.g. maize very early in the season, soon after they har-
vest beans, because they normally plant beans three times
a year (in March or April, July or August and in Sep-
tember). Many times also beans are grown in the Vi-
nyungu (i.e. the valley/wetland bottom fields). To assure
themselves against crop failure they do mix various
crops together, such as maize and beans with vegetables
and sweet potatoes. Because of the prevalence of new
crop pests around Kilolo as a result of the changing cli-
mate, farmers who grow maize have to use pesticides
such as DDT, Super Actellic and Thiodan. However,
there are also traditional pesticides in the Kilolo area,
locally known as “Lingategeta”, a tuber like plant, that is
dug from the ground, dried up, pounded and the powder
is soaked in water and used to spray on the crops. This
plant “Lingategeta” is also used as a source manure. It
should be noted however that although communities
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Change Impac ts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania221
have developed some traditional ways of coping and/or
adapting to climate change, the adequacy and sustainabi-
lity of these coping strategies is still questionable.
4.2. Other Adaptations to Climate Change
Impacts in the Great Ruaha River
Catchment Area
4.2.1. W ater Storage/Res erves
Interview conducted with district Facilitation Team for
the WWF Ruaha Water Programme in Mbarali District
revealed that short-term coping strategies that the local
community uses in times of declining water supplies and
scarcity is digging shallow and deep wells; installing
water tanks (plastic water tanks) to reserve water; and
rainwater harvesting for domestic and livestock use, and
for irrigation. For livestock keepers adaptation has invo-
lved construction of earth dams or charcoal dams (ma-
lambo) as water reservoirs for livestock and occasionally
humans. However, such dams are currently only found in
Mawindi, Chimala and Utengule Usangu wards. Estab-
lishing cattle trough s in irrigation schemes has been used
as an adaptation to provide water for livestock so that
they may not enter into the irrigation schemes. Todate
five irrigation schemes in the catchment area were re-
ported to have installed such troughs [12].
4.2.2. W ater Ratio ning in F a rm lands
Rotation of irrigation water allocations from one field to
another was reported as a short-term coping strategy for
addressing dwindling water resources in the catchment.
This was a concern at the Ipatagwa and Majengo Farmer
Field Schools in Mkoji sub-catchments. To them the best
coping strategy was to have clear water allocations for
irrigation to ensure that all farmers get water in their
farms. This strategy was reported to be very successful
among members of Lyandembela Water Users Associa-
tion in Iringa Rural District. Furthermore, apart from
using water for irrigation, farmers in the GRRCA have
been en couraged by agr icultural and water ex perts in the
catchment to use less water in cultivation activities, and
establish water ponds for fish farming as short term cop-
ing strategy and as a way of diversifying livelihood ac-
tivities [28].
4.2.3. Using A daptive Agronomical Practices
Communities in the catchment reported to have variably
responded to changing climate and the associated dwin-
dling of water resources. Most of the responses concer-
ned the agricultural sector, the mainstay of the econo-
mies in the area, and country as whole. The reported ad-
aptation measure included 1) Irrigation—on rotational
basis; 2) Planting of drought tolerant varieties like sweet
potatoes, cassava; 3) Planting early maturing varieties of
maize and beans; 4) Community education through ex-
tension service; and 5) Digging water wells for those far
from rivers. Similar measures were reported to be used in
response to increased temperature. The use of early ma-
turing maize varieties and drought to lerant crop varieties
like serena sorghum were reported to be the most impor-
tant coping strategy. These strategies are much in line
with the recommendation of agricultu ral policy [29], and
are also being used in other parts of the country equally
impacted by climate change [15,30]. In addition, re-
spondents from the Mapogoro-Mfumbi Resource Man-
agement Association (MAMREMA) reported that their
water user association had embarked on tree planting in
the catchments, as well as agroforestry, as one of the
measures to mitigate against declining water sources.
Apart from addressing the declining water resources, the
reported tree planting has an added advantage of miti-
gating climate change.
Other agronomic practices reported to be used in re-
sponse to increased prevalence of crop pests and diseases
included the increased the use of pesticides to control
those pests and diseases. Among the pesticides used are
DDT, Thiodan, and local herb such as Lingategeta. In-
creased use of pesticides implies an increased production
cost, which may negatively affect the net incomes and
community livelihoods in general. Coupled with de-
creased amount of rainfall during the last few decades,
and the longer dry seasons and shorter growing season,
the lowered incomes due to increased incidences of pests
and diseases will further compound the livelihood inse-
curity in the area. For livestock, the maid adaptation to
weather-dependent animal diseases was reported to be
through vaccination of the animals.
4.2.4. Valley Bottom Cultivation/Wetland Fields
(the Vinyungu S ystem)
According to members of WWF Ruaha Water Progra-
mme District Facilitation Team in Njombe, vinyungu is
regarded as an important coping strategy that local com-
munities opt in times of inadequate rains. Findings from
Kising’a village in Kilolo district indicated that crops
grown in valley bottoms produce better yields compared
to fields in upland areas, e.g. round potatoes, onions, to-
matoes, beans, garden peas, etc. [12]. However, since
over allocations of water for irrigation in the catchment
is claimed to have contributed to drying of the Great
Ruaha River, continued cultivation of vinyungu would
need to be guided so that they do not cause further deg-
radation of the wate r r esources [ 31].
4.3. Locally Perceived Limitations to Adaptation
to Climate Change Impacts
It was observed during this study that there are some
limitations for the locals to cope with changing climate.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. NR
Climate Chang e Impacts, Local Knowledge and Coping Strategies in the Great Ruaha River Catchment Area, Tanzania
The limitations includ e limited infrastruc tures for remov-
ing runoff water (poor drainage). This creates many pot-
holes that become breeding sites for mosquitoes; limited
knowledge of which are the best crops to grow in this
changing weather systems. Limited affordability of fer-
tilisers and manure also limit local adaptation to climate
change especially to low income households. For in-
stance, to grow tomatoes it needs some capital as it is
very expensive to maintain this crop, and some farmers
in Kilolo area reported to be unable to afford, hence af-
fecting their livelihoods and food securing. Similar limi-
tations to local community adaptations to climate change
were also reported for other parts of the country, espe-
cially in semiarid areas [12,13].
5. Conclusions
The Great Ruaha River Catchment Area is a dynamic
and complex ecosystem which requires inclusion of cli-
mate change adaptation measures in the management of
the freshwater and natural resources available in order to
reduce severity of the impacts of climate change. The
study has revealed that freshwater of Ruaha River and it
tributaries are vulnerable to drought and can impact on
the livelihoods of the people through decreased crop and
livestock production, and on local biodiversity. The
changing climate has had negative impacts on, among
other aspects, land use and water shortages for irrigation.
Climate change adaptation differs according to the
area, magnitude and impacts. This study has identified
various coping strategies that help the riparian commu-
nity to adapt to climate change in the Great Ruaha River
Catchment Area, including using drought tolerant crop
varieties, practicing irrigation where feasible, rationing
of irrigation water in farm lands, dry season wetland (vi-
nyungu) cultivation, and intensification of non-agricul-
tural activities. Despite the existence of many local indi-
cators used for local climate forecast, there are a number
of limitations to local adaptation, including poverty and
institutional aspects, and limited integration of climate
adaptation strategies in various sectors.
The study has revealed that there is a bulk of indige-
nous knowledge that may be taped to enhance adaptation
planning at the local level. Presence of various climate
change and local forecasting indicators among communi-
ties demonstrates that communities are aware of chang-
ing conditions and have been developing adaptation mea-
sures that, where relevant, could be uplifted and pro-
moted. Hence indigenous knowledge could be integrated
into short and long-term adaptation strategies, and may
be an important component of environmental conserva-
tion at the local level.
6. Acknowledgements
This paper is based on a study undertaken in the Great
Ruaha River Catchment Area to analyse ways in which
climate change can be mainstreamed in the management
of freshwater resources in the Rufiji Basin. The study
was funded by the WW F-Tanzania Country Office through
the Ruaha Water Programme. We are grateful for this
support. We also acknowledge the Ruaha Water Progra-
mme team for facilitating fieldwork for this study.
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