Discover the Maasai Steppe
in Northern Tanzania
Mkuru Training Camp is part of the Meru-Kilimanjaro ecosystem, which is providing water and other vital environmental services for at least 500,000 people.
Mkuru Training Camp is located 8 Km from Arusha National Park, within the Meru-Kilimanjaro ecosystem, which is, in turn, sited within one of the most important biodiversity areas of the country: the Maasai Steppe, a territory traditionally inhabited by Maasai nomad shepherds and extending for more than 200,000 km2 within the East African Rift Valley, from the Turkana Lake, in Kenya, to central Tanzania.
The area is located very close to the rapidly expanding Arusha municipality and it is shaped by the presence of Mount Meru (m 4565 asl), a dormant volcano covered by a catchment forest that acts as a condenser and a key source of water for about 500,000 people.
From MTC visitors can reach the Arusha National Park in 20 minutes and in few hours the most beautiful National Parks of Eastern Africa: Mkomazi, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
Challenges to conservation and development
In Tanzania 89% of its population still lives on less than two dollars per day and more than 14 million people have no access to safe water.
The Meru-Kilimanjaro area is no exception: over the years, the Mount Meru forests and fertile foothills have been over-exploited to meet the needs of a fast-growing population. Despite the fact that most of the catchment forest is preserved within Arusha National Park, human encroachment is very high and the agro-ecosystems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to rainfall shortages, droughts and climate instability. Consequently land degradation and soil erosion are reducing the natural assets and Mount Meru’s capacity to provide the ecosystem services that lie at the heart of the livelihood of the local people is declining, as is demonstrated by the recurrent food crises (2005, 2007 and 2009) and the increasing conflicts over resource use.
The MTC experience aims at maintaining the Mount Meru natural capital capacity to satisfy local needs and at promoting strategies and technologies able to ensure that the rural population can make a living out of its environment without depleting the natural capital.
Climate and vegetation
The natural environment surrounding MTC is mainly savannah, with wide plains, hills and volcanic mountain crests.
The climate is overall semi-arid, characterized by two distinct seasonal weather patterns: the dry and the wet season, with short rains in November and December and long rains from mid March to late May.
Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru have a great influence on the climate and can be considered wet 'islands' in a dry matrix.
The nearby Arusha National Park is very important in terms of wildlife biodiversity: it hosts about 72 species of mammals (elephants, giraffes, buffalos, gazelles, hippos etc.), 10 species of amphibians, 36 species of reptiles and more than 500 bird species.
The area is also considered an outer limit for migratory large herbivores, which concentrate in the Kenyan Amboseli swamps in the dry season and spread towards Tanzania in the wet season, up to the Longido mountain, the foothills of West Kilimanjaro and the northern part of Mount Meru.
Elephants, the main remaining migrating species, still move between Arusha National Park, Kilimanjaro National Park, Amboseli and Lake Natron and occasionally visit MTC.
Three main ethnic groups populate the area surrounding MTC: Wameru, Warusha and Maasai. Although they had severe conflicts among themselves over the use of the land in the late fifties, at the beginning of the colonization of Mount Meru, a form of cooperation and synergy has now been achieved.
Wameru are the dominant group. They arrived in Ngarenanyuki Ward about 300 years ago and occupy the immediate slopes of Mount Meru, where rainfall is enough to permit agriculture. The Wameru speak a Bantu language. Their main economic activity is small-scale farming.
Also Warusha dominate the higher slopes of Mount Meru, practising both agriculture and livestock keeping. The Warusha are Nilotic, like the Maasai, of which they are an offshoot. They arrived in the area around 1830 and shared with the Wameru the agricultural land on the fertile slopes of Mount Meru.
The Maasai, the third major ethnic group of the area, are nomadic pastoralist people who inhabit the dry lands further north and who speak a Nilotic language called Maa. Their social system is based on age classes, polygamy and patriarchy. Traditionally, the male’s role is to take care of cows, sheep and goats, while females take care of the household. Their traditional economy is based on livestock keeping and, occasionally, on subsistence maize cultivation.
With the exception of the Maasai, the other communities live in permanent settlements concentrated in small villages. The Wameru are the most well-off: most of their houses are constructed in cement bricks and roofed with sheet iron. Warusha have permanent huts where the whole family lives together. Huts are generally built with mud and thatched with grasses, even though few of them have sheet iron roofs. Most of the Maasai community, however, still live in scattered homesteads, known as “boma” in Kiswahili, the national language. A boma, a settlement belonging to one family, is a cluster of huts set in a circle and consisting of a large space for the cattle and an average of 4 huts, made of mud and dung, all protected by a common shield of live fence or dried acacia branches.
An uncertain future
The Meru-Kilimanjaro ecosystem is providing environmental services that are vital for at least 290,000 people.
At the same time, the system is intrinsically fragile and this fragility is exacerbated by climate change hazards, inappropriate land management practices and the increasing pressure on natural resources due to population increase.
These constraints, associated with poor technical knowledge and assistance and lack of land use planning, are causing concrete challenges to the economic and ecological sustainability of both agriculture and livestock keeping and are threatening livelihood to such an extent that out-migration is rapidly increasing, especially among young Maasai.
A thorough understanding of the main hazards to the long-term conservation of the ecosystem is a pre-condition to the development of a strategy capable of addressing the major environmental challenges and guarantying a future to the local population.