UNTIL RECENTLY, THE SHINYANGA REGION JUST SOUTH OF LAKE VICTORIA WAS nick-named the Desert of Tanzania. Its once-abundant woodland had been stripped away over decades, first to eradicate the disease-carrying tsetse fly, then to create cropland and make space for a growing population (Monela et al. 2004:14). Now the acacia and miombo trees are returning, courtesy of the HASHI project, a major restoration effort based on the traditional practice of restoring vegetation in protected enclosures or ngitili.
The region-wide HASHI project, whose success was recognized by the UN Development Programme with an Equator Initiative prize in 2002, is run and mainly funded by the Tanzanian government. But its striking success stems from the rich ecological knowledge and strong traditional institutions of the agro-pastoralist Sukuma people who live in the region.
By 2004, 18 years into the project, at least 350,000 hectares of ngitili (the Sukuma term for enclosures) had been restored or created in 833 villages, encompassing a population of 2.8 million (Barrow and Mlenge 2004:1; Barrow 2005b). Benefits of the restoration include higher household incomes, better diets, and greater livelihood security for families in the region. Nature has benefited too, with a big increase in tree, shrub, grass, and herb varieties, as well as bird and mammal species (Monela et al 2004:3-4). Table 1 summarizes these wide-ranging benefits. It is drawn from an in-depth study of HASHI