East Usambara Biosphere Reserve

Location; where is it?

The East Usambara Biosphere Reserve (EUBR) is part of the Eastern Arc Mountain range and covers 90,000 hectares of the Tanga region. Established as a biosphere reserve in 2000, it falls under the jurisdiction of 3 districts’ authority (Korogwe, Muheza, Mkinga). There are roughly 270,000 people living in and around the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve, with their sources of livelihood stemming from small-scale farming and cattle breeding.

Environment & ecosystem; what makes it rich in biodiversity?

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A lake in the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve

The EUBR is one of 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world, and with its vast array of endemic plants and animals it is often compared to the Galapagos Islands. The site is home to both the sub-montane rainforest and lowland wooded grassland. These rainforests secure the water supply for the surrounding local community, the Tanga city population, and for industrial use. The biosphere reserve is divided into 3 land management zones, where each zone has its own specific management plan aligned with the MAB programme. The core area is the extensive biodiversity research and training site where 14 protected forest reserves can be found (Amani Nature Reserve, Nilo Nature Reserve, Amani Botanical Garden etc).  It is characterized by high concentrations of flora and fauna, including many medicinal plants and 13 endangered bird species. The buffer zone features commercial forest plantations, patches of natural forest turned into village forest reserves by local communities, and some tree crops. Finally, the transition area is home to sisal and tea plantations whilst providing a living environment to over 80 villages. With two ecosystem types (mountains and coastal forests), the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve features a variety of vegetation from tropical evergreen forests (Cephalosphaera usambarensis, Allanblankia stuhlmanii) to tropical submontane rainforests, savanna woodland (Combretum spp., Annona spp.), agroforestry, agroecosystems, grazing, and urban areas.

Why is the biodiversity threatened?

Local people in the mountains rely on the forests for many of their daily needs, thus anthropogenically endangering the biodiversity found within the biosphere reserve. According to the National Forest Programme, between 1971 and 1999, forests were faced with deforestation at an estimated rate between 130,000 and 500,000 hectares per annum. Pressure is exerted on the existing natural resource base due to rapid population growth in and around the area. Environmental degradation in the biosphere reserve is also the result of illegal wildlife hunting, overharvested forest resources, and encroachment. Furthermore, the occasional blockage of wildlife corridors can have devastating consequences like habitat fragmentation. Similarly, illegal mining, especially by artisanal miners, has become a more recent threat. Adverse impacts of climate change and climate variability must also be taken into account.

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