Monday, 4 April 2011

Measuring trees with the Hadzabe

So last week saw me off to a plot of land just south-east of Lake Eyasi to Mongo wa Mono village, the only remaining mainly Hadza village in Tanzania. You may remember this tribe from our other visits to Eyasi, where we've stayed at the north end and a small population remains up there, mostly servicing the tourism industry out of Karatu... Down in Mongo wa Mono it's a good three or four hours of unpaved roads from anywhere and seriously remote - about 700 Hadzabe live here, mostly remaining true to their culture (and very proud of it too) and language. But here, as elsewhere, they're feeling the squeeze - neighbouring pastoralist and agricultural tribes are moving in and degrading or cutting the forest to make their farms. Not good news for the Hadza, who - thanks to earlier work from friends of ours - have legal rights to the land, and need a fairly intact ecosystem to sustain their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. So, to help them get some money to inforce the local bylaws, Carbon Tanzania are trying to set up a fully verified carbon storage project, focussed on halting the deforestation of this land. The idea being to find people prepared to buy carbon credits under the Reducing Emissions through preventing Degredation and Deforestation scheme (REDD), thereby giving the Hadza some money to pay for enforcement, and potentially buying off other people if required. But before that can happen, you need to know both how much carbon is in the forest, and how fast it's been degraded. The latter can be done by looking at area of forest cut down each year from satellite images, the former involves getting out into the bush and measuring trees...
First briefing and the nearest spot to our campsite. Only problem with random points is that sometimes you pick a swamp with no trees!

It's a tape measure. Now why would you want one of them? P the botanist explains to two Hadzabe

R, our contact translates from Swahili to Wahadzane for us

Sometimes it's easier to throw the measuring strings than march through the marsh yourself...

At last, a tree!

So, here we are! A team of 6 from Arusha and a team of variable size from the local Hadza community. The aim being to locate points I'd randomly identified in advance using a GPS, get there and measure all the trees, whilst training everyone to do it themselves too. It's not rocket science, but pretty different from the sort of things most people there do!
Brief stop in a Baobab on the off-chance of mice (yum!), since our random point took us past that way

The team - outside an abandoned Hadza hut. In this picture we have one Generali, one Chief, one Commander and various other fantastic names too!

Iron-age technology meets the 21st C. Data entry...
 It's a fantastic piece of land to visit too - lots of wildlife signs (though they're rather shy for some reason...), and after the rain, just stunning. Flowers everywhere!
Flower sp. Trust me, I'm an ornithologist

Odd flower sp. Any ideas?
 And it's great to see how the Hadza are really part of the landscape - every Baobab has a mouse hole cut in it, and/or a ladder of pegs to clim for fruits and honey. I found it amazing to think that with a 2000 year old Baobab these guys have been climbing the same tree, and their ancestors for 100 generations, for exactly the same purpose. That's a seriously sustainable resouce - how much of what we use could have been used by our great-great-great etc grandparents? How much of what we use now will still be accessible in another 2000 years?
Baobab peg ladder
 It's a long and tough trip out there, but I thoroughly recommend it (visits can be arranged through Dorobo Safaris and a couple of other folk (who all just book with Dorobo anyway, since they have the links). If it rains whilst you're out there it might be a jolly trip back though:
Gotta love a landrover. No wories for about another foot. And C is (a) very tall - see team photo and (b) standing on and marking a pillar

Now I've measured trees before - often on cold wet days in Scotland it seems. And I've had relatively unskilled help in the past too, so should be fairly familiar. Main differences:

(1) 90% of Tanzanian tree have big nasty spikes.
(2) There's more than just one species (Scot's Pine usually!) and what do I know about botany!
(3) Tsetse.
(4) Field assistants armed with bow and arrow
(5) Field assistants with bow and arrow who are terrified of Elepahnts (the Hadza sincerely believe elepahnts specifically hunt down Hadza). Though to be fair I've never had the chance to test how many UK field assistants would show similar signs on encoutering warm elephant tracks...
(6) Field assistants with bow and arrow who drop tape measures to chase after bush babies emerging from tree to be measured. (Very tasty I'm told!)
(7) Field assistants who are stoned 90% of the time (though again, I've come across some who seemed like they might be!)
(8) Regular stops for honey and various fruits - yumm! (Though we may have had blaeberries and raspberries one time in Scotland I think)
(9) Field assistants who are prepared to walk 17kms in hot sun or torrential rain and clamber through buffalo infested thorn thickets without a word of complaint. (Might be the canabis, mind...)

Anyway, all in all an excellent time!


  1. As someone who knows a bit about plants and all that I feel I ought to tell you that the two plants shown above are, of course, (and I'm sorry but I only know the Latin names) -
    Flora purpurea and Res ignotus ssp fuscus.
    I hope that was helpful. :-)

  2. Hmm. Interesting sources of measurement error incurred here methinks. Should be helpfully random error. How about status of the lead researcher ...drunk on wild fruits...?? Ha ha
    PS no idea about names of the lovely flowers, but I like CC's attempts at nomenclature!

  3. Thanks Colin, knew someone would come up with the answer...

  4. Hi,

    I'm working on documentary partly about the Hadza and found your blog post concerning carbon offsets. It's a pretty wonderful idea to have the baobobs provide the Hadzabe with yet another side benefit.

    Is there a way to get your email address? Or should I just chase you down through Daudi?