Project update 3

And we also just completed the workshops with the government of Tanzania, at District Level. Discussing how trees can (and perhaps cannot) be integrated into the farmed landscape in the Northern Kilombero Valley. This is the first time that we trialled a half virtual approach relying heavily on our skilled team in Tanzania to facilitate the in person tasks, discussing outcomes during panel sessions.

Next? Lots of work to do to follow up on the insights and knowledge gained. And integrate this into our systems model.

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Project update 2

We wanted to know how farmers think about their farms and the management of these farms. Do trees feature in their needs and priorities? If not: why not? If so, which tree species would they want? Where would they want to plant them? On the farm? Along the boundary? Somewhere else?

To find out, Dr Susannah Sallu (Leeds University), Miss Eleanor Moore (PhD candidate in the TROPS lab), Margherita Lala (Leeds University) and Sergio (postdoc on the Agrisys project) set out to plan and organise workshops in our study landscape. Workshops focussing on small- and large -holder farmers and their visions for the futures of the farmed landscape.

These workshops are completed, followed up by focussed interviews. The data are currently being processed by the team. Watch this space.

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Project update 1

The last months have been super busy for the Agrisys Tanzania team. The good news: we have finally completed the data collection in our ecological plots (totalling 142 now).

That also means we have to be super fast processing all data before the project funding runs out officially. Jennifer MacFarlane will help us (as short term research assistant) to process thermal and vegetation greenness scans of vegetation taken on the ground. Chess Ridley will help us (as short term research assistant) to analyse policy documents from the agricultural sector, forestry sector, land management sector and environmental sector to analyse them for ‘conflict’, ‘trade-offs’, ‘biodiversity values’, ‘human wellbeing values’ and ‘food security values’.

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Plans for 2021

We are preparing for our workshops working with small-holder farmers in the Agrisys Tanzania landscape to identify pathways for tree restoration interventions on the farm, around the farms and elsewhere in the landscape. Target time: June 2021. Co-led by Eleanor Moore, Margherita Lala and Susannah Sallu. We are also trialling a remote approach, employing local experts, relying on the continued amazing support of Co-I Deo Shirima and hoping for good internet connection.

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Catch up

What happened? We all took a rain break, and that rain break turned into a COVID-19 break and the ‘wishful thinking of return to fieldwork in 3 months’ turned into a prolonged waiting time for things to ‘get better’. But let’s not complain, because a lot of fantastic things started to emerge as well.

By April, we had sampled 72 plots. Thanks again to the awesome Tanzania crew led by Sergio and Deo on the ground. We analysed 72 plots: the thermoscans of leaves and ground surfaces, the canopy closure and vegetation greeness images, the fluorescence data and soil attributes. And dare I say it: the bird surveys, mammal surveys and insect surveys. And we are starting to see some interesting patterns emerging on the relationships between soil quality metrics, crop health metrics and natural capital. Three UG students have been working in the past few months to do some preliminary analyses of the bird data (thank you, Sophie) and microclimate data (thank you, Ana-Maria) and Harriet has created some fancy leaflets on the four main pest insects collected so far and nature based solutions for their management.

MBiol student Lauren Barnes will be modelling and mapping crop:elephant conflicts with data collected by the NGO STEP in the next months, ultimately to feed into the evidence-based management of a movement corridor restoration intervention. And MSc student Chloe Coole has done a wonderful job at identifying mammal species from thousands and thousands of camera trap images acquired on farms, farm boundaries and in natural habitats. Who would have thought there are so many without anything in them. As a byproduct, she also found some really cool birds in those traps. See for yourself:

12 of the species detected so far have not been on the GBIF list downloaded for the landscape (includes the elusive leopard), despite the profound land use changes that have changed the habitats here. We are also still missing 19 species that have previously been recorded here, including two larger carnivores.

Whilst we are currently writing up the first batch of data (starting with mammals, birds and soils for peer-reviewed journals), Evodius has taken on the massive task of leading a fully Tanzanian team to collect those data that can be collected safely during this time. These include calibration data for thermoscans (very important šŸ™‚ so we are told), further camera trap data from farmed areas (very risky but hopefully worth it), and crop yield data (very tricky as farmers respond quickly to weather conditions and crop state and tend to forget we want to measure their produce). MSc student Joseph, meanwhile, has started a pollination exclusion experiment on okra plants.

Thanks to the flexibility of the funder (thank you BBSRC) we have been able to plan for the scenario workshops that we plan to run with farmers in the landscape exploring their desirable options for ‘ideal farms’, ‘management interventions’ and trade-offs with ‘conservation / tree restoration interventions’. Eleanor, who joined the team as PhD candidate funded through OnePlanet DTP last October (a NERC funded doctoral training programme), has been developing the content for these workshops with us in detail, underpinned by social science frameworks. And we are planning for two options: either to go out and run the workshops with our Tanzanian team in April or alternatively, coordinate the activities of the Tanzanian team from the UK and let them run with it. if the latter will happen when we have some very interesting and challenging times ahead šŸ™‚ (I mean who knows how the internet will pan out on the day).

Our current plans for the remaining 60 ‘ecological plots’: wait and go out in June. If we cannot go, we will train our Tanzanian team and look to Evodius to take charge, coordinated remotely by Sergio. Interesting times ahead. #We_are_going_strong.

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We are taking a break

Because of rains and COVID-19 we are taking a break. We don’t now yet when fieldwork is likely to commence. But below some lovely pictures detailing the journey we have had so far.

We have been measuring 72 plots so far, come rain come sunshine. Our amazing field crew has been working from early in the morning to late in the evening almost every day (we do allow them to take weekends).
We have braved the rain on foot….
And we have braved it on the motorbike.
We waded through water to get to our plots on farmed land and in the forests (and their lants: this is what happens when you are a highly enthusiastic botanist like Kayombo here)
We have worried about camera traps and downloaded amazing data from them….
and yes, we did spot the occasional leopard 9well: the cameras did)
We even harvested some sugarcane (and other cool crops like okra, maize, pumpkin leaves…). Not to eat (mind): after all – we want to understand the variation in yield in the landscape and test whether it relates to natural capital benefits (soil, pest controls, shade…..)

We have analysed the data collected – well we started to. And its exhausting. Some nice graphs to follow soon.

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Project inception in Tanzania

Project initiation phase completed

Project status, 06/11/2019: Sensors bought and tested. Check. Fieldwork essentials bought and carried over to fieldsite. Check. Permits acquired. Check. Local buy in secured. Check. Field team assembled. Check. First plot measured. heck, yes.

So this is what has happened in the past three weeks. Following some pretty intense preparation leading up to our flights to Tanzania mid-October, we had a pretty fun and successful, if very challenging fieldwork inception phase.

(1) We introduced our project to government, industry and local stakeholders in our research. This involved meetings in Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and Ifakara. Overall, this was pretty much a team effort. Whilst Marion introduced project , Susannah led the interviews on land governance and constraints and Deo coordinated, translated if necessary and provided expert advice whenever needed.

Meeting SAGCOT representatives at their headquarters in Dar Es Salaam. 21/10/2019.
Meeting TOAM representatives in Dar Es Salaam at their headquarters. 21/10/2019.
Meeting SAT directors in Morogoro, 22/11/2019.

(2) We trialled all sensors using the facilities of the Kilombero Sugar Company (KSC), who is our in country industry partner. They are a great source of knowledge and data, which we are looking forward to explore in more depth in the coming months.

Deo and Sergio are busy explaining ecological data recording sheets to our excellent research assistants, recent graduates from Sokoine University of Agriculture.
Our ecological team :).

(3) Over the course of the week, the entire team assembled at the facilities of KSC: our insect experts (Morris and Esther), our bird expert (Pieter), our mammal experts (Laura and Ellie), our natural habitats experts (Deo), our social sciences experts (Susannah, assisted by Robin), our plant expert (Canisius), and our sensor expert (Marion). We tested and adapted our datasheets that we so painfully prepared prior to the trip and that we now started to overhaul (a process that was just as painful).

We scouted the landscape for the perfect field sampling sites.

Esther looking for insects.
Esther training our ecological team.

We trialled our social survey approach.

Lilly in charge.

We met the Agricultural Extension Officers for project introduction and knowledge exchange.

Deo and Susannah taking questions.

And we looked for plants. With the help of botanist Canisius Kayombo.

Kayombo on top of Sanje Falls.
From let to right: Kayombo, Marion, Revo, Ellie and Pieter.

(4) We visited the key natural habitats: the Udzungwa Mountain forests and the Magbombera Forest. WE only walked up to Sanje to get a good feel for the landscape and the composition of natural versus crop habitats. No other reasons, promise šŸ™‚

So overall: a happy start to an exciting project. Despite the differences in concepts and training, the integration of social and ecological researchers and ideas went great. We learned lots already and we are looking forward to learning more. A lot more.

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The project has started

Dear all, thank you for your interest in the Agrisys Tanzania project, which is collaborating with the Forest restoration and Climate Experiment ( and Reforest Africa’sĀ  project ‘Forest Landscape Restoration Planning in Tanzania‘.

Our main aim is to analyse how, to what extent, and in which social contexts, management of landscapes for high quality (semi-)natural habitats, can maintain or increase crop productivity on small-holder and industrial farms whilst maintaining biodiversity in the landscape that are essential for human well-being. We are using a combination of ecological and social tools to do so.

Over the next couple of months, we will be adding details on the project objectives, methods and expected outcomes to the websites.Our project team is described here.

We have received high quality applications for the postdoc that will be working with us on the project and we are currently working through these. Thank you for your interest!

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