Bahi wetland is situated about 50km west of Tanzania´s capital city Dodoma. This wetland is of enormous value for food security and income generation in the semi arid landscape of central Tanzania and beyond. Actually this unique natural resource is threatened by plans for uranium mining pushed forward by Tanzanian government and foreign investors. Topographically Bahi swamp is described as a closed depression. Geological faults divert as well superficial as underground water flows of the Bahi drainage basin into the swamp. Inhabitants count 8 major and 10 smaller perennial streams feeding the swamp. During years with enough rain a open water surface with a diameter of around 30km can develop and prevail for up to five years. These special conditions enable various economic activities of high importance for people’s livelihoods in generally semi-arid region:
Due to erratic rainfall patterns rainfed agriculture often fails and subsequently famines occur regularly. Irrigated paddy production in the swamp area therefore is a promising alternative. Already in 1982 FAO and USAID started to introduce advanced technologies of rainwater harvesting and rice production in the Bahi Swamp. The initial project area of 150ha was extended by farmers to more than 500ha. In 1990 IFAD supported another 150ha. Nowadays the whole area under paddy production can be guessed around? 5000ha, however exact assessment is missing. Farmers claim to harvest up to 40bags per acre. Therefore Bahi rice production is an important factor for food security in the region and beyond. Also rice farming is a good business for farmers in Bahi. They are quite well off and to some extent seem to have escaped from poverty. Fish is another important contribution for food security and income generation. Standing at the edge of Bahi
Lake one can watch dozens of traditional boats returning with tons of fish. Bahi fish is famous all over Tanzania. Local traders guess their accumulated daily turnover to? 100 Mio Sh (about € 50.000.-). Not only fishermen living adjacent to the lake take profit of Bahi fish; as fish are traveling upstream after being born in the swamp also the villages along the rivers share the blessing. For them the fish from the rivers are a vital dietary supplement as otherwise they totally depend on unreliable rainfed harvest. In some years when inappropriate rainfall patterns have destroyed harvest on the fields fish may be the only available food for people during some periods!
Typically for African semi-arid areas many people around Bahi live on cattle keeping as traditional herdsmen. For this people the swamp offers important grazing areas. In several villages on the northern edge of the swamp area people are using another chance of income generation depending on the natural resources provided by the swamp: using traditional technologies they are producing salt, which is exported until to the neighboring countries Burundi and Ruanda! Uranium mining will threaten the whole system of Bahi swamp by emissions of poisonous and radioactive gases and dust, land destruction and enormous water consumption during mining and processing. The most serious hazards however will be huge tailings dumps: processing the ore to yellow cake results in huge amounts of slurry which is usually pumped into large basins. It is not easy to imagine how such dumps can be maintained in safe manner in an area that is periodically flooded! The potentials of Bahi swamp have been assessed by some scientific studies mainly conducted by University of Dar es Salaam (Institute of Resource Assessment) and Sokoine University of Agriculture. Professor Munishi described in a presentation that irrigated paddy comprises 65% of total household grain production and contributes 59% of household income, fish maintains 10% of household food and 36% of household income. Mwakuje et al. Published a study in 2009 on use and sustainability of the swamp resources for peoples livelihoods exemplary in the two villages. However facing the current challenge of uranium mining plans it is highly necessary to assess the general contribution of Bahi swamp to food security and economy in the region and beyond by a comprehensive study which also should point out how uranium mining will affect this natural resource system.
Note: This article has been sent with our colleague Pasience Mlowe but was written by Anthony Lyamunda and Martin Kurz of CESOPE, Tanzania and uranium-network.org, Germany respectively