Taught and researched forest ecology at Oklahoma State University for 30 years. Retired from OSU on June 30, 2017. Joined Peace Corps Tanzania to teach high school biology. Arrived in Dar es Salaam July 11, 2017. This is my blog.
Charcoal is a lightweight black carbon residue produced by removing water and organic volatile compounds from wood by thermal decomposition called pyrolysis in the absence of oxygen. Because water and organic volatile compounds have been removed, charcoal compared to wood has advantages of light weight, burning at a higher temperature and giving off very little smoke.
Artisanal production of charcoal from wood is ancient. It involves building a tight pile of wood and burying it with turf while leaving a small opening for igniting the wood. The wood burns under low to zero oxygen by glowing combustion that releases a lot of smoke and steam and leaves behind about 60% by volume and 25% by weight of charcoal.
The favorite wood by far for making charcoal in the Mufindi Highlands is black waddle (Acacia mearnsii), a fast growing extremely invasive tree species native to Australia. Although wood from pine and eucalyptus is very abundant, I have never seen anyone make charcoal from them. Black waddle grows everywhere in thickets and does not need to be encouraged or planted. When the trees get to about 30 feet tall and 6 inches in diameter it is common to see them cut and converted to charcoal on site.
It seems everyone will produce charcoal when the opportunity arises. Our neighbor collected a small amount of wood from clearing a field for planting maize and made charcoal from it right in the field in a couple weeks.
Just about every store has charcoal for sale in small buckets up to large 100-pound bags. It is sold along the highway and some producers ship it to the city to sell at a much higher price. We pay about $7 for a 100-pound bag that can last a month or two depending on whether we use it to heat the house during the cold season. The quality varies a lot. Some charcoal bags contain a lot of unchanged wood that produces abundant smoke. The size of charcoal in a bag can vary from large volumes of small almost unusable dust to enormous chunks that need to be cut to size.
The Selous Game Reserve is four times larger than Serengeti National Park. Most of the enormous reserve is set aside for hunting. Only a small part of the northern end is available for watching game. The safari company we hired picked us up at the hotel in Dar for the trip to Mtemere Gate at the northeastern edge of the reserve.
The trip to banking town is a Peace Corps Tanzania ritual. Every month we went to our banking town, Makambako, to visit the bank and shop for fancy stuff like chocolate, coffee, hibiscus tea and popcorn. We learned to shorten the trip to only part of the day and sometimes got home for a late lunch.
The Mufindi highlands are characterized by undulating landscapes with gentle to steep slopes and soil derived mainly from granite that is deeply weathered and consists of a mixture of red and yellow clay loams with dark humic top soil. In most areas the agricultural productivity rating of the soil is medium. Elevation ranges from 1700–2200 m.
The mean annual
rainfall of 960 mm falls from November to April. There is a long dry season
from May to October. The area has high
annual potential evaporation, 800–1200 mm. The prevailing winds blow from east
to west. Mean annual temperature is about 20°C. The warmest months are October
to December and the coldest months are June to August. The highest temperature in December may reach
30°C and even during the cold months the temperature never drops below 5°C.
The vegetation is mainly unmanaged grassland and some remnants of scattered native species of miombo trees and shrubs. Although 92% of the district is arable land, only 40% of arable land is cultivated. Forests, rocky outcrops and water bodies cover 8% of the district. Most of the land is in the hands of small landowners and there are some large landowners including Unilever Tea Tanzania Limited, Mufindi Tea Company, and Sao Hill Industries owned by Green Resources AS.
Mufindi is a big producer of both food and cash crops. The main food crops are maize, beans, Irish potatoes and wheat. Although vegetables are readily available is the markets, vegetable production is small. The major cash crops in order of importance are tea, sunflower which is a food and cash crop, pyrethrum (chrysanthemum) and coffee. Major livestock production includes cattle, poultry, goat and sheep. The forest industry is fairly large contributing to timber and paper production as well a wood for charcoal, cooking and fencing.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. Its summit is 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) from its base, and 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. There are three volcanic domes: Kibo, a dormant volcano is the highest, Mawenzi and Shira are both extinct volcanoes and lower.
We planned a summit trek with two friends, Mara McKown and Brandi Rajala, Peace Corps Volunteers and teachers who trained with us in 2017. We chose Gladys Adventures from Moshi and were very happy with their service. Apparently the trek was a long walk on a well established trail to a very high elevation and the greatest challenge was the effect of low oxygen at over 19,000 feet.
Gladys recommended a seven day trek on the Machame route to maximize the pleasure of the trip and the chance of summitting. The Peace Corps doctor recommended Diamox ( Acetazolamide) 250 mg tablets and staying hydrated to combat altitude sickness . We did both and none of us had any symptoms of altitude sickness. That was a fortunate outcome, as studies have shown up to 75% of Kilimanjaro climbers experience acute mountain sickness.
We wanted a garden for a distraction, for fun and because all the teachers had gardens or fields of crops. Most teachers grew maize, so we did too. But we ate very little of the maize. It was like field corn and rather difficult to prepare for eating. Maize is by far the dominant crop in Mufindi Highlands. It is used mostly to prepare ugali, a very thick and gluey mixture of water and maize flour that resembles grits and polenta.
We started the garden almost immediately upon moving into the house. First, a fence was needed to keep out chickens that were very abundant and free ranging. They eat little plants and make dust nests that destroy young plants. We hired a farmer to build a fence made from wood slabs left over from nearby logging operations. As there had never been a garden in the yard, a dense thick grass turf had to be broken. Then we got to work planting everything for which we could find seeds. The climate is mild with a dry season from May to October and a rainy season from November to April. The warmest months of December and January have highs that rarely exceed 80°F and the coldest month of July sees high temperature in the mid-60s. And it never freezes. So the weather is good for cool season plants. We planted parsley, arugula, tomato, broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, zucchini, bell peppers, potatoes, beets, okra, sunflower, peas, beans and maize. Okra, parsley, arugula and peas failed. It was too cold for okra. I do not know what happened to the peas and parsley. The arugula seed was too old.
I teach biology at a large high school with nearly 1,500 students. Secondary schools in Tanzania provide ordinary level (O-level, forms 1 to 4) and some large schools like my school also provide advanced level (A-level, forms 5 and 6). Primary schools provide seven years of schooling (standards 1 to 7). That means the grades in O-level secondary school are equivalent to 8th to 11th grades and in A-level they equal 12th and 13th grades. At my school there are about 900 O-level students and nearly 400 A-level students. The A-level students are all female and board at the school. Many O-level students walk to school from home and some board at the school. The boarding students come from every part of Tanzania, sometimes very long distances.