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By Orton Kiishweko
DAR ES SALAAM, Jan 8 2013 (IPS) – Avelina Elias Mkenda, a 52-year-old small-scale farmer in the Mbarali district of Tanzania’s southwestern Mbeya region, can sense a change in her environment.
A resident of the Great Ruaha River basin, she has never had trouble watering her crops and livestock.
But over the last few years, the river has been delivering less and less of the precious resource; the grass that was once plentiful is now scarce, leaving cattle hungry, while production of coffee, the region’s prize crop, has plummeted.
Referred to as Tanzania’s “ecological backbone”, the Great Ruaha River originates in the Kipengere mountains and stretches roughly 84,000 kilometres, flowing through the wetlands of the Usangu Valley and the Ruaha National Park, eventually emptying into the Rufiji River.
Its basin catchment area waters a massive expanse of the Tanzanian countryside. Over a million small-scale farmers produce a significant portion of the country’s food on the lush soil in the Ruaha basin, which also provides 70 percent of Tanzania’s hydroelectric power, according to government sources.
But officials from the Rufiji Water Basin Office (RWBO), which administers the Ruaha basin, along with academics from Tanzania’s leading Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), are now warning that the river is under “alarming stress”.