From: Abdalah Hamis
Sebastian Michael Chuwa (photo: blackwoodconservation.org)
By James Harris and Bette Stockbauer-Harris
A noted Tanzanian botanist and conservationist is mourned
Sebastian Michael Chuwa, Tanzanian botanist and winner of several international awards for his accomplishments in conservation in his country, passed away on April 8, 2014 in Kilimanjaro Region from complications following a stroke.
Mr. Chuwa was particularly noted for his efforts to replant the African blackwood tree, the national tree of Tanzania.
Known locally as mpingo, it is used by east African carvers and in the manufacture of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, bagpipes, piccolos and oboes. The species is listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List and is commercially extinct in many areas of eastern Africa, where harvesting is most intense. Through
Mr. Chuwa’s efforts one million mpingo have been planted in well protected areas where they are expected to become a valuable resource for the future.
Beginning in 2004 he also established nurseries in the Mt. Kilimanjaro area for the cultivation of new-variety, disease-resistant coffee seedlings. This was in cooperation with a national initiative to revive Tanzania’s coffee industry by replacing aged and disease-prone trees which were suffering from coffee berry disease. Under his supervision 2 million coffee trees were supplied to individual farmers and plantation owners in northern Tanzania.
Originally taught by his father, who was an herbalist, he became a well-known authority on native medicinal plants. After finishing secondary school he attended Mweka College of Wildlife Management, in 1974 receiving a certificate in Wildlife Management. From 1974-1991 Mr. Chuwa held the position of Conservator at Ngorongoro Crater Conservation District. In this capacity he established a widely-emulated program for protection of the endangered black rhinoceros. He also set up a herbarium of 30,000 plant species for the use of park personnel and visitors and cooperated with Kew Gardens in London, England by supplying that institution with native African plants. In the process he discovered four new species, two of which were named in his honor. Additionally he worked with Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, mapping the plant life of that area.
In 1992 he returned to his ancestral home in the Moshi/Kilimanjaro area and found employment as a professional safari guide. Through his job, he met people from around the world and impressed many with his extensive knowledge of the wildlife and plant life of northern Tanzania. Volunteering countless hours of his personal time, he began a number of grassroots conservation and education based activities. Working through Malihai Clubs of Tanzania and Roots and Shoots, he established over 100 youth conservation groups and influenced teachers and administrators to include a conservation curriculum in primary and secondary schools of the area. The children were also taught horticulture through the establishment of school nurseries which supplied tree species for the domestic needs of farmers and householders. Chuwa assisted in the formation of a number of women’s groups, who founded tree nurseries and economic enterprises for community advancement. On the international level he was able to influence the creation of the US-based Rafiki Friends Foundation and the African Blackwood Conservation Project, both of which were specifically chartered to channel international funding towards his conservation and educational efforts.
In 2002, Chuwa was presented with the Spirit of the Land award during that year’s Winter Olympics by the (US) Salt Lake City Olympic Committee for international accomplishment in environmental education. Also in 2002 he received an Associate Laureate Award from the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Committee for his outstanding work in conservation. In 2006 he received the Conde Nast Traveler magazine World Savers award and in 2007 was honored by the US National Arbor Day Foundation, which presented him with their highest honor, the J. Sterling Morton Award. In 2011 he received a Malihai Club award for 30 years of service with that organization.
Sebastian Chuwa was a man who was at home on the world stage, yet totally committed to his beloved country, Tanzania. Fluent in multiple languages, he studied medicinal and botanical knowledge from numerous African traditions. He was likewise a font of information about the exotic animal life of the continent. Safari travelers fortunate enough to have him as a guide would be entertained for hours not only by this wide knowledge of his homeland but equally by his animated and humorous story telling. He was equally adept in describing the life ways of elephants in Ngorongoro as when directing visiting international naturalists to butterfly havens in south central Tanzania. He has been described as having a “mega-smile” and always had a friendly greeting for everyone he met.
His infectious enthusiasm instilled in others a commitment to nature that will doubtless have effects far into the future. His particular genius was in establishing a paradigm that equally provided for human economic empowerment and environmental preservation. He established mechanisms that helped the coffee farmers of Kilimanjaro establish organic shade-grown agricultural systems, thereby reducing costs and preserving the natural ecology. He showed how mpingo could be integrated into agriculture as a nitrogen provider and utilized in urban settings for shade and windbreak. All of his work had one eye toward human need and the other toward environmental protection. Through this deeply intuitive commitment – balancing the human world and the natural world – he has left a wisdom and legacy for us all, not only for the people of his Tanzania, but for all people of the world who similarly cherish this precious and fragile planet on which we dwell.
Sebastian is survived by his mother, his wife, Elizabeth, a primary school teacher in Kibosho East, Kilimanjaro, and 4 children, Margareth, Michael, Flora and Cyril.
* James Harris and Bette Stockbauer-Harris are Directors of African Blackwood Conservation Project
Article source: pambazuka.org, 2014-05-01, Issue 676