Over 20 million east Africans rely on bananas for subsistence and income generation, as well as a range of other traditional uses. On Kilimanjaro, bananas are becoming an increasingly important cash crop, largely replacing coffee which has become unprofitable in recent years.

However, there has been a decrease in production of bananas in smallholder systems due to land degradation, pests and disease, threatening people’s livelihoods and agricultural diversity. Land degradation leads to a decrease in soil quality and therefore a decrease in banana crop yield and/or quality. In addition, mycorrhizal fungi form an association with over 80% of terrestrial plant species, including bananas, and it has been demonstrated that mycorrhizal associations improve plant nutrition and protect against biotic and abiotic stressors. Therefore, a healthy soil and a healthy mycorrhizal community could help to improve production of bananas in smallholder systems.

The Department of Geography, Events, Leisure and Tourism already have a well-established relationship with grassroots NGOs based in Himo, Kilimanjaro: Kilimanjaro Environmental Development Association (KEDA) and Community Economic Development Empowerment (CEDE). GELT are always striving to support internationalisation of our curriculum and provide research-involved teaching opportunities for our students. Recently, Dr Rintoul was awarded a grant from the CCCU Futures Initiative, who work on projects related to sustainable development, environmental awareness and social responsibility. This funded a Geography student, Sophie Brigg, to spend a month in Tanzania as part of her undergraduate dissertation project. Her project will examine the links between soil quality and local livelihood strategies. Sophie’s soil samples will also be used by a Master’s student who will examine mycorrhizal fungi populations associated with different banana varieties. These studies will contribute towards the KEDA and CEDE agricultural extension programmes that aim to promote sustainable rural development in the region through education on improved agricultural practices and the value of biodiversity conservation.

Sophie said…
“I went to Tanzania for a month to carry out my dissertation data collection, collecting soil samples from the Kilimanjaro region to examine its influence on East African Highland Bananas. The opportunity was one I know I was extremely lucky to get! Not only was I able to carry out my research in a country completely different from my own, I got the chance to travel further afield and see more of Tanzania.

I was staying at KEDA field centre, built by Sheffield University, surrounded by farmland in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. During the week myself and the other students would essentially work from around 9-5, meeting back at the field centre for a delicious Chagga cooked lunch at 2 then writing up the day’s work. The weekends were our opportunity to explore the local area! Our interpreters were kind enough to act as guides on some of the weekends, taking us to local waterfalls, beautiful hikes, the hot springs and Moshi. We even got to go on safari to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater, which was honestly the best trip I’ve ever been on.

My month in Tanzania allowed me to complete my dissertation research in a completely new environment, meet local people so interested my project and in helping me to complete it, and to travel to some beautiful places I’d never even have known about! I can’t wait to go back and see more.”