The study was carried out to understand the potential impact of rapid transformation of land uses to the functioning of the Southern Highlands (SHL) natural system and mainstream them in decision-making by highlighting several trade-offs made in land-use decisions. Southern Highlands are characterized by temperatures averaging around 23oC and rainfall ranging from 250 mm in lowland to over 1,800mm in highland areas, a climatic condition that make much of SHL suitable for production of temperate crops like tea, fruits and vegetables and attractive for investment in commercial production of the crops. In addition, SHL is favourable for exotic timber production, and the communities living in the area have highly motivated to engage in exotic trees forest plantation at an unprecedented rate. Most tree species planted are pines and eucalyptus, mainly for commercial purposes such as timber and building poles production. Exotic forest plantations are now competing with other land uses such as agriculture and conservation of water resources. Much of the mountain grasslands and woodlands are being converted for crop and exotic timber production.
Equally important, low evapotranspiration make Southern Highlands to have abundant water resource compared to other areas of the country. Most streams originating from SHL combine to form many major rivers draining to the East to the Indian Ocean and Southwest to Lake Nyasa. To the East they form the Great Ruaha River (GRR), Kihansi and Ruhudji Rivers which then join to form the Rufiji River. This attracts investment in hydropower generation downstream, and water abstraction for domestic, irrigation and industrial use in the surrounding urban centers and lowlands. Investment in any of these alternative uses tends to affect the biodiversity and functioning of the SHL natural systems.
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