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Agriculture is by and large the mainstay of the Rukwa economy. About 90% of the population in the region earn their living from agriculture. In general, therefore, the economy development of the region is very much dependent on the agricultural sector. The main crops grown in the region include maize, beans, paddy and finger millet as the main subsistence crops (sizeable proportions of these are marketed). Others are, sweet potatoes, cassava, sunflower and groundnuts. Wheat, tobacco and coffee are relatively minor crops. Rukwa region has in recent years turned into one of the major maize producing regions in Tanzania popularly known as the “Big Four” (the other regions are Mbeya, Ruvuma and Iringa). About 31 percent of total land area of Rukwa region is suitable for agriculture (2,357,029 ha) of which only 22.9 percent (percent 539,627 ha) is under cultivation annually. Distribution by district is as per Table below:


Distribution of arable land and land under cultivation by district, Rukwa region, 2006:


Total land area (ha)

Arable land area (ha)

Arable as % of total land area

Average area under cultivation


% of arable land













Sumbawanga (R)






Sumbawanga (M)














The climate in Rukwa region may be described generally as dry sub humid to semi-arid with distinct wet and dry season and a tropical temperature regime. The region has one long wet season from November to May and one long dry season from June to October. Annual rainfall varies from 800mm to 1300mm depending largely on elevation. The low rainfall in Rukwa valley may be due to the rain shadow effect of the escarpment. The on-set of the rainy season and the length varies according to topography and according to altitude. The rains in Mpanda start generally in October/November and end in April/May, while in the drier parts of the Ufipa Plateau the rains start later and end earlier.

In most places rainfall is adequate to support rainfed agriculture. Mean annual temperatures vary considerably from area to area (approximately 20 ° C to 26 ° C) due mainly to elevation differences. Double cropping is feasible in some locations.



The largest parts of the soils in Rukwa region are typical, leached, tropical ferralitic soils. These soils constitute probably more than 85 percent of all arable soils in the region. The soils are characterized by having a low inherent fertility, being moderately to strongly acidic, having moderate content of available plant nutrients and a fairly low water holding capacity. Careful management of them is necessary and urgently needed in order to retain and improve their long term fertility level and sustain crop production in the long run. Management practices such as fallowing, intercropping with leguminous crop and rotation are recommended agronomic practices. Also agro forestry practices are recommended which may also solve partly the fuel wood problem on the Ufipa plateau.




Rukwa region lies within the Great Rift (the only physical feature on earth visible from the moon) i.e. the western branch of the East African Rift Valley. The gently undulating Ufipa Plateau is surrounded by two large rift valleys; Lake Tanganyika rift and the Lake Rukwa rift. The former is 1000m deeper but the lake water level of both lakes are more than 1000m below the larger part of the Ufipa Plateau (1700 – 2460 m.a.s.l.). To the north a large, almost flat surface (Inyonga Plain) dominates, while the area from Mpanda towards the north – west to the boundary to Kigoma district is dominated by an undulating plateau at 1100 – 1500 m.a.s.l. with isolated hills and small escarpments.


In the west and southwest the undulating landscape slopes gently to the west before falling sharply off the Lake Tanganyika . The Ufipa Plateau forms the central southern part of the region, while the eastern part is dominated by the Rukwa Valley . Elevations in the region vary from 800 metres at Lake Tanganyika to 2400 metres in the Mbizi Hills.



The vegetation in Rukwa region may roughly be divided between large areas of Miombo woodland covering approximately 60 percent of the region and a variety of other vegetation types such as forest bushland and grassland occupy the rest. The areas of woodland and forests are rapidly diminishing while the bushed grassland areas are increasing. Closed forests are only found in small pockets in the region, like remnants of riverine vegetation along major perennial rivers and the small area of mountain forest in Mbizi near Sumbawanga.


The extensive Miombo woodland covers most of Mpanda district and scattered areas on the Ufipa Plateau. The Lake Rukwa (Lyamba lya mfipa) and Lake Tanganyika escarpment have been deforested causing soil erosion. About five important hardwood species have been identified in the miombo woodlands with Mninga ( Pterocarpus angolensis ) dominating.

Grasslands occur on floodplains and mbuga (seasonally water logged areas) as in the valleys of Ugalla, Rungwa and Katuma rivers in Mpanda district. They also occur in Rukwa valley in the northern part of Lake Rukwa . A large part of the Ufipa Plateau is dominated by bushed grasslands.




Rukwa region is comprised of five agro-ecological zones classified by BRALUP (1977) based on altitude, climate, vegetation, agricultrural suitability and other activities.


Zone I Ufipa Plateau

This is a densely populated area of altitude 500 – 2200 m.a.s.l is an almost deforested plateau with open grassland vegetation. Isolated hills and ranges which protrude on the gently undulating plateau. The soils are predominantly leached, acidic and ferralitic with loamy or sandy top soils becoming more clayey by depth. Soils have low inherent fertility. Cattle keeping is common for cash, meat and for land preparation. It is an important maize producing area along with traditional crops such as finger millet and beans. Fallow in the rotation is widely practiced.


Zone II Rukwa Valley

Less densely (medium) populated valley (800 – 1000 m.a.s.l) partly with Acacia woodland with areas of grassland vegetation on alluvial plains near rivers and the lake. The soils are alluvial of origin and predominantly sandy with relatively high fertility levels. Areas of poorly drained cracking clays and saline soils also occur. Grazing value is high, giving the basis for a large wildlife population which is also being invaded by an influx of Sukuma cattle. This is also important rice producing area. Agricultural potential for rain fed and irrigated crops are very high but erratic rainfall is a problem. Rainfall ranges from 700 to 1000mm per annum. Main crops are maize and paddy. Economic activities are crop production, cattle keeping and fishing.


Zone III Lake Tanganyika shores and escapement zone

This zone also includes the Kalema depression bordering on the Rukwa Valley . Lake shores (700m.a.s.1) are less densely populated. Solis are alluvial, sandy soils are also common. Vegetation is mainly of Miombo woodland. Rainfall ranges from 1000 to 1200mms per annum. Fishing is a very important source of income and food. Main crops grown include cassava, rice, millet and beans. Soil erosion is serious due to deforestation.


Zone IV Katumba – Inyonga plain

This zone is a large, almost flat, sparsely populated, tsetse infested Miombo woodland plain (1000 – 1200 m.a.s.1). Soil are sand with very low fertile. Rainfall ranges from 900mms per annum. Important crops include cassava, maize and groundnuts. Beekeeping is another economic activity carried by the inhabitants. Lumbering of hard wood is the other economic occupation.


Zone V Mpanda – Mwese Dissected Plateau

This is a largely a spasely populated range of hills and minor plateau area (1200 – 1500 m.a.s.I) covered with Miombo woodland on loamy, ferralitic soils. This zone covers most of Mpanda district. The soils are suitable for cereals (maize and finger millet), beans, cassava, sweet potatoes and rice production. groundnuts are the major cash crop followed by sunflower and tobacco. Due to tsetse fly infestation livestock is restricted to a few tsetse free areas. People also practice beekeeping as a major economic activity after crop production. The use of oxen for land preparation is common in the zone.

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