Botanical Research in Tanzania

This is an account of my experience of obtaining botanical research permits for the country of Tanzania.

When: January 2017

Who: I had the joy of going through this somewhat stressful process with Dr. Emily Sessa at the University of Florida. My friend Killian was there for the end when I had to deal with the export permits.

Why: To collect living specimens of Ledebouria from throughout the eastern portion of the country. Turns out it isn't all that easy to travel in Tanzania so I mainly stuck to the north central parts.


Let me start by saying that my fieldwork is quite different from what most people probably do. I self-drive along the roads and randomly stop along the was to get out and walk around. While doing so, I look for the plants that I am there to collect. Luckily, the plants I study typically grow within 10 meters of the roadside, which means I can easily locate them, dig them up and then move on. The group I study (Ledebouria) grow from underground bulbs and this trait has its benefits but also its downsides. These plants tend to grow quickly after the season’s first rains which means that finding them in flower is usually tough. When coming from abroad this is not ideal since one typically buys plane tickets months in advance. If rains are early, you miss the flowering times. If they are late, you might not find plants because they are still dormant underground. However, if there has been rainfall, regardless of when, these plants are usually easy to find, dig up and ship back to the states where I can grow them in a greenhouse. Under controlled conditions is where I can then flower them and make a proper herbarium specimen. Consequently, that means I have to deal with getting the plants inspected in the foreign country, followed by exporting them, and then they need to be inspected again by the importing country (i.e. USA). Obviously, this all requires permits, excellent local collaborators who can help with the process, as well as a lot of prep before leaving the country (this is true for all international fieldwork though).

Now that you have a little background, here was my experience completing fieldwork in Tanzania. I have highlighted the steps you will need to complete along the way. While most of the information can now be found online, I missed some steps or did not fully understand how things worked before departing so I felt that I should write things up so others do not make the same mistakes. I hope this post will help others arrive prepared for research in Tanzania. It really is a lovely country with an amazing diversity of plants and people.


BEFORE departing (not in any order):

1) Get sufficient funding for the trip

2) Obtain USDA Permit

· Visit Plant Health Import Information

· Visit Plants for Planting

· Note: Level 2 clearance is needed which requires you go to a USDA office and confirm your identity

3) Once USDA permit is obtained, request the Yellow-Green import labels

· Yellow-Green label website

· need to state country where the samples are coming from, what species, the material being imported, etc.

· Make sure you request enough for all of your boxes. I always request too many just in case since you may find a lot of specimens and need more boxes for shipping when you are all finished. This will require a different yellow-green label for each box!

4) Locate/contact local collaborator

· This can be the most difficult part. My experience was that local botanists were eager to help with the permitting process. For Tanzania, you must have a local collaborator and they must write you letters of support for your COSTECH Research Permit application. A local contact is also required for when you apply for residency after obtaining your COSTECH permit. Unfortunately, while I was in Tanzania I did have the chance to travel with my collaborator because I did not have the money to pay them nor the space in my vehicle. It would have been very helpful to have them with me but my graduate student budget did not allow for it. Luckily, my plants were easy to find along the road so that lessened my worries of having a successful field season; however, it would have been easier with a local guide who spoke Swahili.

5) Write COSTECH Research Application

· Website: http://www.costech.or.tz/?page_id=1625

· You can find my successful application here (PDF). I was told by someone with a lot of experience of working in Tanzania that having a long list of citations is always good since it shows you know your research field.

6) Submit COSTECH Research Application

· After submission of your Research Application, you can do 1 of 2 two things: 1) wire transfer the application processing fee to COSTECH or 2) pay in person. Unfortunately, you must be present at COSTECH in Dar es Salaam in order to fully complete and receive your application. You will want to submit your application as soon as you can.

7) Purchase your plane ticket to Tanzania

· I recommend flying into Dar es Salaam because, as stated above, you will need to visit COSTECH in order to complete your application. If it is your first time in Africa, Dar can be a bit of a culture shock. Do not be afraid, it is really a lovely city but also do not let your guard down too much. Oh yeah, eat all of the food as well!

· I can recommend Safari Inn for staying downtown. It is cheap, you can get A/C for the summer months, and the Wi-Fi is really good. It is also close to a lot of wonderful restaurants and activities while you're waiting for your permit/residency applications to process. Trust me, you might have some time to kill.

8) Get a lot of passport photos

· You will need them for permits and residency applications.

9) Reserve vehicle (not applicable to everyone)

· I used Roadtrip Tanzania because it was cheap, included insurance, and they allowed their vehicles to enter Zambia and Zimbabwe. They take care of everything for you and are extremely responsive to e-mails.

10) Get a FedEx or DHL account

· This will be useful for when shipping your specimens. Also, if you need a USDA inspection, they will want to know how to pay for the forwarding shipment if/when your specimens pass inspection. Give them this account number and you will be set.

In Tanzania

1) Visit COSTECH

· COSTECH is called Sayansi in Dar. If you tell someone you want to go to COSTECH, they may not understand. Also, the building does not say COSTECH, it says Sayansi but it is not obvious. You can easily drive past it (like I did). The coordinates are -6.774289, 39.2421981. Google pulls it up when you ask for COSTECH but remember, the sign DOES NOT say COSTECH. On top of the building is a yellow sign with green lettering and if you read it, you will see the word Sayansi on it. I feel a little repetitive there but oh well.

· Sign in, tell someone you are there to pick up your research permit and they should be able to direct you to the office.

· If you have not paid ($300 for the permit), you will then be told to go a particular bank (I forget which one) and deposit money into an account. Save your receipt and return to COSTECH after completing that step.

· If your permit is successful (you need some signatures from supervisors), you will then be directed to the Immigration Office. IT IS REQUIRED TO BE A RESIDENT IN ORDER TO COMPLETE RESEARCH IN TANZANIA. To apply for residency, you will need your COSTECH permit.

2) Go to the Immigration Office

· Apply for residency ($550). I need to state that we did this step in Arusha, not Dar es Salaam since our first stop was on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

· Side story: For my situation, I was only going to be in Tanzania for 3 – 4 weeks and I did not know about the residency requirement before arriving since they did not clearly state this step on their website or permit application (they do now). This process can take up to 6 months or more. Once I found this out, I freaked out. We explained this to the officer at COSTECH and she said that if we explain our situation (short time in the country) they may go ahead with the process. We did just that and we got lucky. We found an extremely helpful, nice, wonderful, amazing officer at the Immigration Office. She understood our situation, she spoke with all of the upper officers, and within a few hours we had a residency permit...almost. While it was not the full residency permit, it was a receipt showing that we had paid with an official letter stating that we had paid and that we should be considered residents. It was an absolutely wonderful experience at the Immigration Office because of our helpful officer. I will never forget her!!

· Although the residency permit is expensive, if you leave the country and need to reenter, it is a lifesaver! You just cut ahead of everyone and you are in the country within 15 minutes. I did this step 3 times and I loved having that residency permit. Do not let the border crossing agents intimidate you and make you pay. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY TO ENTER THE COUNTRY! I had a couple officers try to say I needed to pay but I made sure to show them the error in their ways.

3) Enjoy doing research!

· Once you have your COSTECH Research Permit AND your Residency Permit, you are free to go…almost. If you plan on doing work in National Parks or Conservation Areas, they require additional permits and have their own fees. You will have to look into those BEFORE departure to make sure you get everything submitted before you leave. Keep in mind, you will likely have to be there in person to complete the entire process. Also, many National Parks or Conservation Areas in Tanzania require a guide to accompany you. Be sure to account for this when making you budget.

4) Prepare plants for export / get Phytosanitary Certificate

· After completing my fieldwork, I met with my collaborator in Arusha so that I could begin the process of getting my Phytosanitary certificate. THIS IS REQUIRED FOR EXPORT/IMPORT. In Arusha, to get the Phytosanitary certificate, you need to visit the offices at the Horticulture Department or something like that (I can’t remember the name). The coordinates are -3.384146, 36.796083 in the town of Tengeru. You will have to ask around how to get to the office because it does not have a sign. Everyone is helpful. Also, the kids will shout ‘mzungu’ a lot which just means ‘white person’. The people in the Phytosanitary office are very nice and helpful. They will also be curious about your work and ask a lot of questions. They really do like plants!

5) Ship your specimens

· I used DHL in Arusha for shipping my specimens. I have also used FedEx as well and they are all fairly knowledgeable about what needs to be in the box. You will need your Phytosanitary Certificate (the original), Research Permit, and USDA Import Permit (this will also require you to include a species list, forwarding address, and payment method). If you have all of the appropriate documentation, this step will be enjoyable.

6) Enjoy the rest of your time in the field

· Remember to always make time for fun when in the field! Eat all of the food and buy a lot of souvenirs!


Well, I hope this is somewhat intelligible and helpful. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about research in Tanzania! Asante!

Oh, here are some pictures.