The Rufiji river is about 600 km long, with its source in southwestern Tanzania and its mouth on the Indian Ocean at a point facing Mafia Island in the Mafia Channel. The Rufiji Delta is about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam. The delta contains the largest mangrove forest in eastern Africa Rufiji delta, it is the home to approximately 53,000 acres of mangrove forests. This is the largest continuous stretch of such forest across East Africa. The delta also houses about 41,000 people, most of whom are small farmers and fisherfolk. The mangrove forests provide protection from hurricanes, preserve quality of life, sustains many species of land and water flora and fauna, and is also the direct source of livelihood of the 41,000 people. In 1997, the Tanzanian government sanctioned the proposal by the African Fishing Company (AFC) to set up an enormous 19,000 hectare shrimp aquaculture site, which would consist of hatchery, processing plant, and a feed mill. The site of this commercial venture was within the Mafia Island Marine Park, and would be replacing a part of the 'mangrove forest reserve'. The business was alleged to produce US $500 million a year in export profits from the supposedly 6210kg of shrimps per hectare per year, mainly from Europe and Japan.
However, the local people, along with several local and international NGOs strongly opposed this proposal on the basis of the harm it would cause to the environment and the local people. The environmental advisory body of the Tanzanian government, known as the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) proposed the rejection of the project as it would have considerable negative impact on forestry, fisheries, land use, water use as well as agriculture. The pollution caused by the aquaculture would increase eutrophication, toxicity and acidification of surrounding water resources, as well as destroy endangered species of mangroves as well as other plants and animals. However, the Tanzanian cabinet chose to ingore these recommendations and approved the project. One of the major shareholder of AFC, John R. Nolan also wanted to set up a fish mill and fish processing factory in the Rufiji delta to supply Japanese, European and North American markets. There was widespread opposition to this project by local people as well as environmentalists. The East African Wildlife Society (EAWS) in February, 1998 started two advocacy campaigns in Rufiji delta in opposition to the proposed prawn industry. The first campaign was a mass media campaign, led by the Journalist Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET). Under this campaign, activists traveled to the delta every month for updates on the project and interviewed local communities. These sources of information were then used for press articles and distributed to local and regional dailies. The second campaign was mass awareness campaign for the people living in the delta, under which videos of the harmful impacts of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America were shown. Forums and open public meeting were also held for awareness and sensitization of the local people. All these led to a petition signed by 2000 resident villagers of the Rufiji delta, suing the government for not involving them in the decision making process. Due to all these protests and mass campaigns, on August 15, 2001, it was announced that the AFC would be liquidated, and the project had been halted.