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Pressure up against illegal timber trade

By Lucas Liganga, The Citizen Chief Reporter
Dar es Salaam. A 2007 report by TRAFFIC is spurring a rethink of forestry management in Tanzania, prompting local organisations to step up their efforts at promoting sustainable forestry conservation.

The 2007 report titled Forestry, Governance and National Development: Lessons from a logging boom in southern Tanzania made 19 recommendations meant to help curtail the trade in illegal timber across Tanzania.

TRAFFIC is a global wildlife trade monitoring network that works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals does not threaten conservation.

Among those inspired to step up is Arusha-based Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF), which four years ago launched the pilot phase of a campaign it called Mama Misitu, whose goal was to help improve governance in the forestry sector.

A senior forest programme officer with TNRF, Mr Cassian Sianga, said last week that out of the 19 recommendations made by the TRAFFIC report, his organisation chose to focus on two: community participation and better governance.

The goal, according to him, was to encourage communities to get more involved in managing local forest resources to ensure they offer tangible benefits to both current and future generations.

Launched in 2008, Mama Misitu began as a pilot initiative primarily driven by local think-tank Tanzania Forest Working Group, which was hosted at the TNRF.

Initially the programme was implemented in Rufiji and Kilwa districts in the Coast Region and Lindi respectively, with a clear focus on resolving some of the challenges facing those communities with regards to sustainable forest management.

Mr Sianga said during the pilot campaign communities were taught the legalities of the timber trade, and were told of the government’s role in setting legal guidelines.

The project also focused on creating local awareness on the value of forest products that were legally and illegally harvested and helped locals find out how to handle wildlife poaching, according to Mr  Sianga.

A farmer from Kilwa District, Mr  Omari Kijumile, told an appreciative audience in Dar es Salaam last week that through the project, his community has learned how cutting trees increases drought, disrupts rain patterns and contributes to climate change.

However, he pointed out that there is conflict between the national policy of Kilimo Kwanza, an initiative aimed at making the country a breadbasket, and the need for proper forest governance.

“The villagers are looking to more farming, as promoted by Kilimo Kwanza, but this necessitates cutting down the very trees and forests that they are supposed to be protecting,” he said.

Rufiji farmer Mwalami Kwangaya said the Mama Misitu campaign has reminded locals that forests belong to them. “Without taking ownership, villagers would not have seen the importance of protecting forests and trees.”

On July 31, this year, TNRF re-launched Mama Misitu as a five year campaign to be carried out in Rufiji, Kisarawe, Kilwa and Kibaha, with plans to later expand its scope to eight other districts.

The campaign will be implemented by 11 organisations at national and district levels. At national level TNRF’s implementation partners include Lawyers Environmental Action Team, Femina HIP, Policy Forum, the Journalists’ Environmental Association of Tanzania and TRAFFIC.

At district level the programme has drawn support from Tanzania Forests Conservation Group, Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania.

Speaking during the inauguration of the new five-year conservation plan, the envoys for Finland and Norway expressed concern over Tanzania’s failure to implement land policies meant to increase transparency and accountability in the forestry sector.

In their joint statement, the Finnish Ambassador to Tanzania, Ms Sinikka Antila and a counselor with the Norwegian Embassy, Ms Inger Naess, said the Tanzanian government is doing little to control illegal logging despite various studies pointing to the practice being rather common across the country.

“Tanzania can be proud of its land policies and of the laws it has.  However as identified in different high quality studies…implementation of these policies has not yet been successful,” said Ms Antila.

Finland and Norway are jointly funding the five-year Mama Misitu campaign to the tune of around Sh8 billion (approximately $5 million).

Antila cited a report by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) that showed that only four per cent of forest reserves in Tanzania have management plans. The rest are not managed according to national legislation, she argued.

The Finnish envoy said the 2012 CAG report indicated that revenue collection from forestry stood at a mere 43 percent during the 2008/2009 fiscal year.

Rounding up she had this to say; “Governance within the (forestry) sector needs improvement and we all have to work together.”

She reminded the audience that forest control is essential as Tanzania looks to do its part in international efforts to address issues of climate change and global warming.

Mr Sianga from TNRF said the launch of the campaign followed the 2007 report by TRAFFIC that revealed that the government lost revenue to illegal timber trade to the tune of $58million every year.

“This amount could have bought 11 million mosquito nets at that year’s price or it could have been used to construct 10,000 classrooms,” he said.

Dr Ismail Aloo, a conflict management officer with the newly established Tanzania Forest Services (TFS), acknowledged that both illegal logging and the global trade in illicit timber were major problems.

The TFS was recently established to help manage the nation’s dwindling forest resources which have come under tremendous pressure due to high global demand for timber.

“This illegal trade causes environmental damage, costs the government millions of shillings in revenue losses, promotes corruption and undermines the rule of law and good governance,” he said.

He argued that findings of the 2007 TRAFFIC report showed that forests are being cleared at an unsustainable rate, which will affect the survival of future generations.

On the wake of this report, government is putting in place measures to control and further regulate local forestry, according to the TFS conflict manager.

Authorities are currently carrying out national forest audits and are building capacity to monitor and manage the forests more effectively, according to Aloo.

Government is also working to train specialist prosecutors to handle forestry-related cases, and is investing resources in curbing illegal logging at the source.

The TFS manager was, however, quick to point out that these illicit practices cannot be stopped through government efforts alone. He called on other stakeholders to work with the establishment to reign in the illegal timber trade.

Echoing Aloo’s sentiments, University of Dar es Salaam lecturer and WWF Natural Resources Advisor Dr George Jambiya called for greater transparency in managing forestry resources and asked that the private sector gets more involved in these efforts.

TNRF executive director, Ms Esther Yamat, said the five-year Mama Misitu campaign came out of a pilot program designed to explore the illegal logging phenomenon in the country.

According to Yamat, the pilot identified several issues working against any attempts to control logging, among them poverty and corruption. It’s a situation that has made it difficult to stop the trade in illicit timber.

In hear inaugural speech for the Mama Misitu campaign, the Regional Commissioner for The Coast Mwantumu Mahiza said overexploitation is threatening the survival of Tanzania’s forests, and endangering the country’s development prospects.

She emphasized the need for Tanzanians to understand that they not only have rights, but also the obligation to manage their forestry resources in a manner that is sustainable.

Source: The Citizen

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