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2009-02-25 | News

Help the villagers save Tanzania’s forests

EfD Tanzania Pressrelease 2009-02-20

The Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, recently underscored the need for people living around forest reserves to be empowered with forest management skills. Researchers at Environment for Development Tanzania (EfDT), an initiative based at the Department of Economics at the University of Dar es Salaam, have identified a number of critical areas that will help both to protect Tanzania’s forests and the livelihoods of those villagers living close to the forests.

In a recent Swedish Sida-funded research project, Dr Razack Lokina, coordinator of EfDT, and Dr Elizabeth Robinson, an Associate Fellow, suggest that there are three critical and interlinked issues: how to fully realise the benefits of Tanzania’s forests; how to share those benefits equitably among the nearby and countrywide residents; and how to enforce rules and regulations to protect the forest resources.

“Managing Tanzania’s forests is complex. Many of Tanzania’s forests are biodiversity hotspots, valued by the international community; other forests provide critical ecosystem services such as the provision of water supplies for distant cities”, says Dr Lokina.

Yet villagers living near to these forests often realise few of the benefits but bear most of the costs. The introduction of improved forest management approaches such as participatory forest management has left many nearby villagers feeling worse off.

“Although they understand the importance of protecting the forests, better forest management has sometimes resulted in villagers having reduced access to important forest resources such as fuelwood, and forest fruits, vegetables, and medicine”, says Dr Robinson.

In many cases the villagers are asked to bear the costs of protecting the forests voluntarily, with no funds provided for enforcement activities. Moreover, even if one particular forest is well protected, nearby less-protected forests may become more degraded if villagers simply start using these forests instead.

Dr Lokina and Dr Robinson suggest a number of steps that can result in better-managed forests and improved livelihoods for those living near to the forests. Villagers living near to forests are more likely to observe the rules and regulations governing forest management in Tanzania if forest protection is directly linked to household benefits. Bee keeping and butterfly farming, which have already been introduced into a small number of protected forests, provide an incentive for villagers to protect the forest, but typically only benefit a smaller number of households.

“Taking a landscape approach rather than considering forests individually, and allowing households to continue to collect important forest resources, even from protected forests, would provide benefits to many villagers, particularly the poorest households, and reduce the likelihood that villagers simply switch from more to less protected forests”, says Dr Robinson.

One approach is to introduce buffer zones where regulated collection of forest products is permitted, often with little ecological cost. International and regional mechanisms such as the “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) and “Payment for Environmental Services” (PES) offer considerable scope for realizing significant income from forests. But even if these benefits are realised, just as important is how the benefits are shared. For example, to what extent should nearby villagers be compensated for reduced access to forests; how will benefits be distributed among village households; and what proportion of the funds should be used for enforcement activities.

“Appropriately funded enforcement activities are critical. Community involvement in forest management does not automatically ensure that forests will be protected through voluntary restrictions. Even if villagers understand the benefits of less-degraded forests for environmental services such as biodiversity and watershed protection, local communities have immediate needs for fuelwood and other forest resources, and more distant households have few incentives to voluntarily restrict their use of the forests”, says Dr Lokina.

Forest management is more likely to be successful in the long term if village enforcement efforts are compensated through external enforcement budgets. The sale of permits to collect forest products and the collection of fine revenue can supplement these budgets and so improve the credibility and long-term sustainability of forest management. Finally, if enforcement funding is made transparent, by making formal written records of illegal activities and collected fines mandatory, monitoring can be improved and elite capture reduced.

For more information, please contact Dr Razack Lokina
mobile phone +255 (0)784 57 43 69

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