By Sylivester Ernest The Citizen Reporter
Kilwa. Tanzania is no doubt a country blessed with a lot of natural resources that make it arguably a “rich” country whose citizens would have been better off had these endowments been properly managed.
Available in Tanzania are water bodies of different kinds, forests that are home to different precious trees, arable lands capable of producing diverse harvests, minerals that include natural gas, gold, diamonds, coal, iron ore, uranium, nickel, chrome, tin, platinum and niobium. The recently discovered precious resources such as oil make Tanzania a wealthy country.
However, questions have been asked about whether these resources, which are rare in many other countries, benefit the people.
There have been clashes between the authorities and residents, especially those in villages surrounding areas with natural resources.
These standoffs have at times led to deaths. Sometimes residents entering game reserves have been shot at by game warders for illegal entry. Generally, there has been a problem of mismanagement of the resources, especially in forests, forcing different agencies to intervene.
The aim of the agencies has been to improve the transparency and accountability in the forestry sector and reduce the illegal harvesting of precious Tanzanian timber.
Most of them seek to improve governance and accountability in Tanzania’s natural resource sector so as to achieve more sustainable revenues, improve rural livelihoods and better conservation outcomes. This is because over the years authorities and environmental activists have emphasized on the importance of forest conservation. But they have said little about the benefits of these resources to residents of villages surrounding these endowments.
In the end such a situation has always not been good since surrounding residents feel left behind with district authorities most times blamed for taking a large chunk of the revenues.
About 90 kilometres East of Kilwa Masoko, the headquarters of Kilwa District in Lindi Region sits a small village of Nainokwe. The village which is isolated has an interesting story as far as forest governance is concerned. Nainokwe, a village of 540 residents and 117 households boasts 8,000 hectares of forest reserve which is gifted with all kinds of trees and different animals like antelopes, elephants, tigers and buffaloes, among others. A few years ago, the village sold 16,000 hectares of forest to pave the way for school classes, a village office, and a doctor’s house.
To Nainokwe villagers, Kijawa Forest Reserve means life. In recognition of this fact, different measures have been put in place to make sure the forest reserve is conserved to the point that it is used to generate income and becomes an inheritance for future generations.
Millions of shillings are collected every year from forest harvests where 50 per cent goes to the village office, 45 per cent to the natural resources committee with the remaining five per cent handed over to the district council. For Nainokwe Village, a 50 per cent share that it gets has made a visible difference to the area that has made everyone concerned proud. The ownership of the forest by the community is felt by every villager thus the obligation to conserve it.
Last year (2011), for instance, over Sh13 millions was received. From the revenues and those from the preceding years, the village has managed to construct classrooms at the village’s primary school, a house for the village executive officer (VEO) which cost Sh7 million and the village office. More interestingly, 22 elders aged above 60 and the disabled have been signed up for health insurance.
There are also times when the village buys food for school children, a move that has improved class attendance. Generally, the use of the money is determined by the village assembly after an analysis of various needs. A team from the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) who paid a visit to the village learnt a lesson or two, and were full of praise to the residents over how they have managed to put mechanisms for the management of the forest. They hailed the villagers who seemed to have the knowledge on how to conserve the forest.
“This is a clear example of how forests can benefit the surrounding communities…other villages with this kind of forests should learn from Nainokwe,” says Deodatus Mfugale, a senior journalist and former chairman of JET. “For us, this forest is everything, and so mismanaging it is equal to self-suicide…it is obvious that we have to protect it,” says Abdallah Said Kigomba, the acting village chairman.
He said there used to be a problem of untimely bush fires mostly started by small farmers and charcoal burners. However, through by-laws and patrols carried out by members of the village’s natural resources committee has finally been controlled.
The by-laws, according to a member of the village council, Mohamed Suleiman, requires everyone who wants to harvest forest products to seek permission from the natural resources committee. The committee then discusses with other village leaders before permission is granted.
“There have been cases where hunters come here with some documents from the district level…they come and hunt without even consulting us...this is a problem but we have been discussing it with the authorities and hope things will change in the future,” Mr Suleiman says.
Members of the natural resources committee say they have just been playing an organisational role but insist that all villagers must take part in making sure the forest is secure.
“The 45 per cent share we get from the revenues collected from forest harvests is used for buying bicycles that help us in carrying out patrols…the money is also used for buying stationeries, ensuring cleanliness around the forest border to avoid bush fires, buying uniforms for and paying allowances to those who carry out security patrols,” says Abdallah Hussein Mpuru, a member of the natural resources committee.
While other villages in Kilwa District like Kole, Nambondo, Liwiti and Likawage have had to endure a difficult time to resolve border rows between one another, the story is different in Nainokwe.
Nainokwe, which borders Liwiti in the East, Likawage in the South, Zinga Kibaoni in the West and Migeregere in the North discussed with their neighbours before marking the forest borders. However, behind these successes, there is an organisation that plays a big part in helping the village realise the benefits of being surrounded by a forest reserve.
The Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI), is an organisation which aims to collaborate with villages to conserve endangered forests. It promotes sustainable and socially equitable harvesting of the in-demand mpingo and other valuable timber stocks. It has been very instrumental in ensuring the village not only conserves the forests but also sees the benefit of doing so.
George Mpakamwa and Mohamed Kitone were full of praise for the organisation over how it has managed to build capacity and provide technical support especially on money accounting, record keeping, project planning and also creating a market for their forest products.
“These people (MCDI) have helped us a lot…as we speak now, we are able to do most of the things as far as forest conservation and money management are concerned…they have trained us and everyone here has a certificate,” says Mr Mpakamwa at the meeting held in the village office.
Mr Kitone says knowing that the MCDI might not be there throughout; the village is planning to use part of the money to send one of the educated villagers to be trained more on record-keeping, technology and finance management so that everything is done professionally.
MCDI chief executive officer Jasper Makala says villagers were now aware of the benefits they could get from the forest. This has given them motivation and the need to conserve the surrounding forests to get more benefits. “Through our special programme called Participatory Forest Management (PFM), we have been doing a lot so that people feel the ownership of the natural resources that surround them…but our role is to help the villagers to identify the village with forests, give them with capacity to harvest sustainably, teach them forest management skills and also search for customers for their products,” Mr Makala says.
Alongside MCDI, there are other local partners like the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) which also works to promote better forest governance by highlighting the issues especially in the rural for everyone to see and take actions.
MCDI works at a district level as a partner in a project known as Mama Misitu. The project aims at building public, private and non-governmental partnerships and networks related to sustainable use of forests and timber products. It also aims at promoting participatory forest management processes through the campaign, so that communities can increase their rights over their land and forests and strengthen their capacity to sustainably manage their forests. Currently, Mama Misitu works in eight districts in a project that will run for five years (2012 – 2016).
Throughout this programme, there will also be a focus on national level engagement, where Mama Misitu hopes to raise public awareness on the value of forests and their sustainable management to the nation.