Let`s forge strong alliance towards forest management
This week GERALD KITABU interviewed the Project Manager for the Forest Justice in Tanzania Initiative, Elinasi Monga, on forest resources. Excerpts:
QUESTION: What does the Forest Justice in Tanzania Initiative stand for?
ANSWER: This is a partnership initiative between Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) and the Community Forest Conservation Network of Tanzania, known as MJUMITA. I have been working with TFCG for two months now.
Q: What exactly are you doing with regard to forest resources?
A: Tanzania has some important forests, particularly the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal forests. These forests are internationally recognised as being biodiversity hotspots and are also the source of some of the water and hydro-power that drive Tanzania’s economy. Yet, sadly these forests are being destroyed and we are losing our natural heritage and damaging the ecosystem that we depend on.
TFCG is trying to find solutions to the problems that cause such widespread deforestation and thereby safeguard our natural heritage for future generations. TFCG works directly with 160 villages in 14 districts around 180,000 ha of high biodiversity forests. In these villages we build communities’ capacity to manage forests, support more sustainable livelihood options, raise awareness on forest conservation issues and promote better governance. TFCG also operates at national level to raise awareness about Tanzania’s forests and to promote improved governance in the forestry sector.
Q: How is MJUMITA involved in forest resource management?
A: MJUMITA is a network of community groups involved in participatory forest management in Tanzania. The network provides a forum for capacity building, advocacy and communication for these groups. MJUMITA was initially supported by TFCG starting from 2000 and became an independent NGO in 2007.
It was established originally in response to the need for a forum for communities to share experiences with regard to participatory forest management and engage in dialogue with the Forestry and Beekeeping Division on ways to address policy, legal and implementation issues in relation to Participatory Forest Management (PFM). MJUMITA currently has 80 affiliated local area networks, which are made up of Village Natural Resource Committees (VNRC) and Environmental User Groups. MJUMITA operates in 13 regions, 23 districts and 420 villages with a total membership of 6,000.
Q: How do you involve the community groups?
A: Most of MJUMITA and TFCG projects are the result of issues raised by community members during the MJUMITA Annual General meetings. For example, with the Forest Justice in Tanzania Initiative, poor forest governance and deforestation were issues raised by MJUMITA members. The project is also working closely with community members around the country to monitor forest governance in their areas and to take action to address governance shortfalls that affect their forests.
Q: Climate change is an issue today, how is your initiative trying to address it?
A: Currently TFCG has around 12 projects in the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests. Our recent project is the Forest Justice in Tanzania Initiative. TFCG is also leading the largest of the civil society REDD piloting projects which is being funded by Norway.
This is a five-year project and is being implemented in Kilosa and Lindi Rural districts. Through this project, TFCG and MJUMITA are finding ways to link communities with international carbon financing. Firstly we need to assist communities to reduce the rates of deforestation on their land by improving agriculture, establishing Participatory Forest Management and carrying out land use planning. We are also assisting them to calculate and market the carbon credits thereby generating longer term incentives to manage their forests sustainably. It’s the first project of its kind in Africa.
The Forest Justice in Tanzania Initiative aims to generate effective and sustained citizen demand for improved forest management and governance; as well as encouraging government leaders at all levels to support effective forest management.
This initiative is a wake-up call to the fact that Tanzania’s forests are draining away down the plug holes of corruption and mismanagement. Once they are gone they are lost forever and Tanzania has lost an irreplaceable asset. Pugu Forest on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam is a good example of this. This forest has several species found nowhere else on earth but it is almost completely destroyed now and unless action is taken to manage it properly we are going to lose it completely.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: The challenges are many. Tanzania is one of the countries in Africa that is being commended for having in place good policies and laws but we are facing a challenge of not implementing them; they are just in papers and that’s why there is a big gap between what is written in the policy paper and what is actually happening on the ground.
Some top officials intentionally undermine the proper implementation of policies and laws to suit their own purposes.
There is a need to bring about a change in the way the government manages the forests. We should move away from the short-term thinking that has resulted in the forests being seen as cash machines and increase investment and enforce the law for the future generation. Ordinary citizens should be given voice to press the government do its job.
Q: If that is the case what should be done?
A: The government should implement forest policy and laws for the Tanzanians to benefit from their forest resources and to take action against those who seek to break or undermine the laws.
Q: Being an expert in the forest area, what is your advice?
A: The government and other stakeholders should work together to improve forests for the benefits of the majority Tanzanians.