A seven-month investigation conducted in various parts of the country has revealed massive forest degradation with dire consequences for the nation.
Journalists from this newspaper have accompanied teams of forest stakeholders to witness wanton destruction of forest reserves while relevant authorities look on.
The district councils and forest departments have blamed their inaction on inadequate budget, shortage of staff and equipments to effectively and efficiently execute their duties including conducting patrols to curb illegal activities.
As authorities rightly or wrongly blame inadequate budgets, the forests which sustain life, come under the electric chain-saws, infamous for denuding large areas of tree cover in a short time.
On 15 May, this year, The Guardian team camped at Ngumburuni forest reserve in Rufiji District, Coast Region for several weeks, where a syndicate of business tycoons, protected by compromised local officials, including the police openly conducted illegal logging.
Further survey in the forest which occupies more than 5,100 hectares revealed massive deforestation, with marks of tyres of the vehicles used to ferry the logs, usually at night, according to the villagers.
The forest boasts several rare animals, various tree species suitable for construction and rivers which are sadly drying up now.
Villagers exude a sense of despair, when they say that even when they report or arrest illegal loggers, there are usually no legal measures taken against them.
On a similar trip to Mamiwa Forest Reserve in Kilosa District, Morogoro Region in October this year, The Guardian team found hundreds of illegal miners, farmers, and loggers had invaded the largest block in the Ukaguru Mountains, threatening the existence of the only water source for two districts in Morogoro Region.
Indeed researchers and foresters have warned that the rate at which the 14,000-hectare forest is being mowed down, its life span and the rare fauna found in it would be eliminated within the next ten years.
Yet the forest is home to a number of endangered mammals and bird species such as the elephant and the Rubeho warbler among many other rare species.
Here too illegal loggers, farmers engaged in activities which spelt destruction of the forest, while hundreds of small scale miners polluted River Jakulu, which originates from the forest and supplies water to several villages in Kilosa and Gairo districts.
Most recently the team visited Mang’aliza forest reserve in Mpwapwa District, Dodoma Region where a group of farmers and livestock keepers have invaded, growing maize, potatoes, beans and grazing their cattle, threatening the source of water for six villages in the district.
These are but a small sample of the large forest reserves scattered in various parts of the country which our team has been able to reach. If the activities witnessed in them extend to all the others, the nation will need to act fast to avoid further disaster.
For the impact of the destruction is already evident in worsening climate impacts.
We have been assured by Dr Felician Kilahama who is the Director of Forestry and Beekeeping division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism that Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) has enough budget resources to tackle the problem.
We commend government officials, such as the Mpwapwa DC who has made it one of his priorities to save Mang’aliza forest reserve. Surely the others so affected should do the same.