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The millionaires made from forests

16th November 2012
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  Visit Nainokwe village in Kilwa District and the impression you get is that that Kilwa District Council has favoured the residents here by building for them a good office for village government and the house of the village executive officer. You would also think that the Council has special interest in this village because their primary school has enough classrooms and no pupil sits on the floor during classes; every pupil sits on a desk even if it means three pupils sharing one desků
The water supply tank erected by Kikole village government

But it is a completely different story. All these buildings- the village government office, the house of the village executive officer and some of the classrooms are built from the villagers’ efforts in conserving forests and harvesting sustainably.

More importantly, the development reflects the degree of the community’s ability to plan and manage natural resources and how to set priorities in spending the money which they earn from conserving forests.

“We are slowly moving away from depending on government for provision of social services to our community. We are getting substantial income from Kijawa, the 8,000 hectare forest which the village is managing, and we use the income to solve our problems,” explained Yasin Salama Chanja the Deputy Village Chairman.

He was speaking to members of the Journalists Environmental Association (JET) who were in Kilwa District on to get first and information on conservation of forests, collection of revenue from sale of forest products and how communities benefit from conservation of forest.

The field trip was part implementation of Mama Misitu Campaign which seeks to promote good forest governance in Tanzania.

Chanja told the journalists that with funds accruing from the sale of products the village has been able to construct a building which houses the office of the village government and the office of the village executive officer. “We have also built the house of the of the village executive officer for 7m/-,” he says proudly.

But that is not all. “We have also built some classrooms and no pupil at the village primary school sits on the floor; they all sit on desks,” he adds.

Looking at a few years back, no one could dream of such success even in communities who are surrounded by abundant natural resources like Nainokwe.

However, now villagers are aware of the importance of forest and have become willing to conserve because they enjoy the benefits resulting from conservation.

Moreover, they now play an important role in managing the forest including deciding what should be harvested and what should not be harvested as well as planning for future use available resources.

Under these new developments, the district council has slowly withdrawn making decisions for village governments, leaving them to set their priorities and set strategies to reach such targets.
“The village council decides how we should spend the money we get from sale of forest products and other sources.

Initially we did not have the capacity to make such decisions and had to seek guidance from Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) and the District Council. Now we are better off, and we have been able to convince the district council to take only five percent of our earnings.

The remaining 95 percent remains in the village- 45 percent for the village government and 50 percent for the environment committee,” explains Abdallah Said Kigomba, the village executive officer.

Surely, Nainokwe villagers are happy with the benefits they get from trees because they can now solve some of their common problems. But do villagers enjoy individual benefits from conserving and protecting forests? “We have been harvesting this forest for only two years and there are many people in this village in relation to the income we get.

There are 117 families here with a total of 540. So we decided to address common priorities first. However we have paid health insurance cover for 22 old people so that they can get free medical treatment.

We are also providing lunch to primary school pupils. We will do more for individuals as our financial situation improves,” explains Kigomba. He told the journalists this year the village has earned 13m/- and the prospects are high as buyers for price wood like mpingo (blackwood) are likely to increase.

One of the villagers, Mohamed Said, told the villagers that although the village was slowly taking full control of managing their forests, they are confronted with many challenges some of which might degrade the forest and affect the quality of wood.

 “There are hunters who come as far away as Dar es Slaam and conduct their activities in our forest without our knowledge and permission. Some of them are responsible for starting bushfires that they cannot control and these destroy our forest,” he explained, adding that plans are underway to discuss the matter with the district council so the village government should be responsible for issuing hunting permits.

“This will help us to know who is hunting in our forest and so hold them responsible if fire breaks out.” According to the village by-laws a person who is found guilty of starting wild fires is fined 50,000/- while those found cutting trees in the forest and roaming aimlessly are fined 20,000/- respectively.

Nainoke’s neighbor, Kikole, has a smaller forest, Kikole forest, which covers only 450 hectares. Their income  is small too. For example, last year they only got 2m/- but the potential to make more money is great. However they have also spent some money to improve social services while individuals are ye to enjoy any benefits.

“With the money we got last year, we are building a house for the matron of the village dispensary. We have also rehabilitated the village water supply system by buying and installing a new tank and laying new supply and distribution pipes,” explains Hassan Mlilima, the village environmental committee chairman. 

 Since the village started managing the forest in 2008,  it has realized significant income from forest products. While formerly they could get hardly 5,000/from one log of wood harvested from the forest, the amount has now risen to between 160,000 and 200,000/-.

“We have been managing the forest for only about four years but we have been able to institute orderly harvesting of resources which has led to a significant increase in income.

Formerly there was only wanton destruction of the forest with almost no income realized,” explains Pili Mneka, member of the village environment committee. She told JET members that the village government has set aside 300 hectares for the REDD programme, “but this programme is still in the preparation stage”.

 MCDI has been in the forefront in helping villages in Kilwa district to conserve forests and realize the fruits of their work. It has also helped build the capacity of villages to establish harvesting plans that consider the sustainability of resources and as well as help village governments manage their funds.

Speaking to journalists during their visit in Kilwa District, the organisation’s CEO Jasper Makalla explained that many villages in Kilwa districts have now realized the importance of conserving forests because they can see the benefits.

“Nanjilinji village, for example, has earned 30m/- in just two months of September and October this year. For people who used to earn almost nothing from natural resources which they conserve, this is indeed a big develop.

Now they are only too willing to protect their forests and embark on orderly harvesting while increasing their income,” Makalla told the journalists.

According to the CEO, the organization helps villages to demarcate their forests and obtain legal rights. The villagers also get training in planning the use of forests in terms of which areas to should be harvested and which should be left intact for future use.

Speaking about sustainability of the forests, Makalla explained that planting is not done in the forests but trees are left to regenerate. “Tree counting is done in the forest and three categories are set- green red and blue. Only trees in the blue and green category are harvested; this gives room for trees in the  red category grow to maturity.”

“We also link them to markets. It would be useless if people have abundant riches in terms of forest protects that cannot bring them money. We also help them to maintain their financial books and advise them how to spend their money; in this case we suggest that they start with improving social services to raise their wellbeing. The target is to make these villages become independent and run their affairs in a manner they deem fit,” said Makalla.

  Yet the success that villages have recorded in conservation and earning substantial incomes may lead to strained relations within the communities.

“More incomes realized by villages are likely to breed conflicts and mistrust. When there is much money villagers become suspicious of their leaders and think that they are misappropriating the funds. To address this problem we insist that village governments become transparent in all financial matters by providing village council meetings with clear reports on income and expenditure,” the CEO said.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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