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How logs smugglers threaten Tanzania`s forests

18th November 2012
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On May 16 this year, Juma Salum Makumbusho from Umwe Kusini village, Rufiji district, Coastal region saw a lorry-load of some 100 logs harvested from the Ngumburuni forest, few kilometres from Dar es Salaam along Lindi highway.

The lorry was initially headed for Ikwiriri at a rather questionable hour around 22:00 hours, but since there had been ugly skirmishes between farmers and itinerant cattle herders earlier the same day during which one person died and several others injured -- the businessmen opted to unload and hide the logs at Mgomba area along the Ikwiriri-Dar es Salaam Road.

Juma says the logs, mainly from indigenous tree species such as mkuruti (Baphia Kirkii), have a ready market in Asian countries such as China which imports huge consignments to feed its furniture and construction sectors.

According to Juma and other villagers from Muyuyu, Ruaruke, Mangwi, Mkupuka, Umwe Kasikazini, Umwe Kati, and Umwe Kusini communities, the logs are ferried through illegal or ‘panya’ routes – facilitated by an elaborate network of local leaders and the police, who often pretend to be ‘inspecting’ vehicles for stolen logs when in fact facilitating illegal loggers to pass through undisturbed.

The villagers say there are at least three log and timber processing factories in different places within Ikwiriri Division, Rufiji district; much of the processing takes place at Ikwriri before the logs are transported to Dar es Salaam for eventual export – under police escort, the villagers claim.

Over two years ago the government created Tanzania forest service (July 2010), an Agency tasked to oversee forests management in the country carved out of the former forestry and beekeeping division—many people expected immediate miracles in the form of an improved forest management strategy away from the red-tape of central government. But things are worsening -- several forests reserves across the country continue succumbing to massive degradation.

Government thinking at the time led many to believe that mere shifting of powers would ultimately lead to effective and efficient management of the country’s forest resource which serve as the ‘lungs’ of planet earth. As things now stand, it was a case of ‘easier said than done’ if recent events hold.

A spot investigation by this newspaper over the past seven months reveals massive forest degradation across the nation; when you ask relevant authorities they are quick on excuses lack of information, inadequate funding, shortage of staff and working tools to effectively execute their duties including carrying out routine patrols despite evidence to the contrary. We outline hereunder some select examples:

Ngumburuni forest reserve in Rufiji district, Coast region.

On 15 May this year, the Guardian camped at Ngumburuni forest reserve in Rufiji district, coast region for several weeks and interviewed several villagers and leaders living near the forest reserve – all of whom reported the existence of a “syndicate” of illegal logging activities made up of business tycoons and the village governments.

Further spot surveys in the forest which occupies more than 5,100 hectares revealed massive deforestation —scarred by deep-rutted vehicle tyre marks of the vehicles used to ferry the logs. The villagers said the logs are ferried at night.

According to the villagers and leaders, the syndicates are operating with the full— and tacit—backing of some few unfaithful district officials in the department of forestry and the police.

The forest boasts several rare animals, various tree species suitable for construction and rivers which are now under threat of drying up.

Saidi Abdulla Likwata, Chairman of Muyuyu village located near the forest, said the villagers often see vehicles loaded with logs mostly at night and they believe such vehicles belong to business tycoons; and when they report matters to the district authorities who never take action the villagers conclude the obvious: “the officials could be colluding with the illegal loggers.”

Even when they arrest illegal loggers, no legal measures taken against them quite usual occurrences, they allege. Sometimes the district officials or policemen would come and take away the suspects but nothing happens thereafter. “Failure to act on our reports discourages villagers and our patrol teams … the illegal loggers threaten to kill our guards who usually carry inferior weapons,” he said.

For her part, Amina Ali Mapande, Special Seats Councillor for Kikale division, said the pace at which the forest is being depleted is shocking, warning it could soon disappear if the situation is left to continue.

She cited an incidence that occurred sometime in 2006 and 2007, the villagers impounded a vehicle ferrying illegally harvested logs and informed the police, who took away the suspect, pretended to interrogate him, then set him free. The villagers were not given any feedback on what had happened.

She also said efforts by the villagers to set up entrance gates had not helped matters because the tycoons would simply open up new “panya routes” through which to ferry the logs.

“We fail because we don’t have the weapons and communications equipment…. Even when we arrest them no support comes from the district authorities,” she complained.

She also observed a change in the rain patterns; in the past the rains used to start in October, but in recent years, they start in January and sometimes February.

Suleiman Mfaume who is Ruaruke A, village chairman, said apart from increased illegal loggers, charcoal makers have also invaded the forest in large numbers due to lack of alternative source of income among many people.

Other villagers  Jumanne Kwangaya and Juma Mkwanywe who are leaders and members of Community Forest Conservation Network of Tanzania, (MJUMITA) in the area  said there was need for the government in collaboration with non-governmental organizations to launch small income-generating projects among the surrounding communities to rescue the dwindling forest reserves.

When contacted for comment, Rufiji District Forest Officer Gaudence Tarimo said he was not a spokesperson on the matter, adding that clarification could only be sought from District Executive Director (DED) Nassoro Mwingira.

When contacted via his personal mobile phone, the DED kept ‘excusing’ himself -- for several days -- that he was in meetings.

However, Mwantumu Mahiza, the Coast Regional Commissioner said she was not aware of the problem, urging the villagers and the village leaders to put in writing all the allegations including names of district officials who are alleged to have colluded with the tycoons -- and forward them to her for further measures.

“I don’t know anything about the issue … you’re telling me now. I urge the villagers and their leaders to come to my office with evidence … and I will take legal action,” she said.

Panya` routes used to ferry logs at night

A village leaders who preferred anonymity said the six routes were only few as there were many roads because of an intricate network, which involved district officials and the police. He explained that police men were being paid up to 70,000/- per vehicle to cover up the scam and allow the vehicle to ferry the illegal logs to market points.

Umwe Kaskazini Village Chairman Shamte Mmipi said: “We know them by name… they come poor, now they are very rich. If the government does not remove them, curbing illegal logging will remain a dream,” he said.

When sought for comments, Rufiji District Executive Director (DED) Nassoro Mwingira was not in his office – yet again – while his secretary repeated an oft-used alibi – saying his boss was at a meeting with councillors.

Mamiwa forest reserve in Kilosa district, Morogoro region

On 22 October 2012, The Guardian moved from Ngumburuni forest reserve in Rufiji district, Coast region to Mamiwa forest reserve in Kilosa district, Morogoro region – where hundreds of illegal miners, farmers, and loggers had invaded the largest block in the Ukaguru Mountains (Mamiwa), threatening the existence of the only water source for two districts in Morogoro Region.

Researchers and foresters here warn that given the rate at which the 14,000-hectare forest was being mowed down, much of the life forms would be decimated within the next ten years. The forest boasts a number of endangered mammals and bird species such as elephant and the Rubeho warbler.

However, the forest is also recognized as home to newly-discovered endangered amphibian and bird species scientifically known as probreviceps durirostris and Moreau’s sunbird respectively.

The Guardian witnessed massive forest degradation perpetrated by illegal loggers, farmers, and hundreds of small scale miners on Jakulu River, which rises from the forest and supplies water to several villages in Kilosa and Gairo districts.

Nongwe Ward councillor Wilson Mziwanda said illegal loggers had taken the advantage of poor communication network to invade the forest.

“This area has never been reached by mobile phone services … so even if you see illegal loggers you cannot do anything because of poor communication network,” he said.

Kilosa District forest assistant officer Charles Kalaita, the only one guarding the reserve, blamed accelerated illegal activities on dismal funding, shortage of staff and lack of arms to conduct patrols around the area.

“I am alone here … living more than 20 kilometres from the forest reserve. No communication network and I don’t have arms. How can I effectively manage this 14,000-hectare forest? ” He wonders aloud.

A Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) researcher Justine Gwegime says an 18-day survey had since given the forest’s lifespan only ten years -- at most -- given the level of tree felling.

Gwegime who is also the Forest Condition Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for TFCG, urged the government to intervene, take deliberate and concerted efforts to reverse forest degradation.

“Destruction of the forest would not only affect animal and bird species, but would also disrupt life and economic activities of residents of Kilosa and Gairo districts and beyond,” he said.

Jackson Mbaigwa, chairman of Maholo hamlet, Masenge village, Kilosa District, explained that at one point he saw tractors ferrying illegal loggers but could not report anywhere – again because there was no way he could communicate it anywhere.

“Illegal loggers come with tractors … small-scale miners are forcing us to drink dirty water … we have tried to guard the forest but we are let down by the inferior arms we use and lack of communication,” he said.

Elkana Mziwanda, another villagers, said that women were the most affected because they are forced to walk long distances to look for clean water. Both Kilosa District Forest Officer (DFO) Sebastian Malisa and Assistant District Catchment Forest Manager Hadija Haule blamed the problem on small budget allocations.

Hilary Sagara Kilosa District Administrative Secretary -- who seemed to have little knowledge of the goings-on in the reserve – made a hoary call on those undertaking illegal activities in the area “to vacate.”

“This is the first time I’m hearing about this problem … from you. Let me use this opportunity to call upon all illegal loggers, and miners to leave the area.

I also call upon the NGO’s and stakeholders to emulate efforts taken by TFCG to support government efforts in the management of the forest,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) Chief Executive Officer Juma Mgoo acknowledges there’s a problem, saying his Agency was committed to making sure the forests were not degraded, pointing out however that the teams could not fully cover the vast forest area.

Mang’aliza forest reserve in Mpwapwa district, Dodoma region

On November 11, this year, the Guardian visited the Mang’aliza forest reserve in Mpwapwa district, Dodoma region, some 235 kilometers from Mpwapwa.

An in-depth investigation revealed that a group of farmers and livestock keepers have invaded the forest reserve growing crops such as maize, Irish potatoes, beans and grazing their cattle, threatening the existence of the nearly 5,000 hectares forest reserve which is the source of water for six villages in the district.

Further surveys into the forest also revealed burning fires and trails of several cattle footsteps in the forest and along the river which is the only source of water for the six villages of Kinusi, Idodoma, Nzugilo, Winza, Kikuyu and Mang’aliza surrounding the forest reserve.

Researchers and foresters said during random interviews that between 35 to 50 acres had been destroyed, warning it would take only three years before it is all depleted – completely – but fell short on details of how all that would come to pass.

District commissioner Christopher Kangoye had since arrested 16 people in connection with environmental degradation, thirteen of who had been handed down two-year jail terms each -- and three cases remain pending in court.

The DC has since vowed to deal with all people involved in the degradation of the forest, warning that anyone caught in “any ‘forest crime’ would end up in prison.”

Mang’aliza forest reserve is the largest patch of montane forest in the south of the plateau and forms part of the Rubeho Mountains ranges which stretches from Kilosa district, Morogoro region.

Director of forestry and beekeeping division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Dr. Felician Kilahama expressed his concern over continued degradation -- saying the Tanzania forest service (TFS) had enough money to tackle the problem.

“TFS has just started … may be they are still organizing themselves but let me say that unlike in the past when the department was allocated between 6-7 billion shillings… the budget now stands at 30 billion … a good thing in the management of forests,” he said.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY