Speaking to journalists who visited the area last week, village leaders from Handeni with an estimated population of over 10,422 people, said they have already designated areas for village forest reserves after sensitization by CBFM experts.
The villagers have decided to embark forest conservation also to improve their livelihood, protect water sources and air quality while maintaining soil fertility for crop cultivation as deforestation, shifting cultivation, free range livestock grazing and illegal logging for charcoal making are threatening the ecosystem.
Madebe Village Chairman, Kassimu Bakari whose area is among those badly affected by deforestation said they have decided to work with CBFM after realizing that despite his village’s rich ecosystem is being vandalized to the disadvantage of the current and future generations.
“Right now there are many people entering our village forests illegally for logging due to demand for timber production, charcoal making and house construction,” Bakari said adding that the move will also help address climate change which is negatively affecting agriculture production.
“We call upon the government through the district council to help our villages fully own these forests and manage them by recognizing them as village land forest reserves,” he added while revealing that the villages have since officially written to Handeni District Executive Director to communicate their request.
Supporting the Handeni communities demand for the forest reserve, Tanzania Forest Conservation (TFCG)‘s Advocacy and Communications Officer, Revocatus Njau said they have engaged them through CBFM so that they can save 17.6 million hectares of forest cover.
Njau said approximately 80 percent of the country’s estimated 22 million hectares of village forests are not protected legally hence making them vulnerable to deforestation.”Every year, more than 469,000 hectares of forest cover are cleared in Tanzania with much of it being village forests,” he stated.
“Right now as TFCG and Mjumita we have embarked on a new campaign for forest reserves for all villages to set aside village land forest reserve within their boundaries and take full ownership and management of the areas prior to formalization,” the TFCG officer added.
He said the countrywide campaign is now taking place in the Southern Highlands, Northern Zone and Southern Zones through a two year project dubbed ‘Forest Justice in Tanzania,’ with the support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
“As TFCG we were visited at Madebe and Kang’ata villages to monitor and evaluate what has been done since engaging them through capacity building on forest management by Community Forest Conservation Network of Tanzania (Mjumita),” he noted while commending Madebe and Kang’ata villages for doing an impressive job with allocation of the village land forest reserve.
He said TFCG is also working in partnership with Handeni District Council to ensure that villages get support to save 17.6 million hectares of unreserved forest land. “To start with, TFCG will begin with two villages in the district that are not engaged in community based forest management and later on other six villages to help them conserve forest and benefit from it,” he explained.
On his part, Madebe Village Executive Officer (VEO), Hassani Mbwego thanked TFCG for sensitizing communities on the importance of conserving forests while calling on relevant government agencies and departments to back such efforts and tame illegal logging.
“As villagers we want to conserve our forests so that we can protect our water sources and farmland but also combat climate change,” Mbwego said. Madebe Village was officially established in 1976 and 6,000 residents and has allocated 2,564 hectares as designate forest reserve.
The VEO further noted that although their village is endowed with many natural forests, illegal loggers have not shared any income with the people. “We don’t get anything from it, not even a single penny as levy and that’s why we want the forest legally protected,” he stressed.
Mbwego’s arguments were backed by Kang’ata Village Chairman, Maulid Ismail who added even his village has suffered similar fate hence decision to allocate forest reserves. Nomadic farmers and pastoralists from Arusha and Manyara Regions are blamed for destruction of natural forests in Handeni District.