The huge cloud of dust that rose high behind our vehicle as we sped to Dodoma from Iringa, the gray throny shrubs that covered both sides of the road and rivers that had dried up were all indesputed signs of that the dry season had long begun, and usually early.
A good part of the area that we had passed was covered by gray grass and short trees, in some places, that had pale gree leaves. They would soon turn yellow and leave the trees naked.
However, as we approached the Nyang’olo hills and their untampered forest, a heavy cloud hang above us. It seemed odd that after driving through many kilometres of dust, caked earth and a clear blue sky, we should now be seing signs of rain.
And, sure enough, it did rain but not before we weaved our way into the forest which had yet to suffered from human activity save for the road that meandered through the mountains. It reminded me what I had read in one publication about the importance of forests. ’When you cut trees you chase away rainfall,’ so read part of the publication. The importance of forests cannot be overemphasized.
Forests support the environmentin various ways and their benefits to the world are countless. People depend on forests for survival - for food, water, medicine, and raw materials. Forests also control soil erosion, provide habitats to wildlife,control pollution and regulate international temperatures. Many essential products for human consumption are also sourced from the forests.
Despite the many values, forests are disappearing from the face of earth at an alarming rate. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) global rate of forest deforestation is estimated to be about 36 football fields every minute.
Records indicate that the annual rate of deforestation for Tanzania stands at about 370,000 hectares. Forests cannot survive while deforestation lives. There are also other pressures on forests and indeed on the environment in general.
In recent years, forests have increasingly been reduced and degraded by expansion of farmland due to rampant deforestation. Illegal logging, expansion of agriculture and establishment of new human settlements have all compound the problem of deforestation.
In order to contribute to efforts to address the situation, the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum through its Mama Misitu Campaign (MMC) has been working with the media to promote good forest governance for sustainable development in Tanzania. Mama Misitu Campaign is a communications initiative that aims to improve the governance of Tanzania's forestry, by reducing illegal forest harvesting so that communities and other stakeholders can increasingly benefit from sustainably managed forests.
Its underlying objectives include generating a public debate on the need for improved forest governance, lobbying for central government, regional and district governments support in improving forest governance and combating forest crime as well as calling for law enforcement agencies to scale up their commitment to protect forests.
The campaign also seeks to empower forest-adjacent communitiesso that they can effectively manage forests resources, demand their rights to equitably share benefits from forest resources and fulfil their obligation to combating forest crime.
Besides raising awareness of the benefits of conserving forests among communities and other stakeholders, the media has also sought to raise transparency and accountability among authorities in the management of forests. The media has also made substantial contributions in combating forest crime as well as helping forest-adjacent communitiestoequitably benefit from the resources.
Emphasizing the role of the media in conserving forests, the Acting Manager for Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS) Eastern Zone, BernadethaKadala said that the public needs information in order to participate in conservation of forests and the environment in general. “Information is the most important pillar in conservation of forests. The public wants to know why they should conserve and protect forests and what benefits they stand to gain.
When people know and understand issues, they are likely to change their mind-set about how to manage resources so that they may continue to benefit now and in future,” she told a group of journalists who had paid her a courtesy call. The team of journalists were participating in a training workshop on forestry issues and the visit to TFS Zonal Office was meant to enlighten participants on the agency’s activities. Specifically the training sought to update journalistson developments in the forestry sector so as to increase their knowledge of forestry issues.This would eventually build their capacity to contribute better to conservation of forests.
If the media is to play its role as the driver of forest conservation, then journalists must have ample knowledge on various issues. Key among them is the Forest Policy which is currently under review. Among other things, a policy must respond to current situations of the various beneficiaries of forests. It must also address the needs of communities living adjacent to forests, the needs of traders of forest products and those of government at various levels.
Policy must also enhance sustainability of resources and benefits, ensuring that resources continue to provide services while users conserve and protect the same for current and future use.
It is important for the media to know current and new developments in the forestry sector so that they can influence the on-going policy review. The National Forest Policy, 1998 is now under review following a draft forest policy which has been in circulation since 2014 in order to get views of stakeholders. The proposed changes aim to address the shortcomings in the existing policy so that the new one may respond to the needs of stakeholders in terms of promoting conservation of forests. The changes are also geared at providing a sustainable flow of benefits from forest resources that are equitably shared among government, communities, businessmen and other stakeholders.
“It is important for journalists to understand that the on-going review of the forest policy seeks to make changes for better management and value addition of forests. The ultimate aim is to increase sustainable benefits that are equitably shared among stakeholders,” said Bettie Luwuge from Tanzania Forest Conservation Group. Policy changes also seek to identify and address drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. It also calls for authorities to embark on evidence and data based planning as a way of making investments in forests.
“Information on the intended policy changes must reach the public so that they can not only understand what is happening in the forest sector but they can also give their opinions. The media can play a very important role in ensuring that the information spreads far and wide,” she explained.
In Soga village of Kibaha district the youth are aware of the importance of conserving Ruvu North Forest and take a leading role in protecting it from illegal harvesting, thanks to efforts by Mama Misitu Campaign and the media.Subira Juma, who has led youths from six villages that are adjacent to South Ruvu Forest to conserve and protect the forest, explains that the communities have acquired more that forestry knowledge.
“We are now more educated on conservation that we were before the Mama Misitu Campaign began and our awareness about conservation of the environment is high. We have written our own by-laws to protect the forest and we have also been trained on land use planning. Our leaders have become more responsible because people always demand to know what they are doing about protecting the forest. However we are yet to get direct benefits from the forest now but we know how we will benefit in future,” he said.
Emmanuel Msoffe from the Forestry and Beekeeping Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism commended the partnership between MMC and the media in striving to give the public information and knowledge on various issues of forestry. However he urged journalists to improve their work by ensuring that the information they disseminate is grounded on facts and data so as to make it easy for the public to understand.
“It is not enough just to give people information; the information must be true, easy to understand and should be verifiable. You have to present facts and use data in context so as to clear any doubts among your audience,” he said.
He called upon journalists to sustain their knowledge on forestry through reading various publications and consulting different experts.
“There is a lot of information generated in the forest sector and you have to keep abreast with this flow of information in order to keep the public informed. Make sure you have substantial knowledge of laws, rules and regulations governing the forest sector and find time to consult experts in the field. This will help you to make a significant contribution to conservation of forests and ensuring equitable sharing of sustainable benefits,” he said.