Unsung heroes of the forests

14Mar 2017
Edward Qorro
The Guardian
Unsung heroes of the forests

SOFIA Hussein is unable to recall the date but what she suffered on that night is still etched in her memory.

The JUHIBEKO on alert, ready to comb through the Kolo hills.

The 35 year-old still remembered how she entered the thick Isabe forest in her daily routine of guarding the 4249 hectare forest against loggers and poachers only to come across her aggressors, who would in the next 48 hours take her through some horrendous ordeal.

She tried to run but ended up sliding upon a cow’s dung, leaving her landing heavily on a thicket.

“I cannot recall their number, but all I can remember seeing them heavily armed, they roughed me up and took me to an unknown destination,” she says.

Upon her abduction, the mother of six was interrogated by her assailants and was physically tortured by the poachers who had turned the Isabe forest as fortune for harvesting logs and animals.

Occasionally, her assailants would demand her to disclose the whereabouts of her other colleagues, asking them to let them freely harvest the goodies that came with the forest.

“I was not ready to open up to them and that vowed to finish me after I made my stance clear to them.”

Annoyed by her resilience, the poachers, armed with machetes and some sharp objects, decided to take Sofia to a cave where they hid her for another day without giving her neither water nor food.

All they wanted was not to see Sofia and her colleagues trailing them while they are on their missions of harvesting the forest.

Even with the horrendous ordeal she suffered at the hands of her assailants, Sofia hasn’t stopped trailing the poachers inside the two forests.

“This is our life, and we are even ready to die rather than seeing it destroyed by some irresponsible people.’’

Sofia is among the many forest scouts who put their lives at risk, volunteering to guard the forest against poachers who are mercilessly depleting, both the Isabe forest which is managed by the Kondoa District and the Salanga forest managed by the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS).

The soft spoken woman is part of a group known as the Jumuiya ya Hifadhi ya Misitu Bereko na Kolo(JUHIBEKO) which loosely translates as an inter-village forest management group working on behalf of the thirteen villages adjacent to Isabe and Salanga reserves.

Established in 2012, the group consists of 39 forest scouts and three leaders.

The rangers were picked from 13 villages in Kolo and Bereko wards as volunteers to safeguard the priceless life found inside the two forests in the Kolo hills.

The group was formed as part of Tanzania Participatory Forest Management(PFM) which is an approach involving multiple stakeholders in decision making over resources management, which is characterized by the transfer of power from central (state authority) and structures to lower levels (village authorities).

PFM can be conceived as community empowerment to manage forest resources. Central to the approach is sharing of power among the stakeholders towards predetermined common objectives at global, national, and local levels

The management represents a paradigmatic shift in natural resources governance ideology from “fortress” state-centred protectionist conservation to “inclusive” people-centred conservation approaches.

Power relation among stakeholders is a key concept for an understanding of status of collaborative approaches to natural resources management including Participatory Forest Resource Management.

According to JUHIBEKO chairperson of, Ally Hamisi Jalabai, villagers in the district were compelled to establish the group after seeing the trail of destruction left behind by the poachers in the 12,598 hectares of forest.

“The two forests were seriously depleted, rainfall became unheard of in this area while bees and other wild animals had to look for other places,” he explains.

The destructions dealt Kolo and Bereko residents a heavy blow as rain became scares compounded by severe drought.

“We couldn’t withstand the harsh reality that was slowly creeping in, we decided to form the group with the support from African Wildlife Foundation (AWF),” adds Jalabai.

“We are also grateful to the royal Norwegian government for supporting this cause.”

AWF, an international organization established to solely focus on addressing Africa’s unique conservation needs reached out to JUHIBEKO by training some of its members in becoming forest scouts.

It also provided the group with uniforms, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that not only help the scouts navigate their way through the forest, but also locate the poachers and determine the magnitude of destruction in the two forests.

Jalabai says AWF facilitated the travel expenses for some JUHIBEKO members and took them to Pasiansi Wildlife Training Institute (PWTI) in Mwanza for some training in forest scouting.

“The results have been so positive villagers now understand the importance of the forests, it is their lives.”

Bereko Village Chairperson, Khalifa Msafiri Kaita says that through JUHIBEKO and the AWF’s importance, the two forests are now slowly getting replenished after many years of destruction in the good name of earning a living.

According to Kaita, the two forests are great sources of water for Tarangire National Park and that their destructions can never be compromised.

“We have enacted some bylaws that govern the preservation of the forests, for example if someone is found grazing cattle inside the forest, he will be penalized Sh10, 000,” explains the village chairperson.

Kaita has a request to politicians in the area to stop using the two forests as a bait of attaining some political positions in the area.

“Some ward counselors have been heard deceiving some voters that once voted into office, they would allow people to come and harvest the forest, this should stop.”

Emmanuel Kasisi, an environmental officer in Kondoa district says before AWF’s intervention in the district, logging and other forms of deforestation had become an order of the day in Kondoa district.

Kasisi is now convinced that at the moment, logging and deforestation had been controlled by 80 per cent, thanks to AWF and JUHIBEKO efforts in preserving the 12,598 hectares of forest.

Detailing on REDD, AWF program officer in Kondoa district, Kimai Lendukai says the AWF launched a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) pilot project in the Kolo Hills Forests in Tanzania, with support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

The Kolo Hills REDD+ project aims to lessen the impacts of climate change by reducing emissions from land-use change, strengthening farmers’ resilience to climate change, and securing local water sources.

“This was brought on board to preserve biodiversity found in the forests amd control soil and land degradation,” he says.

Some 430 kilometers off Kondoa District, Koipapi Miiti is few minutes away from dispatching some of his junior officers to Gelai forests for a daily patrol.

The 39 year-old is a leader of Embios, another an inter-village forest management group in Ketumbeine ward, Longido district, Arusha region.

The group which consists of nine members drawn out from Elang’atadapash, Olchoronyoike and Sokon villages to guard the Ketumbeine forest which measures 12,991 hectares and Gelai Forest (2432ha)

Formed in March 2016, the group, just like JUHIBEKO safeguards the forest as part of PFM.

They too, were trained given uniforms, boots and other to protect the massive forest that overlooks Ketumbeine ward.

“Some of us have worked as militias which gives us an added advantage in protecting the forest which is our main source of life in the area,” explains Miiti.

During their patrol, Miiti says they often come across wild animals such as buffaloes, cheetahs and wild pigs, but they have never thought of bowing out.

“If we decide to leave this job then our future generation will be jeopardy and the nature will be in peril, Ketumbeine will become history,” says Miiti.

Sometimes, the nine scouts have to endure getting reined soaked by the frequent rains inside the forests while on duty.
In any case, such challenges is what keeps the group grounded, according to Miiti.

Miiti says before the intervention measures, local people in the area used to get into the forests, destroying water sources which pump fresh water into the alkaline Lake Natron.

"To us these forests play an imperative role towards saving the pristine Lake Natron, that’s why we thought it is important to come up with sustainable measures towards scaling up forest conservation."

Ketumbeine and Gelai forests plays imperative economic, social and cultural role, so the need for embracing sustainable management approaches remained important.

"These two forests are overwhelmed with a number of challenges including reckless tree felling and other human induced activities,” says Lenjikoto Kimeo, another forest scout Meirugoi village.

According to Kimeo, it is important to ensure that the forests are highly protected by involving local people who are living close to the two forests

Once poachers are arrested, they are taken to the village office for interrogation and punishments, according to the forest scout.
Peter Millanga, an AWF forest program officer in Longido district says proper land use was crucial in demarcating forest borders in view of prevent land disputes.

According Millanga, AWF had come with a number of sustainable projects in the area such as charcoal saving stoves, modern beekeeping as well as interlocking blocks for them to build modern houses as a way of preserving and conserving the two forests.

In 2008 Tanzania was selected to be amongst the countries that would be implementing the REDD+ Project in its piloting phase as a way of demonstrating how the future REDD+ would look like.

It was selected because of the existence of participatory institutional setup as well as the presence of the big tropical forest cover.

Top Stories