Why Mkuruti is in the verge of disappearing in Rufiji- PART 1

23Dec 2019
Gerald Kitabu
The Guardian
Why Mkuruti is in the verge of disappearing in Rufiji- PART 1

Mkuruti, one of the most valuable and expensive tree species in the country and that is used for construction purposes is in the verge of disappearing in Rufiji district, Coast region due to illegal logging and timber harvesting, The Guardian can reveal.

A five-month investigation into different villages in the district where Mkuruti constitute the village land forest reserves (VLFR’s) has also revealed that the auctioning of the logs that are being impounded is marred by controversial process and procedures.

The auctioning of the logs normally is done to favour illegal logs and timber harvesters and at low price instead of conducting open auction that allows competitions from diverse bidders and for better price.

In what could be described as a shocking response, Mtanzamsona village Chairman Adiona Ali Milandu said the village had no means to stop the illegal logs and timber harvesters because it is difficult to arrest them due to lack facilities.

The Guardian revealed that at times when auctioning of the illegal logs is advertized, it is the illegal loggers themselves who bids and wins the tenders. Other legible bidders do not show up.

A further follow up into this scam, it was discovered that the auctioning team tend to collude with illegal logs and timber harvested to buy the logs at low price.

For example, in one of the cases when the villagers impounded 470 logs, instead of auctioning for 52m/-, the logs were auctioned for only 42m/-. This matter irked the villagers who decided to report it to the PCCB. When reached for the comments recently, PCCB Commander for Rufiji district Gwakisa Mwaikela told The Guardian that the matter was still under investigation adding that he could not comment something which is under investigation.  

This situation has irked some villagers and conservationists who said if deliberate measures will not be taken, illegal logging will automatically compromise the ecology of the Rufiji forests and their associated river system and life altogether.

According to Prof Rodgers Malimbwi of the department of Forest Assessment and Management, College of Forestry, Wildlife and Tourism, Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) Mkuruti are useful tree plants and plays key role in the ecological functions.

He said in the past Mkuruti tree was used by some communities as medicinal plant and for firewood but with disappearance of other strong trees such as Mninga, Mkongo, and Mvule that were used for timber harvesting, Mkuruti has now emerged as the choice for logs and timber purpose. He cautioned that deliberate measures need to be taken to protect Mkuruti and the entire ecosystem.   

 Illegal logging of Mkuruti in Rufiji

In several villages and wards in Rufiji district, Mkuruti is swiftly disappearing due many factors but the main factor is illegal logging and timber harvesting.

In an interview, the Secretary of Mtanzamona village natural resource and environment committee, Hamza Moshi Nduli said the license issued for the traders have problems. Some unscrupulous businessmen tend to abuse them. He also said lack of enforcement of laws at district level has given the traders loophole to conduct unsustainable harvesting in the village land forest reserved  for their own benefits.

This problem has also been aggravated by alienating the villagers from the district harvesting committee. The selection exercise and appointment of businessmen who would be harvesters in a particular village is no longer involving the villagers. “The villagers are never involved, instead, only village chairman and the village executive Officer are invited to witness the process,” he said.

 “We only receive the names of the logs harvesters who have been approved to harvest but the villagers do not know them. So, when they enter the forest to harvest the trees, they never follow the village harvesting plan, instead, they tend to abuse the harvesting permits and invade the village land forest reserve in search for more bigger and strong trees contrary to their permits.   

As a result, during patrols, the natural resource committee has been impounding logs harvested from Mkuruti tree species and sometimes hidden in the village land forest reserve.

The village Chairman Adiona Ali Milandu confirmed that the traders tend to abuse the harvesting permits by harvesting the logs in the village land forest reserves (VLFR’s).

 “Recently, more than 470 logs were harvested illegally. We found that the businessmen had invaded village land forest reserves and harvested more logs than allowable size and number. We ferried the logs and auctioned them at 42m/-,” he said.

“Once they are given harvesting permits, they are never supervised as a result, they harvest and transport the logs and timbers during night through panya roads via Kisarawe and Kibiti main routes to Dar e salaam,” he said.

He said that the village through community based forest management (CBFM), has long-term conservation plan of the village land forest reserve but the coming of unscrupulous traders have destroyed this plan, putting at risk some crucial ecological functions of the tree species.

“Inventory was done by the district. But when we make follow up, we found that the traders are not only cutting down big trees, but also uproot young trees which are not allowed to be cut down,” he added.

Lack of proper supervision and monitoring mechanisms of the permits is another big problem. Some unfaithful traders tend to take that loophole of lack of proper supervision to cross over from the open land into the village land forest reserve to cut down trees.

The nearby village of Mwaseni-Mibuyu Saba has never been spared by deforestation. The village natural resource committee Chairman Mohamed Mbwate, said the village has been impounding logs occasionally.

“We are facing a serious problem. For example, we conducted patrol and impounded 11 logs which were auctioned by the villagers,” he said

At Nyaminywili village, the villagers also complained about illegal logging in their village. They said in many areas of the village, bigger trees are disappearing on daily basis as fleets of vehicles ferry them to Dar es Salaam.

 “There is rampant deforestation in the village. We urge the government to ensure proper management of these forest resource because as the situation stands now, the village will turn into a big desert in the near future,” said  Nurjani Simbambili.

At Nyamwage village, the forests on the village land are not safe. There have been incidents of deforestation and at times, the perpetrators escape uncaught. The village Chairman Ibrahim Said Mboweto said the villagers’ effort to control the illegal log and timber harvesters is set back by inferior weapons and lack of patrolling facilities.

“There are still illegal timber harvesters although this time around are not many. Lack of working tools for the village land and Natural resource committees hampers our work to effectively and efficiently patrol our forest,” he said.

Contacted for comments, Rufiji District Manager who is under the Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS) Theophil Leonard distanced from the scam saying basically the village land forest reserves are under Rufiji District Executive Director. DED’s officials are therefore responsible.

“DED is the owner of the villages and for this case land forest reserves. The harvesting licenses are issued by the District Forest Office. We as TFS, we normally supervise stamping the logs and issue transit pass.   

Rufiji district forest officer Jonas Nambua who is blamed for colluding with illegal loggers refuted the allegations saying it was the villagers who haboured the illegal loggers.

He said that the villagers are perpetrating the illegal logging because they are benefiting from them. For example, when the harvesters go in the forest to carry the logs, it is the villagers who help to load on the logs in the vehicles in exchange for payments. This means that the more the logs they would load on, the more the money they will be paid, he said.

“Sometimes the villagers would insist that they want harvesters from their village and not outside the village.  Why do they refuse bidders from outside the village if they don’t benefit from them? He asked.

The Acting District Executive Director for Rufiji district, Brighton Kilimba urged the villagers to collaborate with the district forest office to reveal all illegal logs and timber harvesters so that measures can be taken against them.

“I urge them to stay united and those who are colluding with illegal harvested should stop immediately. These forests are for their own benefits and the district as a whole,” he said.

He said his office in collaboration with the district forest office and the Tanzania Forest service Agency (TFS) will work on the problem and find solution.

Contacted for comments, Rufiji district commissioner Juma Njwayo warned all illegal log and timber harvesters saying the district has launched the campaigns to smoke them out. He said that the district is taking action against all illegal log harvesters.

“When I receive information about illegally harvested logs I direct forest officials to go and report back,” he said.

I urged the villagers to cooperate with the district government and continue disclosing illegal logs and timber harvesters so that legal actions can be taken, he said.

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