Community forest conservation:Raise economic and socialstatus of women

21Nov 2020
The Guardian
Community forest conservation:Raise economic and socialstatus of women

RESIDENTS of Ulaya-Mbuyuni village in Kilosa District, Morogoro Region take pride in Ashura Mohamed, 24, a mother of one, who has lived all her life in the village.

Ashura Mohamed of Ulaya Mbuyuni village explaining to journalists how sustainable charcoal production has changed her life.

For the past nine years she has earned her living through production of charcoal but for the past four years have been instrumental in turning around her status in the community, after participating in the sustainable charcoal production a project introduced by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group(TFCG). The project promotes conservation of forests by villages as a means to improve social services and reduce poverty among individuals.

Through the project villagersconservethe village forest, Ulaya-Mbuyuni Village Forest, which covers3,540 hectares and benefit from their work through sustainable charcoal production. The village started conserving and protecting the forest in 2012.Ms. Mohamed participated in several training sessions and started actual production in 2016. “Four years down the road I have no regrets. In the short period I have built a house, I have bought a motorcycle and installed solar electricity in my house. I wouldn’t be so successful if I stuck to the traditional method of charcoal production or any other activity,” explains Ms. Mohamed, adding that the family is not rich but they are able to meet all their needs without laboring very much.

By engaging in sustainable charcoal, she has raised her income more than four times. “With traditional charcoal production, I earned about 200,000/- annually but my income from sustainable charcoal production now stands at about 1.4m/- annually. Never did I dream to earn so much money,” she explains.

The sustainable charcoal project has 25 members, 10 of whom are women. Yet it is not just about being part of the group; each member must work hard if they are to realize tangible benefits. It is for this reason that not many women have joined the group because charcoal production is difficult. According to Ms. Mohamed, sustainable charcoal production takes fewer trees than traditional production methods and this helps to conserve trees and the general environment. Trees are cut according to a harvesting plan prepared by the village, a situation that ensures sustainable benefits for all from the forest.

“Villagers have realized individual and communal benefits while ensuring that the forest is conserved so that future generations may also enjoy these benefits,” says Hashim Said, Chairman of Ulaya Mbuyuni village.

Mosi Hassan Kikope, 26, of Nanjilinji A village in Kilwa District is another beneficiary of community forest conservation efforts. The village owns and manages two forests, Mbumbila A and Mbumbila B, with a total of 83, 538 hectares. While their counterparts in Kilosa District thrive on charcoal business, those in Nanjilinji earn money through sale of forest products such as timber, unprocessed logs and poles. With an annual average income of 200m/-, the village government is implementing a plan to raise the dignity of pregnant women regardless their marital status.

“The village government offers 50,000/- to pregnant women on their eighth term regardless whether one is married or single. I got that money when I was pregnant with my first child who is two years old. I am now in the waiting list for my second child who is four months old,” explains Ms. Kikope.

The programme has not only eased the economic burden among families and single mothers but also the anxiety of meeting hospital expenses during delivery and acquiring the essentials for the newborn. Of course parents have to meet other costs related to the upkeep of the pregnant woman but the basic requirements for the expected baby are taken care of by the village government.

“Women are happy with this programme because they don’t have to worry about their needs when they are ready to deliver. They get enough money to prepare for the coming of the newborn two months before; that anxiety is now over. Between 2012 and 2013 when the village started harvest the forest the village government offered 30,000/- to every pregnant woman but now they have raised that amount to 50,000/-. Maybe they will increase the amount when the government gets more money from conservation of the forest,” says Ms. Kikope.

There are cases when pregnant women develop complications and cannot deliver at the village dispensary. They must be referred to the District Hospital in Kilwa. “In such circumstances the village government offers a loan of between 50,000/- and 100,000/- to enable the family to meet transport and other coasts. This loan is repaid in installments according to the agreed plan. It is all about safe motherhood and the village government can implement this programme because we conserve the forests and earn some income. Otherwise this would not be possible,” says Sharifa Rashid Kibou (45) whose daughter delivered in December 2019 and is a beneficiary of the programme. She adds that the 50,000/- 100,000/- is offered to any villager who falls sick and requires treatment at the District hospital.

However, some complications have emerged as a result of the programme. “Since 2012 when the village government introduced the programme to offer money to pregnant women, the number of women who got pregnant began to rise. The situation has become complicated after the village government raised the amount of money from 30,000/- to 50,000/-. Now 80 women deliver annually up from about 45 in 2012 as a result of which pregnant women don’t get the money in time. Some women remain in the waiting list long after they have delivered,” explains Ms. Kibou. “But the good think is that we know we will get the money even after we have delivered the baby,” she adds.

Besides financial assistance offered when one is pregnant or falls sick, women in Nanjilinji A are happy because they can easily access safe water. With proceeds from sale of forest goods, the village government drilled six shallow wells and rehabilitated three more. Villagers are now assured of a reliable and safe water supply throughout the year. “It is a burden off our shoulders. We don’t have to spend hours walking around looking for water thus we have more time to do other things for the family,” says Ms. Kibou. There is something else that women are happy about. “We also don’t have to worry when our children when they are selected to join secondaryschools as the village offers 100,000/- to enable parents meet their child’s requirement. Formerly this burden was shouldered by the family and in most cases mothers had to worry most about it. It was worse for single mothers. But now the village offers it as grant and it is really a relief for women,” explains Ms. Kibou.

Women in Mtanza-Msona village of Rufiji District also participate in conservation of forests and enjoy various benefits.Besides financial gains, women have built confidence and courage to speak for conservation and stand to be elected for leadership posts in the village. Capacity building and awareness raising campaigns conducted by TFCG, MJUMITA (Mtandao wa Jamii wa Usimamizi wa Misitu), TNRF (Tanzania Natural Resources Forum) and other organisations have given women opportunity to learn and practice good governance, conservation and other skills which they apply in their daily lives.

“Women participation in conservation is high because they benefit from the forest they conserve. The village natural resources committee comprises 12 members and one third of them are women as required by regulation. If there was no limitation, there would be more women in the committee; they have the ability and the confidence to lead,” explains Salma Issa Wamba, the Chairperson of the Village Natural Resources Committee.

She says that women take part in identifying trees earmarked for logging as per harvesting plan, they take part in loading logs onto trucks and others are employed in the logs processing plant owned by the village. “In all these activities the women not only earn money but also hold leadership posts in their groups; they organize the activities. So it is not just about conservation but building the capacity and confidence of women to lead,” she explains.

According to the village chairman, Ismail Said Lusonzo, women are active in all activities related to conservation because they are agents of change at family level. “If women take part in conservation, then the rest of the family are likely to follow. Besides, gains from conservation very often ease the burdens women carry. Reliable water supply, increased income, and good schools- all these bear some relief to the women. They must take the lead to ensure that families and the whole community benefits from conservation,” he explains.

Highlighting the success of community forest conservation, Acting Rufiji District Forest Officer Robert Kiondo says that forests owned and managed by village governments thrive better that those managed by other authorities because villagers realize benefits. “Village governments have shown that they can conserve forests and realize both communal and individual benefits. They draw their own conservation and harvesting plans which they implement accordingly with the result that they get income from sale of forest products,” he explains, adding that among other things they spend the money to improve social services and thus reduce the burden women have to carry in bringing up families.

Rufiji District Executive Director Rashid Salum says that forest sources are a source of income to the government and individuals in the district and urges all stakeholders, particular non-governmental organisations, to help communities undertake better conservation of the resources for their own benefit. “It is quite clear that villages can manage forests better than other authorities; just look around and you will notice that forests owned and managed by village governments thrive better than those owned by the District Council or those in general land. The government has the duty to set a friendly environment for villages to exploit existing opportunities so that they improve social services and reduce poverty among families." he explains.

TFCG Government Liaison and Capacity Building Office, Simon Lugazo,says that Community Based Forest Conservation (CBFC) has been successful because villages have the mandate to decide how to manage their forest and gain from it while ensuring that it is conserved for the benefit of current and future generations. “There are various things here, one is that communities must understand that they own the resource and they can realise tangible benefits that will improve their lives if they conserve. The other is that organisations like TFCG, TNRF and MJUMITAshould help them to learn how to conserve and protect the resources and make and implement harvesting plans. Beyond that, help village governments to institute good governance by being transparent in revenue collection and expenditure as well as all other activities pertaining to management of the resources. Once this is done the forest will thrive and the villagers will improve their lives as we have witnessed in various villages,”he explains.

CBFC has backing of the Forest Policy (1998) which stipulates thatvillage forest reserves will be managed by the village governments or other entities designated by the village governments for this purpose. They will be managed for production and protection based on sustainable management objectives identified for each forest reserve. Conservation, protection and harvesting will be based on management plans.

The Forest Act (2002) also gives villages the mandate to protect, reserve, manage and sustainably use forests on village land for their current and long term development needs. The also Act gives mandate to village governments to set prices for their forest goods.

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