In separate interviews, villagers from Mindu, Namakambale and Songambele villages said livestock grazing in village forest reserves and shifting agriculture are the main factors for deforestation, accounting to a reduction of the reserves by close to 90 per cent.
Right now water sources that flow directly into rivers are in danger of drying up especially due to livestock grazing and shifting agriculture.
So far three rivers, Misenjele, Lukumbuko and Muhesi in Songambele village are dwindling and could soon be drying up.
The three rivers are major water sources that feed Ruvuma river, and villagers across the district depend on those rivers for domestic water needs and farming activities.
The forest ecosystem and water sources that feed rivers and then flow directly into Selous Game Reserve are extensively damaged at Liwina, Songambele and Ipapa village forest reserves because livestock keepers cutting down trees for grazing land for their livestock.
The villagers raised these concerns recently when speaking to journalists from different media organizations in a meeting conducted by the Village Natural Resources Committee.
While in those villages, we met with the committee members, the chairmen of the village committees, village executive officers (VEO), village chairmen and activists of the Tanzania Community Forest Conservation Network (MJUMITA) members for discussion on challenges theyface and what they need from the government.
Speaking on behalf of Mindu residents, the resources committee chairman, Angelelus Macha said that villages have developed a number of strategies such as forming resources committees for forest management. But cattle ranching is the principal driver of deforestation that destroys village forest reserves and water sources in their localities.
Highlighting the main challenges in Mindu village, he says overgrazing within the village forest reserves and fines charged on livestock keepers invading and grazing their livestock inside the village forest reserve are the main challenges that affect them to implement village development projects.
He said in 2018, two livestock keepers from Mindu village were arrested for invading and grazing their livestock inside the Liwina Forest Reserve without permission.
The village has booked a case against them at Nakapanya Police Station and they confess to pay 3m/- in fines charged on their cattle.
He says the livestock keeper entered the forest reserve with a herd of 300 cattle with intention of grazing in the area.
“As villagers we noticed the incident when conducting patrols on the forest reserve to keep encroachers at bay. They invade the forest for livestock grazing, timber production, cattle pastures, agricultural activities and other human activities,” he says.
Right now hundreds of villagers in Mindu village are demanding government intervention over fines charged on livestock keeper so that the village obtains the funds.
Although village leaders have been struggling to make a follow-up on the issue at Nakapanya Police station to help them access those funds from the livestock keepers since 2018 and to date nothing had been paid to the village government.
The payment dispute, which already poses a threat to the peace in the area, had been there for three years, affecting 1867 villagers in Mindu ward.
“We call for government support to help us access those funds so that we can construct a ward secondary school as well as implement at least one planned village development project,” he said.
Villagers called for government authorities to arrest the livestock keeper again and file a criminal complaint to the court to allow the village government get their money.
“We need support because when we ask him when he will pay our 3m/- he says he has already paid 500,000/- to the forest officer. As villagers we are not quite sure of what he is telling us as so far nothing has been paid to the village government,” he insisted.
After discovering that they are struggling to access those funds, right now the village leadership has written to the Tunduru District Executive Officer (DED) to inform him about this issue. The letter was submitted on June 15th and a copy delivered at the the office of the Tunduru District Commissioner and the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) in Tunduru district.
For his part, Mindu Village Executive Officer (VEO), Mohamed Said affirmed that Liwina Forest Reserve, located at Mindu village 40 miles from Tunduru district urban centre, has 3713 hectors of land endowed with forests that is suitable for timber harvesting and other activities if conducted in a sustainable manner.
Mindu village was officially established in 1974 and so far the village has 1867 residents.
According to him, in 2017, the village was able to sell timber worth 5.2m/-and using the funds they were able to construct a warehouse while the remained amount was used for forest management.
He however expressed need for 3m/- that in turn will help them to construct ward secondary school and other village development projects for 2020/2021.
So far the village has been able to build five classrooms, one teachers offices building and six pit latrines.
He says despite all their effort, they still need three classrooms and another building for teachers’ office to help students learn in a conducive environment that in turn will help them to get best academic result.
Edmund Komba, a Village Natural Resources Committee (VNRC)’s member confidently said that the forest help villagers to get rainfall and reduce climate change impacts.
If encroachers continue to invade Liwina Forest Reserve for livestock grazing and other human activities illegally, they will not benefit from it.
“Right now we are struggling to obtain 3m/- from the livestock keepers that’s why we are looking for government’s intervention so that we can obtain funds to construct a ward secondary school and other projects,” he said.
An environmental activist in the village located 40 miles from Tunduru district council, Christina Zuberi said the village has already benefited from Liwina Forest Reserve.
With the support from Tanzania Community Forest Conservation Network (MJUMITA), WWF and other stakeholders, villagers were trained on the importance of forest management and governance.
These efforts have changed people’s mindsets and in turn, save the Liwina forest reserve from extinction, help the village government to construct a warehouse as well as pay allowance fee for villagers who conduct patrol to prevent encroachers who invade the village forest reserve for illegal timber production although livestock keepers are still invading the forest.
“VNRC’s members normally do patrols in the forest twice per month but right now there is a huge area in which the forest is being degraded.”
According to him, they don’t know where the livestock are coming from, they just see them around the village.
For his part, Namakambale Village’s chairman, Hassan Likambale said livestock grazing has brought huge effects in Namakambale village because right now majimeupe and Mtipula water sources have been destroyed due to overgrazing and caused deforestation at Ipapa forest reserve.
Apart from that ecosystem of Ipapa Forest Reserve has been damaged by livestock keepers, Ipapa Forest reserve is located in Namakambale village with 4491 hectors of land.
Mtipula water source is a very important source of water for people living in Nakapanya and Namakambale villages especially during dry seasons as people depend on Mtipula water source for domestic use and other agricultural activities.
The village has been trying to keep cattle out of the water sources but the livestock keepers don’t obey regulations and as more livestock keepers continue to damage water sources, people will start to suffer to access water.
Namakambale village was officially established in 1974 and so far the village has 10,158 residents.
In February 2019, the villagers arrested a livestock keeper for entering Ipapa forest reserve with a herd of 200 cattle with the intention of grazing them there.
Upon arrest he was sent to court where he was required to pay 2m/-and among those funds, 1m/- was for Namakambale village government and the remained 1m/- as court fine.
Among those funds, 370,000/- had been paid to the village government account without submitting any document to the village government.
Right now the village is still making a follow up on the matter that’s why we call for government’s intervention.
Tunduru Livestock officer Faraji Swale, said right now the livestock keepers are invading the forest reserves and other areas within the district due to lack of pasture suitable for grazing their cattle.
So far, Tunduru District Council has been allocated with a total of 279 new grazing plots fit for livestock grazing to keep livestock keepers from invading the village forest reserve and farms for cattle grazing.
Among those plots, 191 plots have been offered to the livestock keepers as grazing areas.
The livestock keepers have obtained grazing plots in accordance with the zones and 200 hectors of land can accommodate 200 cattle.
According to him, currently the district has 279 livestock keepers and about 62,357 cattle.
Tunduru District has suitable land for livestock grazing but only few ha are currently being utilised.
Majority of livestock keepers in Tunduru district are from Mbeya and Morogoro region.
Lack of water and pastures are the main factors causing livestock keepers to shift from one area to another that in turn increase overgrazing within the district.