Villagers end hostility with district forest officers

08Mar 2016
Bilham Kimati
The Guardian
Villagers end hostility with district forest officers

THE habitual ‘hide-and-seek’ kind of relationship that existed between forest officers and villagers in Ngunichire village in Nachingwea district in Lindi region, continue to experience momentous decline as residents embrace the newly introduced participatory forest management approach.

Under this joint forest ‘ownership’ arrangement, forest reserves bordering villages are properly demarcated and given to villagers for monitoring and sustainable harvesting for the collective benefit of the community.

The recent visit by journalists to various villages in Nachingwea learnt of the impressive changed of attitude among the villagers who cheerfully take care of the village forest to end antagonism that existed between the community and forest officers.

Since colonial time, most of forest reserves in Tanzania were considered ‘no man’s property’ despite the common understanding that the natural resources belonged to the government.

Nachingewa District Forest Officer, Paiton Kamnana and the Manager from Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) in the same district, Togolai Tindikali have spoken well about the introduced participatory forest management approach, largely set to control deforestation.

“The outcome has been more encouraging than expected. More friendly work atmosphere is experienced day-by-day.

In the past, forest guarding was more of a hide-and-seek game such that we (forest officers) were considered unwanted outcasts always avoided by the villagers,” Tindikali explained.

Kamnana remembered the day he narrowly escaped death when villagers in a neighbouring district of Liwale teamed up with illegal timber traders and roughed him up as he tried to stop them from shifting timber unlawfully.

“Today things are different. Involvement of villagers in protection of forests with some gains in return has proved to be a grand idea gradually passing on knowledge about sustainable harvesting of forest products.

People share information and intercept any illegal activity in the extensive forest reserves,” Kamnana explained while showing piles of confiscated timber under the support of villagers.

Describing the previous state of affairs before the idea of participatory forest management was introduced by Mama Misitu, Bakari Nassoro Lilombo alias Chemataka said some of the villagers escorted illegal timber traders to the forest to cut down trees for insignificant payment in return.

Maua Ntira who is a member of village committee on natural resources and environment recalled unforgettable incident that happened last year whereby villagers quickly hired motorbikes at night to chase a truck loaded with timber known to have been stolen from the village forest.

“It was mid last year (2015) when a lorry loaded with timber passed here (village main road).

After a while information was shared among the villagers that the shipment was stolen from the village forest.

The boys and the village leaders dared the night and intercepted the lorry about 20 kilometers away from our village Ngunichire,” Maua narrated.

“Mama Misitu opened our eyes on the associated benefits in collective forest protection and therefore helped us to open a new chapter of cooperation with forest district authorities.

Previously forest officers were regarded as enemies who descended to villages to ‘sniff’ underground forest operations. Today we are friends,” Soya explained.

Mama Misitu is a social communication strategy focused on improved forest management in Tanzania for enhanced sustainable utilization of forest products for the benefit of all citizens.

The mission and vision of Mama Misitu puts emphasis on conservation, protection and promotion of sustainable development of forests.

The campaign is being undertaken by a Tanzania Forest task force under the coordination of the Tanzania Natural Resources Federation (TNRF). Finland has extended immense support to the initiative.