FSC Certification Helps to Stop Forest 'Bleeding'
Kilwa — The sound of a saw cutting deep into the kiaat tree (Pterocarpus angolensis, also called "bloodwood") in a forest in Kisangi village in southern Tanzania fills the air.Sweat drips from the body of 56-year-old Rafii Hashim as he pushes the saw rhythmically back and forth to ensure a smooth cut. The birds are chirping, the forest air is clean and the lungs present are only too happy not to be breathing in the heavy and polluted city air. As the saw cuts through the tree, it bleeds a deep red colour. It's not unusual for the kiaat tree to release red collared sap from its trunk when cut.
The harvesting of trees in Kisangi village goes on in an orderly manner and without fear. This is because all activities being undertaken are legal and sanctioned by both government and the community. FSC certification is slowly taking root in some villages around Kilwa and Lindi districts in southern Tanzania.
Communities are beginning to realize the benefit of conserving their forests and putting a leash on illegal trade in timber. Despite this step in the right direction, it is worthy noting that it hasn't always been as such in rural Tanzania.
Rafii Hashim bears an optimistic look on his face as he speaks to us about FSC certification and the challenges they experienced before coming to the decision to harvest their timber in a sustainable manner.
"Before FSC, we used to get Sh100 per tree and this wasn't always guaranteed since most of this timber was being harvested illegally. This money was not enough for us to do anything," says the father of 13 children.
Today, the story is different for Rafii and the people of Kisangi village. After receiving education on how to manage and care for forests from the WWF-supported Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, Rafii and his fellow villagers are beginning to reap the fruits of their hard labour.
"This thing called FSC has helped us conserve our forests better. It has helped us know when it is right to harvest and when it is not. We are now making over Sh100,000 for every cubic mettre we harvest. All this knowledge will help us harvest our trees in a way that doesn't harm the forest and ensure that even our children will have a forest to enjoy," he says.
The forest in and around Kisangi village is indeed a lifeline for the communities that reside there. The money generated from sustainable harvesting of trees has the support of government. According to the National Participatory Forest Management coordinator Joseph Kigula, the government gains when communities advance.
"This is their money and their forest. They decide when and how to use the revenue collected from sustainably sourced trees. We are not losing as a government because the villagers here are part of the government. In fact, they are the government," says Kigula, explaining the benefits of the project. The residents of Kisangi village are mainly farmers who grow maize, rice and the cash crop sesame seed.
The forest around the village also has many benefits to the community. According to Rafii, the benefits of having a healthy forest cannot be underscored enough.
"We use the forest for many things. Many stomach ailments in my household are treated using medicine from the forest, from roots and leaves that make our children stronger. Today, our forests are even more beneficial to us after the education we have received so far to open our eyes and mind.
We are able to build our schools and hospitals now with money from the forest. We did not know how valuable our forests were until we received education from Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative," notes Rafii.
It is this education that has kept illegal activities in the forest at bay and given an incredible drive and willpower to Rafii and the people in his village to protect the forest from illegal activity.
"Before, both outsiders and village insiders harvested trees illegally. Today, every villager watches the forest and takes care of it. We even want to increase the FSC certified acreage so that our villages can continue to benefit even more from our forests," explains Rafii.
"This is only our second harvest, and finding markets to sell our timber continues to be a big obstacle toward the development of the village," he explains with a look of great concern on his face. This challenge could easily see the communities in Kilwa and Lindi districts revert to previous illegal activities and trade in timber.
A great tree has come crashing down, but the benefits of this project are evident. Hospitals, schools and other development projects will be carried out with funds from the sale of sustainably harvested timber. Communities will develop and forests will thrive provided that markets are found for this community to keep FSC certification running on its own, sustainably.
The author works for WWF Coastal East Africa Communications