ANNUALLY, the country loses an estimated 400,000 hectares of forest cover to logging mainly for energy, and timber used in construction and furniture making. "If we empower communities with skills to protect forests, we will stop deforestation and poverty escalation," said Dr Felician Kilahama, Director of Forestry and Beekeeping at Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. He was speaking to members of parliament at a climate change national strategy seminar organised by University of Dar es Salaam's Institute of Resource Assessment recently.
Dar es Salaam alone uses over a million bags of charcoal per annum," the Director noted and lawmakers demanded that climate change be taken seriously with efforts equated to those that were mobilised to fight HIV and AIDS.Although the problem of deforestation is nationwide, currently there are the seven pilot project villages bordering Lake Tanganyika fighting the problem. These communities are benefiting from the Norwegian REDD pilot project funding and will get mock payments this year as rewards for conserving forests.
There are two types of payments that will be given out. The first type of payments will be made during the pilot projects while additional payments will be made when the global agreement becomes effective. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) is a United Nations initiative seeking to stop communities in developing from cutting trees indiscriminately. Trees store carbon which when burnt releases carbon dioxide causing global warming. The Norwegian government has given grants to nine REDD pilot projects conducted by civil societies and conservation groups between 2009 to date.
The grants which are part of a comprehensive 100 million US dollars package which Oslo has allocated to Dar es Salaam to support REDD initiatives and targets to build capacity of communities in conservation and carbon trading.
Norwegian Ambassador to Tanzania, Ingunn Klepsvik said generally all the nine pilot projects are doing fine on the ground. While pledging her government's commitment to support the country's REDD initiative, Klepsvik expressed hope that UN member countries will endorse an agreement to pay communities for protecting their forests.
"Countries will be awarded financially for keeping forests intact as a measure of combating climate change," Ambassador Klepsvik said.
One of the REDD pilot projects being funded by the Norwegians is Masito-Ugalla ecosystem being implemented by seven villages in Kigoma Rural district under Jane Goodall Institute.REDD's Project Director, Edwin Nssoko said, "We will have to convene a stakeholders' meeting to agree benchmarks of how the villages will be evaluated," Mr Nssoko said. The Jane Goodall Institute has already trained forest monitors and formed community based organizations patrolling the 70,000 hectares forest reserve to curb deforestation by charcoal makers and timber processors.
Villagers have been trained in modern beekeeping as an alternative income generation activity to curb deforestation. Villages are anxiously waiting for REDD payments which will help fund infrastructure development, education and health services.
"Here we have one clinic with a single nurse and no medical doctors. We suffer a shortage of medicines, personnel houses, equipment and several others which we will finance from payments that we hope to get," said Ezekiel Honya, Village Executive Officer at Songambele village. Mr Honya said the village which is over 90 kilometres away from Kigoma rural district headquarters, has no mobile phone connection while the main road is impassable during rainy season forcing residents of the shoreline village to use wooden boats. A village office block is also on the shopping list.
"Most of the communities are doing a fantastic job in combating deforestation but a lot of work remains to be done," said Naomi Rumenyela, JGI Community Officer. Ms Rumenyela said with modern beehives already distributed to some villages targeting women, REDD payments will help address gaps in funding not only for social services but also income generation to stop wanton tree felling.
At Karago village which officials of the Jane Goodall Institute described as performing very well in curbing deforestation, villagers want teachers' houses, improved education and health services. "When we are sick, we have to travel over 15 kilometres to Ilagala where a health centre is located but often is overcrowded and lacks medicines," said Halima Hanzuruni.