Tanzania to create forest inventory to help fight climate change
DAR ES SALAAM (AlertNet) – Tanzania plans to draw up a comprehensive inventory of its forests to replace outdated statistics and help the east African country to conserve woodland, preserve livelihoods and curb climate change.
Tanzania has 800 forests that are eligible for conservation, spanning 13 million hectares, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says, but reliable data on these forests is essential to help stop their degradation.
Under the project, trees will be counted to determine their age, size and species. The statistics will then be translated into national maps of forests and other land uses.
“Information collection, analysis and the handling of data will help us to monitor the available forestry resources,” said project coordinator Nurdin Chamunya from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Chamunya said one of the main goals of the project was to halt the indiscriminate harvesting of forestry products, such as timber, honey, bees wax and herbs – a practice partly to blame for forest degradation.
“Permits to harvest forestry products will be issued in accordance with the information on the database,” Chamunya said in November, at a ceremony in Dar es Salaam at which Finland donated 14 Land Cruiser vehicles to help with collect forestry data.
The project, called the National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment (NAFORMA), will take three years and will be carried out by a consortium including the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Google, the government of Finland, environmental NGOs and the private sector.
“In Tanzania, the state and trends of forestry resources are largely unknown and the existing information is fragmented and outdated,” said Louise Setshwaelo, the FAO’s country representative, speaking at the same event.
The goal of NAFORMA is to help Tanzania meet its obligations - under the United Nations’ REDD initiative on reducing emissions from deforestation - to manage the country’s forests sustainably and to implement poverty reduction initiatives, said Ladislaus Komba, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
By curbing tree felling, excessive grazing and unsustainable agricultural practices, and by creating maps that clearly demarcate forests around villages, the country can help protect the livelihoods of rural communities that depend on forests and forestry, he said.
“Having a national database of forests is in line with the government’s policy on sustainable development of forest resources, the protection of catchment areas and proper controls on the harvesting on forest products,” said Komba in comments to local media.
Factors contributing to the destruction of forests include the slash and burn method of cultivation, the burning of wood for charcoal, the effects of climate change that bring unpredictable weather patterns, wild fires and overgrazing by cattle, among others.
Estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest as much as 20 percent of current global annual carbon emissions are the result of loss of tropical forest, including in countries like Tanzania.
Deforestation and forest degradation lead to the release of carbon stored in trees, contributing to global warming.
POPULATION EXPANDING RAPIDLY
Zakia Meghji, a former treasury minister, stressed recently the looming threat of desertification in Tanzania, largely as a result of the country’s fast-expanding population. In 1961, the country had 9 million people but today it has 40 million, putting huge pressure on woodlands.
Widespread tree felling threatens to turn a growing share of Tanzania into desert as the country loses between 130,000 and 500,000 hectares of forest a year, according to independent forestry analysts.
Only about 25,000 hectares of replacement trees are planted each year, the analysts said.
"If we don't stop the trend we will lose the fight against climate change," Meghji told local media.
Previous data on deforestation is now unreliable following rapid increases in the export of forest products, a change that began after trade liberalisation in the late 1980s. The change has boosted Tanzania’s total exports but had far-reaching impact on forest ecology.
Before the liberalisation of trade, Tanzania’s forests harboured Africa's second largest number of plants (10,000 species), third largest number of birds (1,035 species), and fourth largest number of amphibians (123 species) and reptiles (245 species). How many remain today is unclear.
The database will cover regions rich in forests including Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Coast, Iringa, Mbeya, Lindi, Mtwara, Ruvuma, Dodoma, Singida, Mwanza, Mara, Kagera, Kigoma, Tabora, Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Manyara, said Felician Kilahama, director of forestry and beekeeping at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
He said new forest management project will include creation of a baseline information study on forest and tree resources that will eventually assist the ministry in putting in place “a long term monitoring system of forestry ecosystems.”
The project’s outcome will also help formulate a “relevant, holistic and integrated approach” to assessing and using the country’s forestry resources, to meet domestic needs and comply with international reporting standards on forest protection, he added.
Tangible signs of climate change in Tanzania make the preservation of the country’s forests all the more urgent. Changes include longer droughts, higher day and night time temperatures, the growing prevalence of malaria in formerly malaria-free areas and more intense rains, local environmentalists said.
“Climate change affects community rights and environmental conservation across a range of issues in the country,” a representative of the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum, a local non-governmental organisation, told local media.
“Communities living near forests, around wildlife areas, near marine resources such as oceans and lakes, and leading both pastoralist and sedentary livelihoods feel the effects of climate change,” the NGO said.
Mohamed Issa is a freelance writer based in Dar es Salaam. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.