Timber Logging in Rufiji Continue
Remnants of torched farm huts suspended from the ground by burnt out logs mostly mangroves, are testimony that something went terribly wrong in Rufiji Delta. Ash is scattered all over the place and this was the site of brutal torching of farmers' temporary huts mainly used during the planting season.
Muscular youths brandishing machetes, petrol jerry cans hired as casual labourers by the Mangrove Management Project under Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism invaded the delta to enforce an eviction order against paddy rice farmers alleged to have invaded a mangrove forest reserve.
Backed by armed policemen, the youths set alight grass thatched mud huts on the borders of the alleged forest reserve where local farmers have been cultivating rice since early 1980s. As one moves across the hundreds of hectares of swampy area dotted by six to eight years old mangrove trees replanted by the farmers, abandoned cooking utensils, clothes, oil lamps and felled coconut trees are strewn everywhere.
"They invaded us for three days in the middle of October backed by armed policemen. They torched our farm huts, felled our coconut trees and ordered us never to come back farming to the area," said Jumanne Yusuf Kinkumbi, Chairman of Nyamisati village which is one of the three villages in the delta forming Salale ward which forms much of the delta.
Mr Kinkumbi said they were served with eviction letters from the MMP Central Zonal Manager, Zachariah Kitale for the first time in February last year informing them that they are farming in a forest reserve and therefore should vacate. In a letter dated October 10, 2011, Kitale quotes, "You are reminded that you are supposed to evict from the forest reserve after harvesting as ordered by the president.
I take this opportunity to remind you that time has come for you to remove your possessions," Mr Kitale wrote. "Kitale wanted us out of the swamps last February but when President Kikwete visited the area, I told him about the problems we face," Kinkumbi said. After telling President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete that they were being threatened with eviction, the head of state ordered that they should first be allowed to harvest their rice.
MMP Director, Zawadi Mbwambo said the farmers had been ordered to stop farming in the forest reserve several years back but they resisted. "We did not burn down villages but huts located within the forest reserve," argued Mr Mbwambo when news of the dastardly attacks first filtered out to the press.
'Daily News' visited the delta recently and established that while a few people live in huts at the paddy rice fields as permanent homes, many others occupy them during the busy planting season to guard against destructive wild animals such as pigs and birds. The president and the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, visited the area last May but did not address the farmers. He was taken by boat to the sea front at dawn to show him dhows laden with illegal mangrove logs destined for Zanzibar," said Sudi Yusufu Mkumba, Village Executive Officer for Nyamisati.
The subsistence farmers at Rufiji delta claim they eke their living strictly from farming. "The illegal mangrove logging business is an area dominated by big businessmen and forestry department people. We have seen Mangrove Management Project people who come here with nothing but are now rich," argued Bakari Wanga who is Kiomboni village Chairman.
"The swamps are not good for human habitation but we farm there because we have no option, as the soil upstream is salty and rainfall is erratic," argued Wanga. A report by TRAFFIC in 2007 estimated that Tanzania lost 58 million US dollars (approx 87bn/-) between 2004 and 2005 in timber revenue due to poor governance and corruption in the forestry sector which forced the government to reinforce the ban on the export of logs and sandalwood in 2006.
Traffic said in its report that the country's timber exports increased by 1,400 per cent in value since 1997 and much of it was smuggled abroad through eastern coastline borders to Zanzibar and Comoro islands before being shipped to Asia and Middle East. As an example, reported timber exports from Tanzania to all destinations during a three-year period ending in 2005 totaled around 19,300 cubic metres whilst import statistics from one destination alone, China, indicated a whopping more than 108,500 cubic metres.
An American student who did her research in the delta between 2008/10, Betsy Beymer-
Farris and her supervisor, Thomas Bassett who is Assistant Professor at Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Furman University in South Carolina and Professor, Department of Geography at University of Illinois in the US respectively, said in their recent report that stopping the Warufiji from cultivating in the delta is counterproductive.
The two professors' report titled: 'The REDD Menace: Resurgent protectionism in Tanzania's mangrove forests,' censures WWF researchers and government authorities for trying to stop Warufiji from surviving by using resources in the delta despite their existence for centuries. "At the centre of our critique of the REDD-readiness programme is the framing of the environmental problem as by foresters, environmentalists, and donors as poor stewards of the mangrove forests," the two authors wrote in the report.
But WWF Marine and Climate Change Advisor, Jason Rubens said although WWF does not endorse use of force to evict the farmers, it does not support continued rice farming in the delta. WWF with funding from the Norwegian REDD conducted a pilot project in the Rufiji delta during 2009-2010 with Forestry and Beekeeping Division, involving three villages aimed at mobilising communities to restore 70 hectares of degraded mangrove areas. Experts from WWF said over 5,000 hectares of mangroves have been cut down in the past 20-30 years.
"If the trend continues unabated," warns Mr Mbwambo, "In the next two decades, the situation may be irreversible." "But there is a danger of confusing the two separate initiatives. WWF has never advocated the eviction of communities from the delta. The recent evictions were carried out by government agencies," said Country Director Stephen Mariki. Rufiji district has 53,000 hectares of the 68,000 hectares of mangrove forests in the country.
WWF which has included Rufiji delta as part of its nationwide REDD Readiness Programme project area is now struggling to contain a backlash from communities and Norwegian government which is increasingly facing hostile taxpayers back home questioning the funding of agencies and not-for-profit organizations forcefully evicting people from their traditional areas of domicile.
Skeptical villagers from Salale ward at the delta have welcomed WWF's offer cautiously saying they did welcome MMP over the past two decades ago in the same way but are now suffering the consequences. "When the Mangrove Management people first introduced their project to us, they made many promises of involving us in benefits sharing but today things have turned against us," said 50 year old Mwajuma Mwegio, a mother of four who lost two farm huts at her four-hectare field during the raids.
Ms Mwegio said one of her huts was used as a granary hence its was burnt down with sacks of newly harvested rice inside. "The government should be ready to serve us with food handouts this season," she said. Everyone in Salale ward is now skeptical of government or donor projects which come with a handful of promises but end up as monsters ravaging them and grabbing much of their natural resources.
"We welcomed Mangrove Management people and listened to their project but what I must say is that it will take a lot of efforts to convince people now because they are suffering similar initiatives done in the past," said Sudi Mkumba, a Village Executive Officer for Nyamisati. An estimated 10,000 resident of Salale ward lost over 3,000 farm huts at their paddy rice fields and now are being courted by WWF Tanzania to work as partners in a participatory community forest management.
"The attacks have made our work difficult because villagers are now worried of anyone who approaches them but we hope we assured them of our mission and that they understood," said Professor Shadrack Mwakalla, WWF REDD Coordinator from Dar es Salaam. Prof Mwakalla said their schedule was targeting to start work at Rufiji delta in November but the forceful evictions which caused panic and chaos have frustrated their programme as they need to undertake a confidence building exercise among communities first.
"We assured them that WWF is interested in improving their livelihoods and nothing else. Our project is participatory and targets to benefit communities and not otherwise," he stressed. Coast Regional Commissioner, Mwantumu Mahiza said the farmers have been allowed to continue with rice cultivation in the Ramsar Site area provided that they replant half their plots with mangrove trees.
"We have been doing that all along and did propose the same solution to Mangrove Management Project officials earlier but rejected the idea," said 76-year old Swalehe Jongo Nkwela, a resident of Nyamisati since his birth. Mr Nkwela whose house is hardly 50 metres away from his paddy rice field on the swamps, fears that the 1972 registered village may soon be declared part of the forest reserve. "We don't know how far these mangrove people will go, they may declare this village illegitimate and evict us forcefully," he said.