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Conservation of forests: Incentives should trickle down to local people

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
3rd September 2011
Publisher Name: 
IPP Media
Gerald Kitabu
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Tanzania has started to implement the National Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) readiness pilot projects from which the lessons learnt will be used to inform policy makers in developing a comprehensive national REDD strategy. 


Human activities have, for many years, been central to forests depletion in many parts of the country. Activities such as tree felling for energy, agriculture, human settlement, wild fire, pastoralists, hunting and mining activities have, for example contributed to losing more than 6,184,000 hectares of forest resource from 1990 until 2005. 


The lost part of the forest is equivalent to more than 14.9 per cent of all the forests in the country. Other factors that contribute to deforestation include rampant corruption, lack of good governance and poor implementation of policies and laws in the forest sector.


However, there are some communities that are committed and determined to forest resource conservation, but they have never been recognized, let alone receive financial support to motivate them to carry on with their good work and for others to emulate their idea.


It is from this background that the National Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in Tanzania is currently being piloted, the best practices are being documented whereas rules and regulations governing REDD are also being enacted for implementation.


The main aim of the National REDD strategy is to provide wide opportunity and increase national, district, and local benefits from forests, and to diversify local incomes from natural resource management.


According to the REDD pilot projects, allowing communities direct access to REDD markets or international REDD funds will provide a stronger incentive for reducing deforestation which is now threatening thousands of hectares of forests in Tanzania.


However, the way the strategy is being developed, leaves a lot to be desired. While at national level, the REDD strategy enjoys much popularity and knowledge, at grassroots level, where the villagers live and forests found, little is known about it, something which many environmental activists say it may not yield desired results.


Executive Director for Journalists Environment Association of Tanzania (JET) John Chikomo says big part of the rural communities who live in or near forests know nothing about the REDD programme except the pilots which are implemented.


“There is a need to create awareness and launch sensitization campaigns through media on the REDD programme because I believe that it is only through media that many people can be reached out and understand the programme” he says.


He says plans and strategies by National REDD Task Force, apart from consultations with various stakeholders must also provide training to journalists especially environmental journalists so that they can take part in sensitization and awareness creation campaigns.


He says since it is the rural communities who know better the forests and other resources than any other person, it is better to transfer incentives from national level to local level.


Several local and international environmental civil organizations have also raised concern on the draft REDD strategy.

Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF) came up with several challenging questions on the programme. 


For example they question about appropriate methodologies, saying methodologies for carbon in African Dry lands are almost non-existent, however, there are many drivers of deforestation, how are they addressed and find alternatives to all drivers?, how are the leakages being addressed ?” says Cassian Siang’a from TNRF.


He adds: “There is competing agendas example Kilimo Kwanza and REDD, REDD is extremely complex, how do you adequately and fairly inform communities about REDD so that they know and understand their rights? he says.


The extent that REDD payments will take time, poor gender equity, lack of institutional capacity, failure by previous conservation or investment projects which haven’t been successful sends a wrong message to communities  who keep on worrying about the REDD programme, all these raises eyebrows on the REDD strategy, he says.


For his part, the Tanzania Forest Conservation groups TFCG Executive director Charles Meshack says in order for REDD to work, it has to address  appropriation of community lands and conflicts over resource benefits in order to avoid an outcome in which REDD negatively impacts local livelihoods and sustainable forest management.


He says conversely, policies to restrict the use of forest areas on village land without compensating villages for their opportunity costs should be avoided as such policies would mean that the individual citizen will be burdened by the cost of REDD without receiving the benefits. 


“Therefore, we recommend that the national REDD strategy specify that a nested approach be adopted to allow village level efforts at reducing deforestation to be verified and credited independently within a national accounting framework. This will ensure that REDD benefits reach communities and that communities are rewarded for their individual efforts to reduce deforestation on lands under their control” he says.


The national REDD strategy should recognize that most unreserved forests in mainland Tanzania are on village land and that villages should have ownership over the carbon benefits derived from reduced deforestation on their lands. However the national REDD framework refers to all unreserved forests (49 percent of all forests) in Tanzania as being on general land.


This interpretation of general land implies that villages don’t have a legal right to use and manage forested land outside of village forest reserves, when in reality, most of the unreserved forest areas in Tanzania are on village land that villagers have a legal right to use. The confusion arises from Tanzania’s 1999 Land Act, which defines general land as all land that is not reserved land or village land, including unoccupied and unused village lands.


The civil society says under the Village Land Act of 1999, which is the law that specifically defines village land (except in Zanzibar which has its own legislation) village land can include lands that are communally used such as forest areas used for fuel woods) fallow woods, and lands reserved for future use.


In addition, village land is legally established as village land if a village has commonly agreed boundaries with its neighbouring villages even before the village is awarded a village land certificate from the Ministry of Lands. 


According to the Ministry of Lands, most villages have been surveyed and have legally established boundaries. Thus, most unreserved forests on village land cannot be classified as general land and this is a very large proportion of unreserved forests.


“We recommend the Draft national REDD strategy makes it clear that most unreserved forests are on village land” he says.


Classifying forests on village land as general land could encourage village land grabbing by unprincipled elites or investors, or even the transfer of REDD benefits from villages who are reducing deforestation to the government or private sector, which would compromise the rights of local communities and eliminate the incentive to reduce deforestation, says the forests’ watchdog.


The national REDD framework correctly advocates strengthening tenure as a means to reduce deforestation. The national REDD strategy should facilitate this process by recognizing the legal right that villages have to unreserved forests within their boundaries and recommending that carbon tenure in Tanzania be tied to land tenure, says Charles Meshack of TFCG.


He says the national REDD strategy include mechanisms for compensating communities for reductions in deforestations in government forest reserves.


In addition to recognizing and strengthening the rights that villages have to own and benefit from carbon stored in biomass on village lands, it should be  recommended that the national REDD strategy also include a mechanism for compensating communities that make measurable contributions to reducing deforestations in government forest reserves.


The national REDD strategy stipulates that community groups, civil societies organizations and private sector be represented on the national REDD task force and in whatever body will replace the task force.


The national REDD task force, was appointed by the government to identify challenges and opportunities and to develop the national REDD strategy. The task force has led the way in initiating the drive to REDD readiness in Tanzania. 


Some environmental analysts think that there should be extended members of the task force to include community groups, civil society organizations and the private sector which are not currently represented on the task force. 


Community groups and civil society organizations like Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, Community Forest Conservation Network of Tanzania (MJUMITA), Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF), Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) Wildlife Conservation Society(WCS), Tanzania Traditional Energy Development Organization (TaTEDO), CARE Tanzania, African Wildlife Foundation and the Jane Goodall Institute would have made a difference in the strategy piloting and implementation.


 If experts from such groups were fully involved, it would ensure comprehensive stakeholder representation, a more efficient flow of information between national and local levels on all aspects of REDD implementation, and more effective implementation of the REDD strategy.


“We recommend that the national REDD strategy include a commitment to develop, adopt and implement National REDD community and biodiversity standards. REDD in Tanzania should be conducted in such as way as to protect community benefits and ecosystem services including biodiversity”. Says Revocutus Njau, Chairman of Mjumita. 


It is further recommended that the national REDD strategy support the development of national REDD standards, to ensure the REDD activities in Tanzania have the protection of biodiversity and community rights as core guiding principles” says the environmental activists.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut