At least 39 per cent of Tanzania’s land is under vegetation cover, this is equivalent to 35,257,000 hectares. However, according to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 5.86 million hectares of Tanzania’s forests were lost to deforestation between 2000 and 2015.
Dar es Salaam. Coming second only to water bodies, forests occupy the largest area of earth and provides habitat to approximately 90 per cent of plant and animal-based species. Forests also provide tremendous physical and economic benefits to mankind such as: oxygen, keep carbon emissions under control, provide climate stability, regulate the water cycle, provide continuity of the world’s biodiversity and spur various economic activities such as tourism and agriculture.
At least 39 per cent of Tanzania’s land is under vegetation cover, this is equivalent to 35,257,000 hectares. However, according to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 5.86 million hectares of Tanzania’s forests were lost to deforestation between 2000 and 2015. This is about 10 per cent of the country’s forests and calculates to an average of 373,000 hectares lost per annum. This rate will cost the country’s economy up to $3.5 billion dollars by 2033 should deforestation continue.
Reliance on wood as the main source of fuel in rural and urban areas continues to drive deforestation, according to Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS). Moreover, the country’s population growth rate of three per cent per annum means there will be increased demand for fuel wood adding pressure on the forests. Other contributing factors to deforestation include: poor agricultural practices, overgrazing and wildfires as the country highly depends on agriculture, which makes up close to 25 per cent of the GDP.
The government, in collaboration with the United Nations and other environment partners such as REDD, has initiatives underway to secure and sustain the country’s robust forests. Environment Management Act has been enacted to empower the Environment docket to take action on climate change at national level and Environment Management Committees and officers at the district and village level to manage natural resources and ensure compliance. National Forest Policy (1998) and the Forest Act (2002) provide incentives and legal framework for Participatory Forest Management (PFM).
During the commemoration of World Environment Day in Butiama last year, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said, “relevant authorities should enforce laws and citizens need to play their part to protect our forests”. She noted that, “1.5 million trees should be planted and nurtured to maturity,” otherwise it will be difficult for the government to attain its industrialisation agenda and Development Vision 2025 if we fail to protect the environment.
Various stakeholders in the public and private sector play a pivotal role to ensure the protection of forests. Songas, an independent power producer (IPP) that uses natural gas to generate power, through its Social and Economic Development (SED) projects collaborated with partners such as Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG)to enhance sustainable natural resource management in the villages along the Songas pipeline in Rufiji and Kilwa district.
Though the partnership ended in 2015,strides were made in the environmental education of communities on land use planning, improved agriculture practices, forest management skills and the provision of equipment to facilitate forest-based income generating activities.
The villages of Muyuyu, Chumbi and Mohoro in Rufiji now engage in beekeeping, effectively using the vast forest area to economically transform their communities.
Songas also contributes to the Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund (EAMCEF) to facilitate forest management training that enhance the local communities around the Eastern Arc Mountains in Tanzania which cuts across Kilimanjaro, Tanga and Morogoro regions. The initiatives ensure the communities are empowered with good agricultural practices, skills to manage the forests for tourism activities, medicinal researches and pharmaceutical breakthroughs due to the extensive plants and animal life forms.
According to the Songas Managing Director, “we have observed a significant improvement in the Eastern Arc communities as a result of the forest management trainings and we anticipate that their increased knowledge will not only preserve the forests but also improve the livelihood of the communities.”
In order to conserve Tanzania’s expansive forest area, public and private sector initiatives that up skill people at the grass root level are crucial to safeguard our forests and trigger social and economic transformation.