Kibaha district authorities may not know exactly how much of their remaining indigenous forests are being illegally harvested but they see the size of bare land that was otherwise covered by trees increasing at an alarming rate. They have decided to deal with the situation.
Charcoal making, logging, timber sawing and now extensive crop farming by well-to-do people from Dar es Salaam city have all attributed to severe deforestation in the district. While large-scale farmers come from the nearby city, reports say that those who engage in charcoal and timber making come from as far as Morogoro, Iringa , Mbeya, Dodoma and Shinyanga.
And as pressure to protect the remaining few indigenous forests in the district is mounting, local charcoal producers have turned to mango and cashew trees for their raw materials, threatening to wipe off the many fruit trees that have replaced the indigenous ones.
Now the district council has come up with two projects; one is a tree planting drive that targets schools, institutions and individual families while the other focuses on provision of an alternative to charcoal so as to reduce pressure on forests.
“We don’t have any concrete data on how much of our indigenous forest resource is being illegally harvested but surely the rate of deforestation is high. The threat has now extended to other trees like mango, cashew and coconut, so we have started training communities in making briquettes which they can use instead of charcoal,” explained Dustan Kinyenya, acting District Forest Officer for Kibaha district.
He was speaking to members of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) whose tour of the district was in part implementation of Mama Misitu Campaign.
The campaign seeks to ensure, among other things, that communities which conserve and protect indigenous forests get a fair share of benefits accruing from the resources, government enforces rules and regulations which oversee the management of forests and relevant authorities collect all the potential revenue generated from sale of forest products.
Kinyenya told the journalists that the alternative energy project was being implemented hand-in-hand with a tree planting campaign with the aim of providing trees for charcoal makers so that they don’t have to depend on indigenous trees.
“But we would also like to restore natural vegetation. The disappearance of forests and the destruction of the environment in general have, according to experts, affected the seasons with the rainfall patterns being disrupted and significant reduction in precipitation being experienced,” he said.
Giving details about the briquettes, he said that the raw materials are easily available and the technology is simple.
Production has already started at small scale in Vikuge and Soga villages where villagers have organized themselves into groups to produce them. While those in Vikuge use a small electric machine, the counterparts in Soga still use a machine operated manually.
“Briquettes are made from rice or maize husks, saw dust or any crop residue. This means that there will be no shortage of raw materials or difficulty in accessing them. They are available in almost all parts of the district,” said Kinyenya, adding that the market is also good because the selling price is 4,000/- less than ordinary charcoal.
Currently the District council is implementing a plan to produce the briquettes on large scale, targeting the urban market in Mlandizi and Kibaha towns.
A “furnace” is on the final stages of construction at Kongowe which, on completion, would be able to produce 500kg of briquettes within one hour. It is being constructed by Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environment Organisation (TaTEDO) and would cost 27m/- on completion.
“Of course the district council is not going to operate this project; we have mobilized a group of youths who will run the facility and earn money from which they will also be able to repay the construction cost to TaTEDO,” the forest officer told journalists.
Kinyenya is also in charge of the district’s tree nursery on which 120, 000 seedlings have been raised. From the total, 2,000 seedlings have been given to Kikongo Primary school. These have been planted on a one hectare farm. However, although the seedlings are offered free of charge, individuals have shown little interest in the tree planting drive.
“Many people are not aware of the importance of trees, let alone of owning their own tree plantations. That is why last year we launched a campaign to promote tree planting in the district in order to underline the importance of trees as a source of firewood and charcoal to individuals. They can also raise substantial income if they grow fruit trees and get a good crop,” he told the journalists.
Rehema Hasan is a member of Tumaini Group in Vikuge village which engages in the production of briquettes.
The group started in November 2011 with 30 members but now has only 12. “People were not patient, they wanted to get quick money and when nothing was forthcoming, they left us,” says Rehema who is also the secretary of the group. She adds that the group is making slow progress because the machine they use is a small one and they only work part time. However members have started to earn some income from the sale of briquettes.
“We sell the briquettes at 500/- a measure, almost half the price of ordinary charcoal. But people are still conservative; they don’t believe that the briquettes are actually better than ordinary charcoal because they can use only a small amount to cook a meal. Sometimes we run into losses because people want to test first before they decide to buy,” she told the journalists.
Yet she was quick to admit that members of the group are financially better off now than they were before the project. “At times each of us gets 35,000/-, after we have met all the costs and bought all the raw materials we need. No one here had ever dreamt of getting so much money at ago,” she stressed. The group produces briquettes twice a week, with about 70kg produced each day.
Subira Juma Ndili of Nguvukazi Group in Soga village explained that the production of briquettes could have significant impacts on the protection of forests if it was done on large scale. “Very soon people will get used to the new product and this will surely remove pressure on our indigenous forests.
But for this to happen we need to increase production to satisfy the potential market. Yet we cannot do it with a small machine operated manually,” he said.
Ndili who is the secretary of the group told the journalists that production of briquettes is done only during the dry season because the group doesn’t have a shelter where they could keep fresh products to dry. They cannot leave the products to dry in the open during the rainy season.
“We are keeping money from the sale of our products so that eventually we can build a big barn where we can put the briquettes to dry. At present we don’t have such a place and even if today we got an electric machine, we would not raise production because we would have no place to dry our products,” he explained.
One member of the group, Fatuma Mwinyimvua, explained that members of the group can still solve their financial problems using funds from sale of the products.
”We have agreed among ourselves that if anyone has a serious problem, he or she can borrow money from the fund which will be repaid as soon as we have bought the electric machine and other important things. So the project is not just about conserving and protecting forests but it also helps us raise our incomes,” she said.
The Eastern Zone of the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) also works with communities to reduce pressure on indigenous forests by encouraging them to engage in alternative income generating activities besides charcoal making.
“We are mobilizing villagers to start beekeeping in the forests they are conserving so as to get another source of income. To encourage them we have distributed about 100 beehives to 24 villages. Beekeeping is not just about generating income, it is also about protecting forests. No one will cut trees in a forest where bees have settled in scores of hives,” says Bakari Mohamed, acting TFS Manager for the Eastern zone.
Kipangege village is one of the beneficiaries after getting 40 beehives from Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) as part of implementation of Mama Misitu Campaign.
However Mohamed is quick to point out how difficult it is to protect forests not only in Kibaha district but in Tanzania in general. “Extraction of forest products is difficult to control because besides the vast area that has to be managed by a small number of staff, forests are sort of open resources which are free for all.
Those who make charcoal, for example, just need an axe to start their business. Loggers and timber dealers often use secret routes to get in and out of forests with their products without the knowledge of law enforcers. Some people can establish farms in the heart of a forest without the knowledge of any authority,” he said.
He adds that the fact that trees have many uses such as production of charcoal, building poles, production of timber and logs as well as medicine for both urban and rural residents makes forests vulnerable to degradation, “Hence the need for full participation of communities if efforts to conserve and protect forests are to succeed.”