Reflections on the Timber Traders Meeting in Lindi

Cover photo: Ms. Mwanahawa Mpondi, Mama Misitu of Kiwanga Village, Rufiji District. (Photo credit: Elvis Engelbert)

By Ian Trupin, TNRF Communications Intern

On Friday, February 19th, the Mama Misitu Campaign (MMC) convened a meeting of timber traders from the Selous-Ruvuma area, representatives of CBNRM villages, facilitating CSOs, and government officials, with the aim of bringing together supply and demand sides in the timber trade, and addressing procedural ambiguities around the measurement of harvested timber. The meeting, which was convened in the coastal town of Lindi, was planned by WWF partners TNRF, MCDI and MJUMITA, with support from both the WWF-Finland sponsored TNRF/WWF-Tanzania partnership programme on forest and land-based investments and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs-funded Mama Misitu Campaign.

I went down with a team of Mama Misitu and TNRF staff to provide social media coverage, with the objectives of both bringing the discussion to a broader community online, and gathering evidence of stakeholder views to help inform policy makers ahead of the Forest National Hearing this month.

Traveling from Dar es Salaam to Lindi on Thursday, our group consisted of veteran TNRF driver Emmanuel Mlay, former TNRF Forestry Working Group chair Cassian Sanga, MMC coordinator Gwamaka Mwakyanjala, TNRF Community Based Natural Resource Management coordinator Faustine Ninga, my fellow TNRF intern Elvis Engelbert, and The Citizenreporter Bernard Lugongo.

The drive was smooth, broken only by a lunch stop for some particularly delicious chicken soup in Mkuranga, and we arrived to find preparations for the meeting well underway.

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Emmanuel, Bernard, and Elvis on Thursday outside of the meeting venue.

The meeting started around 9:00 am on Friday with an opening statement by Mr. Ninga as the main facilitator, who outlined the major goals and outline of the workshop. He expressed the hope that the meeting would both help traders bring business to sustainable, community-managed forests, and lead to recommendations on remaining technical ambiguities in the timber trade. Among the most pressing of the latter was to decide whether to use standing tree volume (including commercially worthless branches), or log volume to determine harvesting fees for traders.

The first part of the day consisted of presentations and question and answer sessions on forest management policies and regulations led by MMC and government representatives. During the presentations, slips of paper were distributed for each participant to write down what they felt was the greatest challenge in forest management. Following lunch, timber traders, village representatives, and forestry officials were asked to meet together in breakout groups to come to consensus on both the most pressing challenges, as well as steps forward on each of these issues.

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Cassian Sianga (left) and Gwamaka Mwakyanjala (center) discuss breakout group ideas with a timber trader. (Photo credit: Issa Michuzi Blog)

After an hour of deliberation, the groups returned, and representatives from each presented their conclusions. Following these presentations, Mr. Ninga facilitated an open discussion about how supply and demand sides of the rural timber trade can come together around their shared interests. Last of all, Mr. Ninga summarized the results of the discussion, highlighting points of agreement and next steps for all involved. Key points of agreement and recommendations included:

  • Timber traders are not sufficiently included in the process of setting harvesting fees and procedures.
    • Recommendations: 1) The Government should ensure that the business community is adequately represented in the process of formulating these procedures. 2) The business community in the southern region should come together as a formal network to help shape policy. 3) The Union of Timber Traders in Lindi (UWAMBALI) should lead the process of forming such a network in the southern region.
  • Overcharging of harvest-related fees on the local level is leading timber traders to harvest non-reserved forests.
    • Recommendation: Traders should not be asked to pay more than the meeting fee for a village representative (Tshs 5,000/=).
  • The increase in the number of timber harvest checkpoints is inefficient and leads to corruption.
    • Recommendation: 1) Joint checkpoints should be established, and the number of checkpoints belonging to different government departments should be reduced. 2) There should be one (or very few) check points in each wilaya. 3) Traders must increase transparency to enable these changes.
  • Timber transport is currently allowed only between the hours of 6:00 am and 6:00 pm.
    • Recommendation: 1) This time restriction should be revisited, and should be counted from where the transport vehicle enters a road, and not while the vehicle is in the forest. 2) It should be recognized that this travel restriction specifies when vehicles may pass through checkpoints, and not when they may be allowed to travel along roadways.
  • Current policy requires open-bed transport vehicles.
    • Recommendation: The procedure for transporting timber in open trucks should be revisited, as lack of covering can lead to rain damage. Open and closed container trucks should be allowed to a degree that reflects on the ground reality.
  • Use of chainsaws to trim and process logs, which is illegal, is on the rise.
    • Recommendations: 1) Business representatives agree to stop using chainsaws, and recommend that any timber trader caught with a chainsaw should be prosecuted and fined. 2) TFS should revisit their procedure for collecting fees, as it is full of corruption that encourages traders to disregard the law. 3) The harvesting period of 30 days currently allowed for those with a harvest permit is insufficient time to complete the task with handsaws, which forces many to use chainsaws. This time should be extended. 4) Forest officials’ should stamp harvested logs and stumps as needed by timber traders, and not according to their own schedules, which may not reflect the time allotted to traders for harvesting.
  • It is not currently possible to buy a license for less than 20 cubic meters of wood, which may be more than what a small-scale trader needs.
    • Recommendation: Licenses should be distributed for any amount of wood that a trader wants, whether it is 3 cubic meters or 20.
  • There is too much bureaucracy involved in acquiring a Transport Permit (TP) for forest products from TFS.
    • Recommendation: Either District Forest Officers (DFOs) should be allowed to distribute TPs, as they already have the role of stamping legally harvested timber from Village Land Forest Reserves, or villages themselves (who already give out harvesting licenses) should be given that right.
  • Communities do not have sufficient say in the governance of forests under Joint Forest Management (JFM).
    • Recommendation: The JFM Guidelines should be implemented to increase citizen participation and profit from these forests. This will motivate people to reduce the destruction of JFM forests.
  • Harvesting is ongoing in open forests which do not have harvest plans.
    • Recommendation: All harvesting should be restricted to forests with management plans.
  • The sale of timber to traders based on standing tree volume is unfair.
    • Recommendations: 1) The cost of timber should be based on the volume of harvested logs, and should not include parts of trees without commercial value. 2) The procedures regarding unused trimmings and remnants should be revisited, as it currently forces traders to pay twice for parts that are not removed during allotted harvest time.
  • The law does not specify what villages earn from the harvest of open forest land.
    • Recommendation: The law should specify how villages should profit from the harvest of open forests, as TFS has authority over revenue collection from these forests.
  • Timber is improperly stamped in villages to ease the authorization process.
    • Recommendation: Procedure must be followed here as stamping logs in villages (away from the harvest site) enables illegal harvesting outside of managed areas.

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Reflecting on the meeting, one of the most striking things to me was how little disagreement or conflict there was between the three represented sectors. Although forestry officials and village representatives accused traders and harvesters of being dishonest and lawless, and traders accused forestry officials and villagers of demanding bribes and overcharging fees, it was very clear that everyone saw their common interest in protecting both forest resources and growing the forest products trade. There was clear give and take, as was evidenced when village representatives declared that traders should only have to pay fees for harvested logs, and not for total standing tree volume (including unusable branches). Timber traders, for their part, agreed that chainsaws should be explicitly forbidden. It was clear that all sides believe that it is possible, through good governance and collaboration, to increase the economic value of the timber trade while limiting the total volume harvested.

 

Illegally harvested logs, Kiwanga Village, Rufiji District. (Photo credit: Elvis Engelbert)

Another particular area of interest to me, going into this meeting, was observing gender dynamics in the room. During a conversation the prior evening, Mr. Ninga told me that the vast majority of participants were expected to be adult men, as the timber trade is highly gendered. He was not mistaken. Of about 85 participants, exactly three were women, all of whom represented village forestry committees. While there certainly are women timber traders, they were clearly not present—a reality which deserves further research. The women who were present hardly spoke, and did not scribe during the group breakouts, although I noticed several instances of them participating more vocally in these.

On the return trip to Dar es Salaam, we stopped to buy several bags of charcoal at Kiwanga in Rufiji District. Pulling up to a charcoal station belonging to the “Maisha Mapya” group, we met a handful of local women charcoal sellers. During our conversation with their group, they introduced us to Ms. Mwanahawa Mpondi, the local Mama Msitu, or village forest guardian, who told us about the challenges of mismanagement and corruption in their area. Allegedly, the local District Forest Manager has been withholding profits from the village, including fees earned from auctioning confiscated timber that had been illegally harvested in the government forest.

WATCH: A message from Mama Msitu Mwanahawa Mpondi of Kiwanga Village to Tanzania Forest Service Agency

This last episode was a particularly fitting end to the journey, as it illustrated the need for solutions that build good governance, transparency, and most of all education at all levels of the forest trade and forest management. Rather than simply blaming villagers for overharvesting or failing to protect their forests, or blaming forest officials for being dishonest, civil society organization must partner with the different stakeholders to insure that all sides are well-informed and engaged in keeping each other honest.

 

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