wilderness

How community forests are thriving in Tanzania

In Tanzania, forests cover almost half of the country and the vast majority of the population live in rural areas dependent on agriculture.

In recent years, forests have been rapidly destroyed for energy and food production. To combat this, community-based forest management was introduced in 2002 to reduce deforestation and improve the livelihoods of local people.

As of 2012, 2.4 million hectares of land were managed by communities within local villages. These villages conduct different activities, like forest regeneration, beekeeping and sustainable charcoal production. Some also log and sell timber from their land, in what has become Africa’s first timber sourced from community-managed forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

In July this year, ClientEarth visited four different community forests in Tanzania to see how effectively the system of community forestry works. We hope to draw lessons from successful models, such as Nepal and the Philippines, that will help aid the design and implementation of community forest laws elsewhere, including in the Congo basin.

During the research trip, we met with government officials, other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of community villages managing forests in the Kilwa, Kilosa and Kibaha districts. We found that:

  • In villages visited, all community-managed forests rely on local village governments. These are well-established administrative bodies set by law and include rules on village members’ representation and participation – some even include gender quotas. Village members elect a council and a natural resource committee, who are in charge of the daily management of the forest. These bodies are accountable to the village assembly, which meet four times a year. These checks and balances help ensure good governance in the community forest.
  • Community-run forests increase the devolution of power to local people. Each village can determine the boundaries of the community forest situated on its lands. They implement their own management plans and rules around the forest, tailored to the village’s needs. This gives people power and autonomy and means each community forest can be governed for the benefit of its members.
  • Most of the villages we visited generate income from their community forest activities, in particular from timber and charcoal production. Local NGOs are key to ensuring these forest products get access to the market, and help communities fulfil their legal obligations.
  • In Tanzania, community-run forests benefit from tax exemptions from the government. All of the villages we visited chose to reinvest this money into community development projects. These can be building schools or covering the costs of medical care for village members.

During our field mission, we discovered that in Tanzania empowering communities to manage their forests could help reduce deforestation within village boundaries. However, community forestry in Tanzania also encounters certain challenges. For example, deforestation outside of village areas can continue. Moreover, community-run forests often fail to involve marginalised indigenous groups, which causes tension over land and can even affect people’s livelihoods.

Tanzania is currently reviewing its forest policy, including the current model of community forest management. This is an opportunity to improve the laws around community forests and ensure they remain strong, empower local people, and protect the environment.

ClientEarth’s upcoming analysis of laws around community forestry, taking lessons learned from Tanzania and other countries, will provide guidance to decision-makers about best practices to design and implement community forest laws.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist, click here to find it.

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