Ruvu forest pays dearly for being near Dar
By Jan Ajwang
The forest is very near Dar es Salaam where the demand for charcoal and timber is high. This makes it vulnerable to dealers in wood and charcoal who find it conveniently located.
Indeed, according to the local natural resources committee most of the people involved in the deforestation are outsiders who come to plunder and then return to the city where they sell their products…
On the face of it, Ruvu South Forest reserve is a jungle of thick undergrowth and thriving trees.
But further probing into the forest yields massive destruction that has left behind only a collection of countable trees amidst with many tree stamps, the work of charcoal burner and other illegal loggers.
The future of the remaining trees in this 35,000 hectare forest is still uncertain - they too will probably fall to a similar fate.
There are other trees to be seen on the floor of the forest - already cut down and probably still awaiting the final decision of their prey.
More trees can be seen lying in waste next to makeshift pits that were used to saw the logs into smaller and more portable pieces of timber.
Not so far away from where we stand in the forest, which is part of Kisarawe and Kibaha districts, is a small, neat heap of smaller branches or split wood probably waiting to be burnt for charcoal.
In other areas similar mounds stand, already covered with soil as another stage of charcoal preparation proceed not far away.
At another spot the mound has been demolished and whoever was now `reaping` and packing his charcoal may have escaped into the nearby bushes on hearing the sound of a car. The heat that can be felt at these spots shows how fresh the charcoal is.
Ideally the charcoal would be parked in sacks and ferried from the forest through various hidden routes before it finds its way to Dar es Salaam especially through Kibaha where the demand for it is very high.
``This forest is very near Dar es salaam city where the demand for charcoal and timber is high. So many people find it a convenient source of wood and charcoal and therefore come here and cut down trees because they can sell the products in the city,`` says Mtonda Yahaya, an assistant field officer for the Ruvu South Forest Reserve. The price of charcoal within the forest and depending on the quantity is between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000. This price, however, doubles by the time the charcoal gets to Dar.
We had traveled to Ruvu with journalists and officials from the Norwegian embassy and the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, as part of the latter`s efforts to highlight the problems facing forests in Tanzania especially deforestatation and the resultant environmental degradation.
We learn from members of the local natural resources committee that most of the people involved in deforestation and destruction of the forest are outsiders most of whom come to plunder and return to the city where they sell their products.
Sometimes there is a supply chain. For instance the one who makes the charcoal will sell it to another who will transport it and another person will sell it to a retailer or wholesaler in Dar es Salaam. This is similar to the chain of those who sell timber.
As we continued on our tour, we interrupted three plunderers as they transported timber on bicycles on their way to Dar es Salaam through Kibaha.
The three men, obviously aware that what they were doing is illegal, cast their heavily-laden bicycles by the road and took to their heels into the bushes.
Ideally, if the government patrol teams from the Forestry and Bee-keeping divisions vigilantly did their work daily as opposed to irregularly these men would have been easily picked and taken for questioning, arrested and even taken to court.
This time however, when a member of the team was called to inform the government patrol officers, they said that they were on their way.
The bicycles each had ten heavy pieces of timber making them a total of 30 and a polythene bag of rice for lunch.
As we later came to learn, transporting them from this forest to Kibaha or Dar es Salaam could take most of the day and the `transporter` would get at least Sh18,000 for the job. The timber on reaching Dar es Salaam goes for between Sh8,000 - Sh10,000 per bar.
That means that the final trader would gain between Sh240,000 - Sh300,000 after with the sale of the timber that was harvested illegally from the forest.
As we waited at the abandoned bicycles, some of the culprits finally came out of his hiding place and begged for forgiveness.
According to him it was just his second day on this job and he was only assigned to transport the timber for which he would get Sh18,000. It would be nearly an hour or so before the patrol people we were expecting called to say that they had gotten `lost` in the forest.
When they were given fresh directions to where we were, they reportedly responded that they had run out of fuel and therefore wouldn’t make it to the `crime scene`.
One can only speculate about their behavior… Was this the order of the day? Are forest patrols not allocated enough fuel and yet they are expected to protect the forests?
Are these patrol officers motivated enough? Or are they part of the gangs that are involved in plundering the forests?
The questions were many and the glaring fact remained that the forest was raided and the culprits could go free given the authorities’ reluctance to bring them to book.
Fortunately we had in our company the village patrol team who were also members of the natural resources committee whose bylaws made the provisions for dealing with forest plunderers like these men.
The committee resolved to take the culprits to the village where their booty would be confiscated and they would have to pay fines.
Unfortunately the village was not close by and it would take another long trip before they would make it to the village. This was the only option they had and it was better than letting these culprits go scot-free.
It also highlighted some of the problems such a community faces in independently trying to protect a forest from encroachers, with barely any means to do the job as the outsiders continue to make a killing from the forest.
This utter plundering of a natural forest comes with deforestation which is cutting trees with no plan of replacing them.
This also comes with the degradation of the environment as the absence of trees through deforestation, burning and clearing results in more emissions of carbon and other green house gases into the atmosphere which contribute to global warming.
Some of the catastrophic climate disasters like hurricanes, El Nino, and even disease outbreaks have been linked to global warming. This means the disaster that is going on in Ruvu Forest Reserve if not stopped could be a threat to humanity.
This could also defeat efforts towards the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) campaign. This campaign is geared towards conserving forests as a way to curb emissions the majority of which are carbon dioxide that trees live off.
Across the globe, Norway has featured as a leading supporter for the REDD campaign with the country pledging an estimated $500 million a year through its Forest and climate initiative.
``In addition to emission deductions, a global REDD mechanism should promote sustainable forest management, contribute to protection of biodiversity and secure the rights, involvement and livelihood of local communities and indigenous people; REDD must also promote sustainable development and poverty reduction by way of securing tangible co- benefits,`` reads a brief from the Norwegian Embassy.
Tanzania is a pilot country for this initiative and the first country to sign a REDD agreement with Norway in March - represented by Jon Lomoy, the Norwegian ambassador to Tanzania and Professor Pius Yanda Director of Institute of Resource Assessment, University of Dar es Salaam.
The agreement worth $2 million is to facilitate the development of a national strategy for REDD in 18 months.
``The strategy will guide the coordination and implementation of mechanisms of Tanzania to benefit from a post 2012 internationally approved system for forest carbon trading based on demonstrated emission reduction from deforestation and forest degradation after 2012,`` reads the brief.
With the REDD campaign taking its course, it also becomes relevant for a country like Tanzania to take more serious action towards forest conservation, not just because of any available funding, but because it is the right thing to do if the country and its economy is to survive.