Weak governance escalating deforestation in Tanzania: FAO report

Of the total land area (88.3 mn hectares) in the African country, 55% is under forest cover. According to 2017 estimates, deforestation occurred at 469,000 ha per annum  

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Tuesday 06 August 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Thirty–five per cent of community-owned forests in the United Republic of Tanzania are experiencing a high rate of deforestation due to weak governance in the country, according to a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

Of the total land area (88.3 million hectares) in Tanzania, 55 per cent is under forest cover. Of the total forest area, 64 per cent is under community-based forestry (CBF) regimes. This includes collaborative forestry to community forestry practices on village lands and also to smallholder forestry practiced on private lands.  

The country has been a pioneer in community-based forest management (CBFM) among African countries. It has established at least 2.5 mn ha of village land as village land forests reserves where local communities have rights over forest management and governance, including control over harvesting forest products.

The African country has, however, in recent years experienced high rates of deforestation — at 469,000 ha per annum, according to 2017 estimates.

Shifting cultivation, urbanisation, firewood, charcoal production, uncontrolled fires and also the introduction of large-scale agriculture for biofuel production are the major factors for deforestation in Tanzania, the FAO report found. 

The CBF has been known to prevent and report illegal forest use, fight forest fires and rehabilitate degraded areas. But, they were found to be underperforming, due to the minimal government funding allocated for their development, according to the report.

Tanzania supports a strong legal framework for people’s participation in forestry through a range of tenure systems. They include:

  • Joint forest management (JFM) in state forests,
  • CBFM including village land forest reserves and community forest reserves on village lands,
  • Wildlife management areas (WMA) on village lands adjacent to protected areas,
  • Private forestry ownership (PFO) or individual customary ownership

Of the 48.1 mn ha of forest area, the government-owned forests comprise 41 per cent. Within government forest category, 34.5 per cent of the total forest area is held by the central government, 6.5 per cent by local governments and 11.2 per cent is managed in collaboration with communities through JFM schemes.

Only about 9.8 per cent of the rural population is involved in CBFMs, while 8.4 per cent is in JFM, according to the community-based forestry assessment.

PFO comprises around 3.5 mn ha, or 7.3 per cent of Tanzania’s total forest area. But weak local government have resulted in poor forest management.

The WMAs occupy a little over 2.9 mn ha, or 6.1 per cent of the total forest area. But, the associations tend to engage in corruption while allocating rights and benefits to community members and collecting revenues, the report showed.

To revive the CBF regimes, the need is to strengthen governance of customary forests, bolster local skills and technologies to improve incomes from the sustainable production of wood and non-wood products, finance local institutions through payment for ecosystem services and bring transparency in village land dealings, the FAO said.

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