21 October 2006

Tanzania: Catchment Forest Reserves And Conservation of Water

Arusha — Catchment forests in Tanzania are mostly tropical moist forests found mainly in mountainous areas. They have the ecological functions of encouraging rainfall, catching water, stabilizing water flows, reducing erosion, land slides, and floods in areas of steep topography and high precipitation. They are areas of high biodiversity.

The forests have an important function of supporting large populations downstream with water for irrigation, hydro-electricity and industrial use, but also for livestock and of course for drinking. Forest reserves in Tanzania cover about 36.8% of the country. However illegal logging and clearing of forest and woodland for farming, & charcoal is accelerating with losses put at over 91,000 hectares per annum. 15% of Tanzania's forest cover was lost between 1990-2005. Clearly losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained and a heavy price will be paid in the future for this wanton destruction.

The Eastern arc and the Southern highlands have forest remnants to be found in the highest reaches of the mountains. Agriculture is pressing further and further in to the forests despite them being nominally protected areas. They are exceptionally rich in flora and fauna including many endemic and threatened species.

The remaining Mountain forests face many challenges including agricultural expansion (encroachment) unsustainable harvesting for wood and non-wood forest products, grazing, forest fires and mining to support an ever- growing population.

The areas are characterized by poverty, inadequate cooperation and coordination between catchment forestry staff and public actors, and strained relationships between local people and forest staff.

The degradation of these forests results in losses of timber and forest biodiversity, diminishing catchment values, resulting in hydrological imbalances, reduced water in rivers and floods, hence inadequate supply of clean and sufficient water. Also degradation results in the declining crop productivity of surrounding agricultural land, decreased income and poverty among rural people and the decline of the national economy at large.

The Wildlife Conservation of Tanzania (WCST) works to encourage participation of stakeholders in the management of these forest reserves and involve the communities living nearby these forest reserves in preparing management plans and make by-laws as well as gaining legal access to forest benefits such as water for irrigation.

In order for communities to effectively participate in forest management, WCST has embarked on training programmes for communities and students of all levels in various themes related to community participation in forest management, communication skills and entrepreneurship. The programme is a partnership between Birdlife Denmark, DANIDA , The Tanzanian Government and WCST (The project Manager).

To address the issue of biodiversity loss various measures have been put in place by the project. These measures are aimed at boundary consolidation and marking, rehabilitation of degraded areas, natural regeneration, and fire lines establishment, and joint patrols with the community living next t the forest.

Efforts are also being made to train farmers in sustainable agricultural practices such as terracing, contour farming and agro forestry. Also a concerted effort between Regional and District Education officers and WCST has resulted in theoretical and practical teaching of forest management to primary and secondary students. As a result, pupils maintain school nurseries and are engaged in tree planting in their schools and homestead.

WCST (Arusha branch) has started a programme of giving talks to schoolchildren on environmental care. This programme is being expanded and the Society will work in partnership with various stakeholders so as to reverse the steady decline in tree cover on the slopes of Mount Meru and the diminishing flow of water in our rivers.

The state of the World Environment is deteriorating very fast. The killing of wild animals, the clearing of forests for agriculture, timber harvesting, draining of wetlands, erosion, pollution in all its forms and many more activities are leading to habitat destruction and species extinction. At a local level much can be done to reverse these negative trends but to make progress WCST NEEDS YOU!!!!

"Do something good for conservation" and join the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (Arusha) Branch. Contact the Executive Officer Email: cosmas@wcstarusha.org Tel: 0754 626 570.

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