A PLAN to start baseline survey in Rufiji delta by World Wildlife Fund for Nature which wants to help villagers get paid through REDD, has suffered a setback from the torching of farm huts and cutting down of coconut trees by Mangrove Management Project officials last October.
Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Degradation is a United Nations programme which seeks to compensate communities for keeping their forest intact which helps absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce global warming.
Skeptical villagers from Salale ward at the delta have welcomed WWF's offer cautiously saying they did welcome MMP over two decades ago in the same way but are now suffering the consequencies.
"When Mangrove Management people first introduced their project to us, they made many promises of involving us in benefits sharing but today things have turned against us," Jumanne Kinkumbi, Chairman of Nyamisati village, said.
Mr Kinkumbi said although they have heard good stories relating to WWF who have involved communities in replanting areas where mangroves have been cut down, the MMP actions have made them skeptical of anyone coming to partner with villagers to tap their resources.
"We welcomed them and listened to their project but what I must say is that it will take a lot of efforts to convince people who are now suffering from Mangrove Management Project which has never shared any benefits with us," said Sudi Mkumba, a Village Executive Officer for Nyamisati.
An estimated 10,000 residents of Salale ward lost over 3,000 farm huts at their paddy rice fields last October when MMP officials backed by armed policemen invaded their paddy rice fields torching huts and cutting down coconut trees in an attempt to evict them from the forest reserve.
"The attacks have made our work difficult because villagers are now worried of anyone who approaches them but we hope we assured them of our mission and that they understood," said Professor Shadrack Mwakalla, WWF REDD Coordinator from Dar es Salaam.
Prof Mwakalla said their schedule was targeting to start work at Rufiji delta in November but the attempted forceful evictions which caused panic and chaos have frustrated their programme as they need to undertake a confidence building exercise among communities.
"We assured them that WWF is interested in improving their livelihoods and nothing else. Our project is participatory and targets to benefit communities and not otherwise," he stressed.
The WWF REDD project which is funded by Norwegian government is increasingly seen by villagers as a party to the MMP attacks as they also work in partnership in mangrove restoration in the area.
A recent remote-sensing study conducted by WWF Tanzania in association with Sokoine University has shown that over 5,000 hectares of Rufiji mangrove forest have been lost to rice cultivation over the past 20-30 years.