IN the thicket of Masito-Ugalla forest, a group of young- men are struggling to use a set of modern gadgets, including a global positioning system (GPS), tapes, calibrated rulers and several other tools to pinpoint location, trunk size and the height of trees for purposes of carbon measurement.
Most of the young men (women are not participating because of the nature of the job) are primary school leavers and their main activities until recently were farming, fishing, carpentry, masonry, charcoal making and illegal logging. But all that has changed. They have undergone basic training in forest carbon measurement under the Jane Goodall Institute's (JGI ) REDD Pilot Project involving seven villages of Kigoma Rural district.
"I have acquired these basic skills in measuring the amount of carbon in a tree from the Pansiasi College of Wildlife in Mwanza and from seminars at Ilagala village," said 35 year old Abeidnego Bigera, a resident of Songambele, which is one of the villages benefitting from the three- year Norwegian government funded project in the Masito-Ugalla area.
Mr Bigera is one of the more than 30 forest monitors trained under the pilot project which involves Ilagala, Songambele, Sunuka, Sigunga, Karago, Kirando and Lyabusende villages. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is a United Nations (UN) touted carbon trading scheme that seeks to compensate forest owners, including local communities, for keeping their forests intact as carbon sinks to mitigate the impact of global warming.
Scientists argue that deforestation and forest degradation which are common in developing countries account for about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the forest degradation is caused by human activities such as farming, timber processing and logging, often done by neighbouring villagers which is why the JGI 's project is targeting to sensitise communities by providing them with skills that support them to survive without cutting trees.
"We have learned unique things that will enable us take tree measurements in our forest and send the data using modern information technology to a server at the JGI ," said Amos Nduhiye, a form four secondary school leaver who has also received training since 2010.
The 29- year- old Mr Nduhiye, like many of his colleagues, hopes their newly acquired skills will not only change their lives, but also enable them conserve the environment while benefitting the entire community. At Pansiasi College for Wildlife in Mwanza, the Forester Monitors (FMs) spend some three months learning basic techniques of wildlife conservation, protection and additional skills such as forest carbon measurement.
According to JGI 's REDD Project Director, Edwin Nssoko, the FMs have been trained by experts in forest carbon measurement from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Mr Nssoko said additional training on forest carbon measurement was provided to the forest monitors by the National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment (NAFORMA) experts so that they can be able to continue undertaking the work when the project finally comes to an end.
So far the JGI REDD pilot project has given one GPS gadget to each of the seven villages involved plus a set of supporting equipment to be used in the complicated exercise that many would think is the domain of graduate scientists. Additional GPS's and supporting equipment will be provided to the villages later this year.
"Anyone with some basic reading and writing knowledge can do this and it does not necessarily have to be a graduate," said Dr Eliakimu Zahabu of SUA who has been involved in training of the Kigoma Rural villagers. Dr Zahabu said SUA has been undertaking such forest carbon measurement training for villagers since 2000 to enable them to acquire vital skills to do the work of carbon measurement on their own rather than seek services from external consultants who would demand hiked fees.
"When carbon trading starts, the costs of outsourcing carbon measurement and monitoring will be very high, which may affect villagers' earnings and render the whole purpose of REDD worthless to communities," argued Dr Zahabu. Under the JGI REDD pilot project, among other things, villagers from Kigoma Rural district are also expected to be given skills to find alternative income generating activities such as modern beekeeping and to be able to mobilise resources to fund their own development projects.
"Over the course of the threeyear project, JGI will develop methodologies and provide technical training to communities and local and national government partners to undertake inventory, monitor and manage their forests," said a statement released by the Institute soon after receiving funding from the Norwegian government in 2010.
JGI will use a number of cuttingedge technologies in partnership with Woods Hole Research Centre, Google Earth, ESRI and DigitalGlobe, such as a mobile Android/ODK application running on Android smart phones, tablets and Web-based mapping systems along with GIS and high-resolution satellite imagery.
"By using geospatial technologies and the Internet, local communities will be able to interact directly with the global carbon marketplace and demonstrate unequivocally the concrete benefits of their efforts to protect the forest," said Dr Lilian Pintea, Director of Conservation Science at the Jane Goodall Institute, in a statement.
"As a result, local information will directly inform and influence national and global decisions regarding climate change." Dr Zahabu and Mr Nssoko agree that with the empowerment of villagers who have for centuries protected forests from greedy business people seeking to excessively exploit them and their wildlife at the expense of the communities..
"When we empower these communities and they see the benefits of keeping their trees alive, then a solution to the problem of deforestation and global warming may be achieved," argued Nssoko. If protected from loggers, the 70,000 hectares of pristine Masito- Ugalla forest reserve may greatly assist with carbon storage and sequestration and contain global warming.
"Deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pasture land, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires, etc., account for nearly 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector," said UN REDD in a statement prior to last year's Climate Conference held in Durban, South Africa.
Norwegian Ambassador to Tanzania, Ingunn Klepsvi, whose country has provided 80 million US dollars (approx. 127.4bn/-) over five years since 2008, towards REDD initiatives in Tanzania, said her country is supporting the UN initiative to compensate poor countries which support conservation of forests, which help keep carbon dioxide in tree trunks.
"Under REDD, it is envisaged that a country that reduces its rate of deforestation and forest degradation will be awarded financial incentives," Ms Klepsvik told lawmakers from the Parliamentary Committees on Land, Housing and Natural Resources and that of Finance and Economic Affairs who were attending a seminar on climate change organised by Institute of Resources Assessment of University of Dar es Salaam. It is predicted that financial flows for greenhouse gas emission reductions from REDD+ could reach up to US$30 billion a year.