MANY people interpret deforestation in different ways. One such meaning describes it as progressive removal of trees from woodland without requisite regeneration.
In other words, it is a process that can take many years, progressively turning a densely stocked forest with trees into grassland with no trees. Clearing a forest area, followed by re-planting of the area with trees is not deforestation but part of forest management.
Other people define deforestation as the conversion of forested land to other uses. Deforestation is a global problem; annually the rate of global deforestation is around 13 million hectares, most of which occurs in the developing world. In 2010, the FAO reported that deforestation in Africa is around 3.4 million hectares/year.
Based on recent reports from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism deforestation in Tanzania is estimated at 412,000 ha per annum. Left to thrive, this practice is a proven killer of the national and community development efforts affecting both individuals and the entire society.
Depending on the speed of deforestation, people conceive its impact in three main ways, namely acceptable, tolerable and intolerable impacts. Progressive loss of forests in a community with large areas of forest cover for example in Liwale District, with average forest area per person of over 7 ha is considered acceptable by the community hence no conservation measures are taken.
As clearing of forests continue without pre-requisite natural regeneration or effective afforestation efforts, the forest area per person declines and could be below 1 ha, which is not sufficient to meet community demand of wood products.
However, some communities do ignore the negative impacts of deforestation until this is intolerable due to drought, floods, scarcity of food, water and energy, loss of biodiversity and other factors related to climate change. Intolerable impacts fundamentally threaten a private or social norm, including, public safety, continuity of traditions and collapse of the economy due to taking of un-effective or late adaptive measures.
Knowledge on what is acceptable, tolerable or intolerable impacts of deforestation by individuals and the community will intensify collective efforts in combating deforestation through concerted efforts with effective monitoring and evaluation to assess field results. Changes of Tanzania forests When Tanzania attained its independence in 1961, the country had over 44 million ha of forest cover and a population of around 7 million people.
The average forest area per person was around 6.3 ha. The forests had good stock of trees with average mean annual increment ranging from 10 to 15 cubic metres (M3) per ha. At this stage individuals and the community could meet their wood products demand from their natural forests.
Clearing of forests during this time was considered as component of development and deforestation impacts were considered tolerable. Due to sound environmental conservation arising from forest cover, most parts of Tanzania with forests had reliable water supply from rivers and springs, we had no experience on floods, large scale soil erosion, shortage of firewood and other environmental problems associated with loss of forests.
To enhance conservation of the natural forests the government did set aside specific forest areas as Central or local Government forest reserves that were guarded through policing principles with little involvement of the community. As by end of 2012 total forest area in Tanzania based on data from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourismwere around 38.8 million ha.
The gazetted national or local government forest reserves account for about 13.5 ha and the remaining 25.3million ha are forests in either villages or general lands. Common understanding of the community is that a forest area should have good stock of trees.
However based on current field observations most of the areas that are claimed to be national or local government forest reserves have no trees Forests on public lands are not protected and in many cases they are regarded as unused land with little economic value - forgetting their environmental conservation functions and provision of wood and non-woody products to the community.
Various researchers have concluded that the state and trends of the forestry resources in Tanzania are largely unknown. The existing information is fragmentary and not based on current field situation of the forests. To improve the forest data, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism initiated a national forest inventory NAFORMA of which its report is expected to be released soon.
The best and realistic assessor of forest resource change trend in Tanzania at community level are individuals that could compare the current forest status in their village or surrounding landscape when they started primary school and the current forest situation in the village. For example, in my village all the natural forests has disappeared and planted trees on farmland are also disappearing.