TANZANIA's natural and cultural heritage has expansive variety of ecosystems containing some of the world's richest and most diverse plant and animal communities.
As Tanzania's population that is traditionally based on subsistence agriculture continues to grow, degradation to the environment is becoming an increasingly serious concern.
The shrinking availability of forest products, arable land and clean water is decreasing the ability of people, both rural and urban, to keep their livelihoods.
In order to reduce poverty, it is imperative to develop and encourage sustainable practices that balance the needs of communities with that of conservation. With nearly 20 per cent of its land area under protection, the government is committed to ensure protection of the environment for the good of the people and wildlife.
However, many challenges remain in the face of the rapid social and economic changes underway. Development endeavours can be accomplished without sacrificing the natural environment. Conservation is not only valuable in its own right, but is critical for improving the quality of the people's life.
Research findings have shown that between 1961 and 1997, Tanzania lost over 10 million hectare of forests. To prevent further loss of forest cover and to intensify contribution of forestry to poverty eradication, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism have made concerted efforts with active participation of the local community and other stakeholders to enforce forest policy and legal instruments.
In 1998, the New National Forest Policy was enacted by the parliament. The policy vests the responsibility of managing the forest resources sustainably under the forest sector (FBD) in collaboration with other stakeholders' in particular local communities.
To intensify involvement of local communities in conservation of forests, the FBD produced handbook, Community-Based Forest Management Guidelines, in English and Swahili. At national level, FBD has developed an effective policy framework and legal instruments for conserving forests.
However, at the local level the rate of deforestation and degradation of forests is still a major problem as by end of 2011 annual deforestation rate in Tanzania was estimated at 412,000 hectares that is progressively turning Tanzanian to a landscape devoid of trees cover.
Analysis of forest and vegetation cover of Coast Region conducted in 2011 by the Rural Energy Agency (REA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, confirmed that the Coast Region has lost most of its forest cover and utilisation of wood resources in the region is not renewable, causing environmental degradation.
Coast Region has a total forest reserve area of 444,440 ha. However, due to ongoing unsustainable harvesting of the forests, most of the forest reserve areas have become grass land. Record shows that the over-exploitation of forest resources in the Coast Region and its environmental impact to Dar es Salaam was already reported by early 1980s.
Main drivers of forest degradation and deforestation in the region include clearing of forests for agriculture expansion, increasing demand of wood resources due to rapidly increasing population, use of inefficient wood burning stoves, inefficient charcoal production technologies and increasing supply of charcoal and firewood to Dar es Salaam market from unsustainable forest resources.
Available data confirm that the estimated internal biomass consumption for Coast Region in year 2011 was around 1,062,574 m3. Again, data from Forest Division check points indicate that in 2011 about 1,800,000 m3 of biomass from Coast Region were sold to DSM.
The total biomass harvested from the Coast Region in 2011 was therefore 2,862,574 m3. However, available biomass in coast Region in 2011 that could be harvested on sustainable basis without causing environmental degradation was around 896,288 m3.
Matching the supply potential on renewable basis of 896,288 m3 from the Coast Region forests and the total harvested biomass amounting to 2,862,574 m3 in 2011, - the region experienced a biomass deficit of 1,966,286 m3, which was met through over harvesting of the existing forest stock, consequently causing forest degradation and deforestation.
The alarming rate at which destruction of forest reserves is taking place for example, in the Coast Region, (a few minutes drive from Dar es Salaam City) illustrates the unique challenges facing the forestry sector of Tanzania.
A case study conducted in Kazimzumbwi National Forest Reserve in Kisarawe District - Coast Region illustrates the existing challenges for conserving forests and the contribution of deforestation to poverty and climate change to surrounding communities.
Kazimzumbwi is a protective Central Government Forest Reserve with an area of 4,820 hectares that was gazetted in 1954 vide Government Notice No. 306 of 24th September 1954, with approved map No. JB 196. The reserve has an elevation of 120-280 metres above sea level and red to brown sandy clay soils.
Currently water supply in the streams is seasonal, creating water scarcity in Kisarawe District and even in Dar es Salaam. The estimated value of the water resource lost is estimated at 25bn/- per annum that could be saved at a fraction of cost through sustainable conservation of the forest reserve.
Based on surveys conducted in year 2002 by Care International, some of the biodiversity resources of Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve threatened by extinction include plants 236 species; mammals 32 species, reptiles28 species, amphibians 19 species; and butterflies 140 species.
Recent surveys that were conducted by the Forest Division in 2012 have confirmed that Kazimzumbwi FR has lost most of its tree cover due to deforestation. Most of the biodiversity values of the reserve have also vanished.
The 2002 forest survey of Kazimzumbwi FR found that communities surrounding the forest collected for subsistence firewood, poles, withies, thatch grass, ropes, mushroom, wild fruits, raffia, toothbrushes, honey, traditional medicines and in few cases, meat of small wild animals.
Valuation of the forest products collected free and used by the community in Coast Region indicated that these products contributed 46,000/- per capita as compared to the average per capita income of Coast Region of around 28,149/- in 1997.
Early effective conservation of Kazimzumbwi forest reserve contributed to climate amelioration that facilitated reliable rainfall patterns, availability of water, increased agriculture production and favourable micro climate. Based on local community observations, by end of 2011 deforestation of Kazimzumbwi FR has made small rivers and spring disappear.
Springs like Rivers Dalu, Msimbazi, Vikongoro and Nzasa have all dried up. Kimwani and Kipawa wetlands have dried up too. Water levels of Minaki and Fukwi dams have gone down and Maguruwe dam has dried up. Short rains (Vuli) that used to start every October have disappeared.
Villagers indicated that from 1980 to around 2000 when Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve had a good tree cover, they had reliable rains but now there is a long drought, resulting in poor agricultural. Villagers reported that they are currently experiencing dramatic increase in temperatures due to loss of tree cover.
Women and children use more time looking for water instead of engaging in gainful employment. In Kisanga village, for instance, it takes up to three hours to fill a 20 litre bucket of water. Gusts of wind are stronger today.
The ongoing destruction of the Kazimzumbwi forest is threatening development in the city of Dar es Salaam by subjecting it to a scarcity of water. Pugu and Ruvu forest reserves that act as lungs of Dar es Salaam are therefore required to conserve Kazimzumbwi forest.