15 June 2014

Tanzania: Immediate Action Needed to Check Illegal Logging

CONVOY of lorries loaded with timber heading for both domestic and foreign destinations has become a common sight along the highways.

There is nothing wrong with it, as such consignments prove the abundance of natural resources this country is endowed with. Judging from the volume of freight, it goes without saying that timber trade is a lucrative business.

From January to December the supply is unfailing. One wouldn't expect therefore to see any pupil in this country sitting on a dusty floor for seven years with all the ongoing harvesting of wood.

However, experts in forest conservation at the international level (TRAFFIC) decided to find out what was actually going on within the sector as the benefits seem not to be reaching the ordinary citizens.

In the 2007 study which was authorized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, and funded by the Tanzania Development Partners Group, TRAFFIC revealed that illegal logging and shipment in average costs the nation US Dollars 58 million annually.

The report further showed that China imported 10 times more timber from Tanzania than was recorded in Tanzania's export records, a clear indication of rampant smuggling.

This can not be allowed to go on. Appropriate measures must be taken immediately to address the problem. An expert in forestry once said unending looting of the natural forests was like having a 'bank' full of money but without doors and therefore accessible to anyone to plunder.

With uncontrolled cross-border trade, revenue collection becomes a complicated process as well and both countries are likely to massive losses, with a few unscrupulous individuals benefiting.

It is time to improve regional cooperation through enhanced information sharing system and rigorous check-up at entry/exit posts. Climate change effects do not recognize borders therefore concerted efforts are of great importance.

Since deforestation happens in the face of local government authorities, deliberate efforts must be in place to stop indiscriminate logging as reports indicate that some of the local leaders are involved in the illegal timber trade.

Apparently the gradual removal through nonreplacement after retirement of local forest guards was a mistake as most of the forest reserves now remain unguarded, hence vulnerable to illegal timber trade dealers.

Even in places where forest rangers were posted, the extensive nature of forest reserves made it difficult for them to sustain surveillance. Trained forest guards should be reinstated and the holistic participatory approach promoted to protect and improve the environment.

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