Ruvu — Communities surrounding and engaged in safeguarding the South Ruvu Forest Reserve are seeking a share of revenues collected from illegally harvested trees.
The communities and the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) Agency have entered into an agreement on participatory natural forest management.
According to reports, there are 48.1 million hectares of forest reserves, equivalent to 55 percent of all Tanzania land.
However, 386,712 hectares are lost annually to get charcoal.
The government came up with idea of forestry participatory management which calls on communities surrounding reserves to protect them from deforestation.
Despite the community engagement, all the proceeds from illegal harvesting of natural forest in South Ruvu have been taken by the Central Government.
Mr Shomari Juma, Kipagege Village executive chairman in Kibaha, Coast Region, said it was agreed that 32 per cent of the proceeds from illegal forest harvests be given back to the community to fund projects.
He said the village started protecting the natural forest in 2014.
"It was agreed that there should be by-laws and an official agreement on how we divide the proceeds."
But he said since the recommendation was made nothing had been done. The agreement is yet to be signed and the revenues are not shared by the community.
In another development, a member of the Natural Resource Village Council Committee, Mr Subira Juma, said a network of villagers and village executive councils had been formed to protect Ruvu South forest reserve.
There had been patrols at the borders to ensure the forest is not destroyed.
But challenges abound: people still invade the forest to farm and live and the process of removing them is difficult.
"While we have shown our full support to safeguard the reserve, we lack proper shoes to trek into the forests to a point we are in danger of being bitten by snakes and the possibility of being treated immediately or compensated is tough."
Soga Village Environment Committee member Latifa Feri said for many years they had been living close to the forest, but were not aware that the reserve was also owned by the village.
"Mama Misitu told us while the natural forests were a national resource they were also owned by communities surrounding them had a duty to protect them," he said.
She noted that in the past strangers would illegally harvest trees and the villagers were not aware that was wrong.
Now villagers patrol the forest and when people are found harvesting trees illegally, they are arrested and taken to the village administration.
She said initially the proceeds would be divided between the Central Government and village, but things changed and everything was now going to the former, demoralising the surrounding communities. Ruvu South Forest, which has 30,633 hectares, is surrounded by 11 villages: four in Kibaha and seven in Kisarawe.
TFS Ruvu South Forest manager Nassoro Mzara said the government decided to involve the communities to protect it.
According to him, it was agreed that the communities would act in accordance to Forest Act No. 14 of 2002 to manage and develop it.
He said Section 88 stipulates that a person found with charcoal or firewood without having proper documentation will pay a fine of up to Sh1 million which is to normally divided between the Central Government and the village.
"We used to divide this and the village would normally get at least 32 per cent of revenues received, but following the introduction of the electronic receipt the money has to go directly to the Central Government in Dar es Salaam that has the mandate to return the earnings to the community," he said.
According to him, the process takes long because the system has to be cross-checked to ensure the money is transferred to the villages through the correct channel.
He explained that to ensure the money is properly used by the village executives it was agreed that there was a need for by-laws and an agreement between TFS and the villages that highlights how the money is received and how it will be spent. He noted that it was agreed that the villages had to involve the community through a central meeting and the decision reached taken to the regional committee for further decision.
He noted that while that was the decision, the problem was a majority of the villages were taking too long to conduct the meetings whereby out of 11 villages only five have had met.
He said as far as it was agreed, TFS was not in a position to continue preparation of the agreement without having the decision of all the village central meetings.
Experts say Tanzania's forests are increasingly being subjected to deforestation and degradation as demand for arable land, fuelwood, furniture and infrastructure increase.
The country is facing unprecedented loss of its forests and other woodlands.
Between 1990 and 2010, the country lost an average of 403,350 hectares or 0.97 per cent annually.