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Please use -but don't abuse- Tanzania’s forests

Waly Wane's picture

Let's think together: Every Sunday the World Bank in Tanzania in collaboration with The Citizen wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a few questions.

Globally, forests are disappearing at an increasing rate. Since 1990 alone, half of the world’s rainforests have vanished. Tanzania also has been severely affected by deforestation as illustrated by the following statistics:

- Forest area as a share of total land area declined from 50 per cent to 43 per cent to 37 per cent from 1938, to 1987 and 2010 respectively.
- Between 1990 and 2010, mainland Tanzania lost 8 million hectares or 19 per cent of its forest cover. Equivalent to an average annual loss of about 400,000 hectares, this represents a deforestation rate of one per cent.
- Miombo woodlands (savannah woodlands of much of southwestern Tanzania) have shrunk by 13 per cent between 1990 and 2000, while it is estimated that more than 70 per cent of the Usambara (North-East of Tanzania) forests had been cleared by 1995.
- Forest cover around Dar es Salaam declined from 2000 ha in 1990 to 385 ha in 2007.

Forests are burned down to give space to new agricultural activities. Wood also is a direct source of revenue, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of Tanzania's total legal exports.

- Agriculture expansion alone is estimated to account for an annual deforestation rate of more than 300,000 ha of forest and woodland.
- Between 1997 and 2005 Tanzania's legal timber export market increased by almost 1,400 per cent in value.
- Wood, in the form of charcoal and firewood, is the primary source of household energy for more than 97 per cent of Tanzanian households. This rate is similar to that of Uganda (95 per cent) but much higher than Kenya and Senegal (at 81 and 64 per cent, respectively).
- In urban areas, charcoal is more heavily used. In 2011, 71 per cent of households in Dar es Salaam were using charcoal as their primary source of energy, with an additional 5 per  cent dependent on firewood.
- Approximately half of Tanzania’s annual consumption of charcoal takes place in Dar es Salaam, amounting to approximately 500,000 tons.

The short-term monetary benefits associated with deforestation are counterbalanced by well-known costs. Deforestation strongly contributes to increased poverty, as the rural poor heavily depend on forests for their livelihoods.

Deforestation negatively affects water quality, and contributes to flooding during the wet season and reduced stream flow during the dry season. It also leads to significant soil erosion, with deforested areas frequently degrading into wasteland. As a matter of fact, realizing the danger, the coastal forests of East Africa have been placed among the top 10 on Conservation International’s list of most endangered forests around the world.

The severe and ongoing deforestation of Tanzania raises the following questions:

- Should the government declare deforestation a national emergency?
- Is it enough to identify protected areas or should the government enact a strong national tree planting program?
- How should the use of alternative energy sources instead of charcoal and firewood be promoted? Will the upcoming gas resources help?
- To what extent should the extension of agricultural land be limited with regard to areas with forests?
- Should the international community contribute more (including financially) to the protection of Tanzanian forests?

Note: The statistics above are computed using Senegal, Kenya, and Uganda Demographic and Health Surveys, the 2010/11 Tanzania National Panel Survey, FAO Statistics. Data from these surveys are publicly available and results can be readily replicated.


Submitted by Geoff on
As charcoal is currently the cheapest source of fuel for cooking in urban areas the only way forest destruction can be reduced is by subsidising kerosene as used to be the case. Other measures are unlikely to be successful unless stricter penalties for forest reserve destruction are enforced.

While it is certainly true that Tanzania's forests are under a lot of pressure from charcoal burning, agricultural expansion, and timber production, the discussion shouldn’t be reduced to a simple narrative about deforestation. Most forests in Tanzania are not the dense, tropical rainforests you might think of for Africa. There are these, of course, in the highlands, and they are spectacular, but they cover a relatively small area of the total – less than 3 percent. And their loss is of tremendous significance because of their biodiversity. But around 96 percent of Tanzania’s forests – around 27 million ha -- are of the dry woodland type. For rural people, their loss is critical because they are an extremely important safety net, producing food, fuel, fiber and fodder, on which rural households are highly dependent, particularly during times of environmental stress. It is important not to confuse forest loss with forest degradation. These dryland forests can be heavily hacked over, and still be pretty productive. They don’t look so great when this happens, but barring their total clearance and replacement with farmland, they are very resilient and have shown a strong capacity to regenerate. Even when woodlands are harvested for charcoal production, for example, they can recover if they are allowed to. The challenge is to put in place management systems which tap in to the power of these very large markets as a tool for bringing large areas of dry woodlands under better management. And Government is doing precisely this. In 1998, with Bank support, Government introduced significant policy and legal reforms which created the framework for the establishment of Village Forest Reserves. There are now around 4 million ha of these, and good, solid empirical work has shown that productivity is higher in these reserves, biodiversity is richer, and benefits to communities from these are greater than in areas where these are not in place.

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