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Sungusia, E. and J.F. Lund 2016. Against all policies: landscape-level forest restoration in Tanzania. World Development Perspectives 3: 35–37.

  • Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and University of Copenhagen


In Tanzania, villagers can declare and benefit from village land forest reserves under the CommunityBased Forest Management (CBFM) policy. While research indicates that CBFM results in more sustainable management of reserved forest areas on village land, its impacts across broader village landscapes are unknown. This case illustrates how existing forest and land policies and practices of implementation discourage landscape level forest conservation and how a current rush for ‘unused’ village land areas for conservation, agribusiness or forest plantations implies an incentive for villages to clear unreserved forests to secure their land rights.
Against all policies: landscape-level forest restoration in Tanzania
This is a pre-proof version of the article: Sungusia, E. and J.F. Lund 2016. Against all policies: landscape-
level forest restoration in Tanzania. World Development Perspectives 3: 35–37.
Eliezeri Sungusia*
and Jens Friis Lund
* Corresponding author,
Department of Forest Economics, Sokoine University of Agriculture, P.O. Box, 3011, Tanzania
Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 25, 1958 Frb. C, Denmark.
School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, 440 Church St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
In Tanzania villagers can declare and benefit from forest reserves on village land under the
Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) policy. While research indicates that CBFM
results in more sustainable management of reserved forest areas on village land, its impacts across
broader village landscapes are unknown. This case illustrates how existing forest and land policies
and practices of implementation discourage landscape level forest conservation and how a current
rush for ‘unused’ village land areas for conservation, agribusiness or forest plantations implies an
incentive for villages to clear unreserved forests to secure their land rights.
In Tanzania, the government policy on Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) has been
adopted to promote sustainable forest management on village lands. The CBFM policy gives
villages rights to create village land forest reserves out of forested areas on their village lands,
whereby they gain rights to manage the reserved forest in accordance with rules set out in an
approved management plan and the Tanzania’s forest act and keep any proceeds (products and
revenues) from the management. The policy process has been widely celebrated for bestowing on
village communities extensive rights and for its wide implementation across the country (Blomley
and Iddi 2009).
Research indicates that CBFM has, indeed, resulted in more sustainable forest management
practices and conservation of the reserved forest areas (Lund et al. 2015). However, questions have
been raised about the impacts of CBFM on village landscapes more broadly, not least in connection
with the recent emphasis on carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
In this case report, we present a case of CBFM in Tanzania that illustrates how villagers and forest
officers alike are presented with multiple dilemmas when it comes to landscape level forest
maintenance and restoration. Ironically, these dilemmas – that tend to disfavor landscape level
forest conservation – appear to be unintended consequences of the celebrated forest and land policy
regime and wider conservation priorities and practices in Tanzania.
The case of Namatunu
Namatunu village is located in Nachingwea District in Lindi Region, south-east of Tanzania. The
village land comprises 45,136 ha and it has 332 households with a population of 1,366. Most people
in the village are engaged in smallholder agriculture. The village initiated CBFM activities in 2004
and two years later, following a village land use planning process, declared a 8,567 ha village land
forest reserve (henceforth forest reserve). The focus of the first management plan for the forest
reserve was conservation, whereby no harvesting was allowable. Only in 2015 did the first timber
harvest from the forest reserve take place, consisting of 809 pieces of Mninga (Pterocarpus
angolensis) sawn timber; of which 647 were sold for Tanzanian shilling 6,470,000 (~ USD 3,000)
while 162 pieces were used in the construction of a primary school in the village. The village used
60% of the sales proceeds to fund construction of school classrooms, whereas the village forest
management committee used the remaining 40% for forest management. The harvesting costs
consisting of bringing in pit-sawyers from Iringa region (over 1,000 kilometers away), food,
allowances, and transport were covered by a Finnish funded project supporting the implementation
of CBFM through the government of Tanzania. The Finnish government support to this program
started around 2001 and phased out in February 2016. The project also paid for things such as
village land use planning, training of local forest managers, inventory and management planning.
However, Namatunu has another 16,099 ha of unreserved forest on their village land
. This area
was not included in the forest reserve despite suggestions from land use planning experts from the
district council and National Land Use Planning Commission. Villagers refused to reserve this area
out of a fear that they would lose control over the land. Specifically, they feared that the
government might assume ownership of the forest reserve curtailing their access to the area.
village considers this unreserved forest area (henceforth open area forest) an important land reserve
– land that can be used for residences and agriculture for the growing village population. However,
while unreserved, the trees within the open area forest are considered as standing on general land by
the district forest office based on the Tanzania’s Land Act of 1999 that defines general land as
including ‘unused’ parts of village land.
Trees on general land fall under the jurisdiction of central
government. Thus, the district forest office issues licenses for harvesting the trees in the open area
forest and the village can only claim up to 10% of the official royalty rate that is charged by central
government for these trees. Thus, the villagers face a dilemma: either include more land into the
forest reserve to reap the benefits, while risk forfeiting the right to change the land use or; let
outsiders continue to benefit from harvesting the valuable trees found in the open area forest.
The district forest officers (DFOs) are also in a dilemma. They have neither legal mandate nor
financial resources to ensure that the open area forest remains forested. The legal mandate over
unreserved forest areas on village land is vested in the village government that can allocate the land
for other land uses. DFOs actively contribute to degradation of the value of the open area forest
through allowing harvesting of commercially valuable trees to proceed without having any
knowledge of the sustainability of the harvest. Likely, the sought after trees will soon be gone and
Approximately USD 3,000 using January 1, 2016 currency exchange rate.
Locally, this area is known as open area or ‘msitu wa akiba’, literally meaning forest/land reserved for future uses.
Villagers stated that they decided not to reserve open area out of fear that the area will be turned into a government-
owned protected area like the nearby Selous Game Reserve. Selous Game Reserve is a 50,000 km
area in Tanzania
falling in five regions including Lindi in which Namatunu village is found.
The other piece of land law is Village Land Act of 1999, which provides for the administration of village land. This
Act defines general land as neither protected areas (government owned) nor village land. In this sense, no portion of
village land can be considered general land.
the timber traders will look for other supply areas
. And any day the village government can
allocate the land to villagers who will clear the forest and start farming. Then the ambiguity of the
legal status of the land will be resolved and the district forest officers will no longer have any say in
what happens on it.
In the open area forest, harvesting happens in the absence of any knowledge of the status of the
forest and the sustainability of the harvesting. However, across the road, in the forest reserve found
in the same village, harvesting is a much more serious matter. While an inventory of the entire
forest reserve was prepared already in 2009, the harvesting in 2015 could only proceed following
the preparation of a harvesting plan, which involved another, more detailed inventory. The plan
divided the forest reserve into five blocks that are each to be harvested over five years, achieving a
25-year rotation for the entire forest. It was prepared by consultants - at a cost of more than 27,000
USD - on the basis of an inventory that villagers took part in, providing labor in the measuring of
trees and carrying equipment. The plan stated that block 1 should be harvested first and that this
block contained 127 Mninga (Pterocarpus angolensis) trees in harvestable size (> 45 cm diameter
at breast height). However, upon having found people to do the harvesting, the villagers could not
find the trees in block 1. After spending days scouring the block – in the end obtaining GPS
coordinates of exact location of sample plots supposedly containing the said trees from the
consultants, and with the help of the district forest officer - they found a mere five trees, all of
which were bent and rotten. Following this, villagers lost faith in the extensive planning. A village
forest committee member put it this way: “We knew right away that the experts know nothing and
will not produce a good plan when we saw how they went about measuring trees. We are talking
about indigenous tree species. When a tree is of a size that can produce 8 pieces of timber, it is a
mature tree and should be harvested. If you leave it standing, respecting harvesting rotation or
waiting for the tree to attain the minimum legal diameter for harvesting of 45 cm, the chance is you
will lose the tree. It will be attacked by bugs/pests and its timber quality destroyed. (…)” In spite of
the expensive harvesting plan, villagers decided to go ahead and harvest the 809 pieces of Mninga
in block 2.
While harvesting could not be allowed to proceed in the forest reserve without a plan, it has taken
place in the open area forest for many years in the absence of any inventory and/or plan.
Furthermore, harvesting in the forest reserve is a strictly supervised affair in which villagers
accompany buyers to the forest and take volume measurements before and after harvesting – selling
standing tree volume. In the open area forest, the district forest officers issue licenses in
Nachingwea town 3-4 hours’ drive away and rarely, if ever, accompany buyers to the forest. Thus,
trees are not measured before felling, and buyers are afforded the freedom to exceed the specified
harvesting levels. Because trees are not measured before felling, standing tree volumes are derived
from logs or sawn timber volumes using conversion rates originating from plantation forests.
Volumes obtained thus are systematically lower than those obtained from measuring trees before
felling. As a result of these differences, demand for trees tends to focus on the open area forest.
While demand for harvesting from the open area forest has been steady, there has been no single
application to harvest in the forest reserve. The 647 pieces from the first harvest were sold to the
District Council to be used for school desks and not to a timber trader.
We base this assumption on having seen copies of several licenses to timber traders given within the past 2-3 years in
the Namatunu village office – allocating volumes of one species only, Mninga (Pterocarpus angolensis).
Thus, in Namatunu village no one has both an incentive and the practical means to care for and
restore the open area forest. While seen as the property of central government, the trees in the open
area forest remain unmanaged, as central government – through its deconcentrated district forest
officers – has neither legal mandate nor the ability to manage them. Villagers, on the other hand, are
able – by virtue of being constantly present in the area. Yet, they face clear disincentives to manage
such forest areas, as they only gain a diminutive share of the values they represent when unreserved,
and the benefits of reserving them are questionable given the detailed management requirements
and ‘unfair competition’ from other unreserved areas. And, finally, converting such unreserved
forests into farmland is also increasingly seen as an important means for villagers to secure their
rights to the land from outside conservation and agribusiness interests. Thus, unreserved forests on
village land are effectively doomed and landscape level forest maintenance, not to speak of
restoration, thereby falls between the cracks of policy and its implementation.
Wider perspectives
Tanzania recently had its first ever national-level forest inventory, which indicates an annual forest
loss of 372,816 ha (URT, 2015). This is not surprising given the country’s annual population
growth of around 2.7% and limited ability to absorb labor outside of small-scale agriculture. Nor is
it alarming given the country’s impressive remaining forest cover of 55%. However, it is a process
that is furthered by the very policies that were put in place to arrest it. Thus, the forest and land
legislation – and its interpretation in practice - strips villagers of rights to trees outside forest
reserves while allowing central government forest officers to allocate licenses to harvest trees with
minimal benefits accruing to villagers. Furthermore, the enforcement of different harvesting
procedures in forest reserves and general land, sometimes within the same village, concentrates
demand for timber on unreserved forest areas, which diminishes the value of reserving forests in the
eyes of villagers, while increasing pressure on unreserved forests that are harvested blindly without
any considerations for sustainability.
These ‘perverse’ incentives are further strengthened by other developments in Tanzania. The share
of land in Tanzania that is under some form of conservation has grown dramatically over the past
decades through the enlargement of existing protected areas and the introduction of new forms of
community-based conservation initiatives (Arlin, 2011). While no one knows exactly how large the
share is, there is no doubt that it is higher than 40% and growing (WPAD, 2014). Further, it has
become increasingly apparent to people in Tanzania that lands which appears ‘unused’ (i.e. fallow
land, grazing land, forest) and which serves as wildlife migration corridors or happens to lie
adjacent to existing protected areas is at risk of catching the attention of conservationists or be seen
as a potential area for large-scale agribusiness or forest plantation investments. While such
investments and conservation projects may offer some prospects in terms of financing of local
infrastructure and alternative livelihood generating activities, they also pose a threat to villagers’
land rights. Thus, the list of examples of Tanzanian villages that have seen their village land rights
severely curtailed – often unknowingly or against their will – by conservation projects is long and
ever growing (Bluwstein, Moyo, & Kicheleri, 2016). Observing this, rural residents in Tanzania
have become ever keener to protect their authority over village land, which under the current state
of affairs, implies that forests disappear.
We thank people in Namatunu and other CBFM villages for sharing their experiences with us, and
Jasper Makala from Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative for useful comments. We
thank the Consultative Research Committee for Development Research (FFU – No. 13-05KU) and
the Danish Council for Independent Research (FSE, grant no. 6119-00012) for funding.
Arlin, C. 2011. Becoming Wilderness. A topological study of Tarangire, Northern Tanzania, 1890-
2000. PhD thesis, Stockholm, Sweden: Stockholm University.
Blomley, T., and Iddi, S. 2009. Participatory forest management in Tanzania: 1993–2009 – Lessons
learned and experiences to date, Unpublished report. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Ministry of
Natural Resources and Tourism.
Bluwstein, J., F. Moyo, and P.R. Kicheleri. 2016. Austere conservation: understanding conflicts
over resource governance in Tanzanian wildlife management areas. Conservation and Society
14(3): 1–14.
Lund, J.F., N.D. Burgess, S. Chamshama, K. Dons, J. Isango, G. Kajembe, H. Meilby, F. Moyo,
E.E. Mwakalukwa, Y. Ngaga, S. Ngowi, M. Njana, K. Skeie, I. Theilade and T. Treue 2015.
Mixed methods approaches to evaluate conservation impact: evidence from decentralized forest
management in Tanzania. Environmental Conservation 42(2): 162-170.
URT 2015. National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment (NAFORMA) of Tanzania
Mainland: Main Report. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, United Republic of
WPAD 2014. World Protected Area Database excerpt for Tanzania based on the October 2014
WPAD release. Available Online at:
united-nations-list-of-protected-areas. Dataset downloaded November 5, 2016
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Participatory forest management in Tanzania: 1993-2009 -Lessons learned and experiences to date, Unpublished report
  • T Blomley
  • S Iddi
Blomley, T., and Iddi, S. 2009. Participatory forest management in Tanzania: 1993-2009 -Lessons learned and experiences to date, Unpublished report. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.