I’m Kate, the chairperson of FORS. I have been working with FORS for many years now and have seen it develop from an organization where enthusiastic but busy volunteers did what they could when they could, to a real functioning NGO with paid staff who can carry out a coherent programme. This has been an exciting time. In the last couple of years, our environmental education programme has become institutionalized in many of the schools and we have been able to step back and begin to consider other directions.
Last month, I was in Kilwa district, south of Dar es Salaam. I was with an NGO working in forestry and during the our visits to villages, we were horrified to see European biofuel companies who had come in and acquired thousands and thousands of hectares of dense natural forest, which they were in the process of cutting down and uprooting in order to plant jatropha and sugar cane. Most villagers we spoke to were unhappy about this – although they were getting a school classroom, a water system, a road, from the companies, their main complaint was that they had handed over their land and forests without having enough knowledge of the facts to make an informed decision as to whether this was the best thing to do.
I have already heard whispers of biofuels coming to Iringa and since the areas we work in have huge swathes of beautiful natural forest, I believe that it won’t be long until biofuels and their massive environmental destruction (despite their so called ‘green’ credentials) arrive in Idodi and Pawaga. We have formulated a proposal to start Participatory Forest Management (PFM) in the small woodlands behind some of our schools, and then subsequently to expand it to the wider community. Participatory Forest Management (PFM) has been enshrined in Tanzanian forest policy as the way forward for protecting the nation’s forests. It involves local people creating village forest reserves and managing them for their own benefit. However, until recently, forest management for conservation has been promoted rather than using the forests sustainably as a commercial resource. People value their forests, but when there is a financial alternative, they will pragmatically agree to their destruction. But crucially, what has not been made clear to people is that through PFM, they can harvest their forest on a sustainable basis, sell the timber for a good price and build their own school or road. In this way, they can make money from their forest while keeping it with all its biodiversity and rainfall/water conservation/carbon sink/wildlife habitat value.
We want to communicate this to the people of Idodi and Pawaga, emphasizing the financial aspects of PFM, so that when the biofuel companies come with their “sweet words”(according to an angry Kilwa woman), the people are ready and aware, and understand that they have the power to push them away if they don’t want them in their villages. So at the moment, we are working on finding funding for this proposal and hope to be able to start sometime this year, because time may be running out …