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Illegal Logging Rips Up Tanzanian Forests

Illegal logging, some involving collusion by government officials, is putting Tanzania's 33.5 million hectares (129,310 square miles) of forest and woodland increasingly at risk. Tanzania is just one of many tropical countries where illegal logging makes deforestation all th emore difficult to combat. Illegal logging in tropical forests was the subject of a major report by Friends of the Earth in 1996. This report has been published in book form  by the Canadian government's International Development Research Centre.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, August 26, 1999 (ENS) - Illegal exploitation of forests in Tanzania has reached a point of crisis. The illicit activities, some by government officials, place Tanzania's 33.5 million hectares (129,310 square miles) of forest and woodland increasingly at risk.

An estimated 500,000 hectares (19,300 square miles) of Tanzania's pristine forests are lost annually through illegal timber trade.

This illegal trade has been pinpointed in a new publication, "Cut and Run: Illegal Logging And Timber Trade In The Tropics." Published by the Canadian government's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) based in Ottawa, the book suggests that the Tanzanian government lacks proper mechanisms of forest protection. The government of Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye has now said it will deal with illegal timber merchants severely.

Illegal exploitation of forests and corruption in forestry administrations and customs services were also identified in Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has recently determined the ramifications of this wanton deforestation on the country's pristine forests, and is to hand over a report to the government.

The survey was conducted in Coast Region, where hundreds of logs worth millions of shillings cut by merchants await collection by the roadside at Nyamwage village, Rufiji district.

In Tanzania, the book says, wildlife populations, including internationally red-listed species, are being decimated by communities of logging employees who have to subsist on bushmeat. Hunting controls are extremely lax. It is said that even the few remaining closed forests in the country also suffer from illegal exploitation, and fraudulent practices.

Information relating to WWF's survey is to be made public after the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has gone through the data.

Another study by the Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA) has indicated that out of the 2.5 million hectares of forest in the Coast and Dar es Salaam regions of Tanzania, only 14.7 percent have been declared as reserved. The remaining 85.3 percent is left to the mercy of the public. REPOA has called for proper forest management and extraction of forest products to save forests from destruction.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Philemon Luhanjo, has admitted that some forestry staff are guilty of engaging in illegal timber trade. They are also suspected of collusion in the decimation of endangered animal species.

He says other suspects in the illegal timber business are timber product dealers, private individuals, sawmillers and logging companies. Luhanjo has warned that disciplinary action will be taken against staff found to be involved in illegal timber harvesting. He notes that the inability of forestry staff to issue licenses to all people who apply in all areas and in time, may be one of the motivating factors contributing to illegal timber trade.

There are incompetent and corrupt elements among some staff who authenticate the forest products acquired and weak forestry administration in some forest areas, Luhanjo admits.

Other causes of deforestation include indiscriminate fires, the clearance of forest for agricultural purposes, encroachment and overgrazing.

Montane forests of Mazumbai Forest Reserve, West Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. (Photo courtesy U. Copenhagen) Luhanjo says illegal exploitation is occurring almost all over the country both in Forest Reserves and in unreserved forest areas. Suspects deal in unlicensed harvesting of timber, wood fuel and charcoal. Illegal trading in timber products acquired illegally is especially rife in cross border areas. An example is the illegal tradin  in Brachylaena Hutchinsii (Muhuhu) on the Tanzanian-Kenyan border, in which most of the timber is both illegally harvested and exported.

As a means of halting the devastation, authorities have begun enlisting the help of communities living near forests. The lack of affordable alternative sources of energy causes these rural communities to resort to forests as an immediate source. They are being educated to help with forest conservation measures rather than exploiting the forests for short-term gain.

Authorities are also mounting police patrols on major roads in a bid to arrest suspects and impound illegal forest produce.

But Luhanjo has denied reports that officials in the Wildlife Department may be abetting poaching, as alleged by the Hunters Association of Tanzania.

Source:  Nicodemus Odhiambo, Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.


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