It is not easy for the Tanzania government to have power over environmental degradation if it will continue with its current system of wrong targeting. On 26th October, acres of Kilolo forest in Iringa were razed causing a loss equivalent to $40 million. It should be remembered in September, unknown people set fire on Mugololo forest in the same region. This act was replicated at Ihefu valley, in Mbeya. Following these events, environmental activists and government officials have announced that villagers are immensely contributing to environmental degradation.
The same peasants who are being blamed have always watched over and preserved the forests for many years. However, today, foreign businessmen and investors are cutting down the trees for timber en masse. Why aren’t they blamed? When a villager fells just one tree, he gets on the wrong side of the law! Does it become environmental degradation only when a peasant farmer is involved?
Tanga residents lament that they don’t benefit from their natural resources. City dwellers (and the Chinese) are always coming to Tanga for lumbering, taking of poles and logs from Tanga forests but Tanga residents are not given the same opportunity to get use of natural resources. Consequently, it has been very difficult for them to earn a living from the natural forests that they have preserved for centuries. They have declared that they will not fight any forest fire. Could this be the cause of Tanzania’s continuous forest fires?
Moreover, it has been a tendency that all seminars and workshops about environmental issues are conducted in urban areas. This proves how the government and private institutions are deliberately making a wrong target. Who is closer to the forests, rivers and other natural resources of such kind? Do we have forests in Dar es Salaam city?
When the government owns forests, no one will take care of them. The public or non-profit decision maker who cannot personally gain from more efficient utilization of forests will not be keen to minimize wastage. What is urgently needed locally is the strengthening of the institutions of justice to ensure the rule of law and devolution of property rights to local communities. At the international level, it is important that foreigners listen to the plight of the people around forests. If the villagers around forests made money from the forests, the forests would become the villagers’ bank, a fact that would provide a great incentive against arson.
Why should poor peasants be stopped from owning and utilizing their natural resource in the name of conserving it for developed nations? It is illogical for people to sink in poverty and be alienated from environmental workshops when they can profitably gain from the resource they reside with.