Forests and Communities
Tanzania provides an ideal setting for developing initiatives that integrate community development, environmental conservation, and carbon offsetting. Tanzania has roughly 33 million hectares of forest, about half of which is in state protected areas and half that falls outside state lands on private and communal lands. Deforestation, estimated at around 90,000 hectares annually, is primarily occurring in formally unprotected forests situated on village lands, which often are subject to open access exploitation in a context of weak or unclear property rights and forest governance institutions.
Tanzania has a relatively unique system of local governance and land tenure, which facilitates the formalization of community-level rights over forests. Rural areas are divided administratively into villages, which are governed by: 1) Village Assemblies comprised of all the adult residents of the village; and 2) Village Councils, elected every five years, recognized as corporate bodies with the capability to enter into legally binding third-party contracts, manage revenues on behalf of the community and bring legal action if necessary. Village Councils are also the legally-designated manager of the lands within a given village, yet they remain accountable to the Village Assembly.
Village Land Forest Reserves
Tanzania’s forest management policies build on this local governance framework by enabling Village Councils to establish Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFR). VLFR’s formalize local rights to manage and benefit from forests on community lands. Since the late 1990’s, more than 1,100 villages have set-aside approximately 2.4 million hectares have been set-aside as these community-based forest reserves. Previously degraded forests in many of these areas have recovered following the formalization of community management regimes as a result of improved local protection. This has led to increased biomass and vegetative cover. Mensuration data from a range of community-managed forests shows annual incremental increases in carbon storage ranging from 4.5 t/CO2e/ha in dry Miombo woodlands to approximately 24 t/CO2e/ha in humid lowland forest.
Although some local communities have strengthened forest conservation measures during the past decade, many others continue to replace forests with alternative land uses such as agriculture as a result of insufficient economic incentives for conserving forests. High rates of illegal logging, in areas with both high timber values and high levels of biodiversity, persist in many areas due to the weakness of local capacity for enforcement.
There is thus both an economic and environmental imperative for developing alternative sources of forest-based income for local communities. The growing carbon market provides a viable outlet. Importantly, due to the country’s village-level management approach to land-use and land tenure, Tanzania may serve as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most promising contexts for piloting community-based carbon storage projects based on natural forest conservation.