Carbon Measuring in Tanzania’s Wild West

This article was first published in Ujumbe.

As this edition of Ujumbe goes to print, the Carbon Tanzania team will be trekking through the miombo forests of western Tanzania measuring trees and collecting data, a key step in the development of the Ntakata Mountains project. This project aims to protect over 300,000Ha of village forest in Tanganyika District, land that supports the largest population of chimpanzees in Tanzania. While Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains National Parks are rightly famous for their well-known and scientifically-studied populations of chimps, the woodlands and forests of the interior plateaus and valleys harbor a larger, and more endangered, community of this charismatic, close human relative. The ceaseless search for land has brought immigrant agro-pastoralists to the area in the past decade, and they are threatening to disrupt the land use systems of the traditional agricultural communities of the area. To support these communities in protecting their land-rights and natural forests, while simultaneously improving their rural livelihoods, Carbon Tanzania is rolling out its innovative approach to community conservation in this frontier landscape.

Why measure trees?

Our approach depends on compensating communities for enforcing land-use plans that include the provision for setting aside natural habitat for protection under village by-laws. The forests harbor large carbon stocks, and when they are destroyed for shifting agriculture, charcoal production or timber extraction, carbon dioxide is released, thereby contributing to global climate change, which affects rural communities in Tanzania and coastal cities in North America alike. By preventing this destruction, that globally contributes between 15% and 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, communities can earn carbon “credits” which can be sold on the global voluntary carbon market, thereby earning revenue which is used to both support directly the forest protection activities and also to pay for critical development projects and basic services provision within the village.

So to determine how “valuable” these forests are we must know how much carbon is stored in the trees, and this requires physical measuring. The process is lead by internationally developed and recognized survey methodologies, and is all very scientific! However this level of rigour allows us to guarantee that the contribution of the project to mitigating climate change is real, measurable and verifiable.

Not just tree-hugging!

The process begins with the identification of the area to be protected. The development and registration of official village land-use plans forms the basis for the entire enterprise, and once these plans are in place, we can define which areas of forest need to be surveyed. A computer programme randomly selects sample plots within the forested areas, and these must be reached by the survey teams. Each team uses a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit to locate the sample plot, which may be up a steep hill, across a muddy valley or in a patch of particularly think vegetation, but except when reaching the geo-referenced point would endanger life, all efforts must be made to get there. Once on the spot the team marks out a survey plot, which is usually a 50 metre radius circle. Within this area trees and even large bushes are measured using a simple tailors tape measure, as long as their diameter exceeds 5cm, and the data is recorded by hand, as well as some other information including data pertaining to the habitat type, the time of day and the aspect of the land among others.

Once completed, the team can move onto another plot, which may be several kilometres through the bush. Usually a team leaves camp in the morning with lunch and may attempt to complete two or three plots in the day. It can be hot and tiring work, but we do ensure that on return to camp tea and coffee await the hard working data collectors.

Camp life is not for everyone, but for people who are accustomed to operating in the field it is a stimulating and enriching experience. We select survey teams to include one field expert who can identify trees and operate the technical equipment, while other team members require less hard skills, simply common sense and a practical aptitude. We always include individuals from the local community who will often also be the people who are responsible for patrolling the area as the project develops – community forest guards and village game scouts depending on the set up. People from these communities naturally bring critical local knowledge that helps us to understand the lie of the land and the granular details of the issues that will affect the way we approach protecting their village forests. This mix of local knowledge and technical expertise means that fireside chats are varied and lively, and everyone enjoys the unexpected direction that the conversation takes as the evening unfolds.

The contrast between the magnificence of the natural beauty in the miombo forests and the modern world is obvious in the evenings as we enter the day’s data into a computer where a statistical programme crunches the numbers to assess whether we are collecting adequate information to allow us to obtain a satisfactory estimate of carbon stocks held in the forested areas. We often hear about the ways in which technology is being used to improve natural resource management (and many other aspects of life), and our tree measuring exercises are an excellent example of this in practice.

It takes a village…

While Carbon Tanzania is proud to be implementing its innovative forest conservation activities in this new landscape, the inescapable truth is that we cannot work in the way we do without the involvement of key partners who provide skills and capacity that we lack. In Tanganyika District we are partnered with the Tuungane Project, itself a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and Pathfinder International and the District Council of Tanganyika District. Tuungane brings together the land-use planning and conservation strategy of The Nature Conservancy with the reproductive health skills of Pathfinder, in an approach that seeks to highlight and constantly emphasise the link between a healthy environment and a healthy family and community.

Recognising that no one organisation can be an expert in every dimension of conservation or rural development matters, we have from the start sought strategic partnerships with leading organisations working in our areas, and this collaboration in Tanganyika District has borne fruit as our partners have laid the groundwork for our forest conservation work through supporting good land-use planning and helping communities understand that well-planned environmental conservation can lead directly to better and healthier lives for them and their children.

Global interest

With the pressures on land throughout Africa and across the world, there has never been a better time to invest in local communities and their efforts to protect their own resources. Carbon Tanzania has developed a relationship with a German Pet Product company who will buy the carbon credits produced by these communities in Tanganyika over the coming ten years, a very clear signal that enlightened and forward thinking companies in Europe are ready to support practical and measurable efforts to mitigate climate change while supporting rural livelihoods. Watch this space for more updates as this exciting project continues to develop.

Written by Jo Anderson – Carbon Tanzania Director


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