“Residents of the Ntakata Mountains can remember a time, not too long ago, when their forests were vast and thick and brimming with wildlife, and it was not unusual to come across lion, elephant, buffalo and chimpanzees. However, over the last few decades things have slowly begun to change; their forest is being encroached upon and they see the density of wild animals and the overall forest health declining due to unsustainable human activities.”
“Forests are life, they provide us with basic needs like water, food and medicines. Forests are wealth, if used sustainably as they provide us with income generating activities like beekeeping and lastly forests are our health – they purify the air and water, and absorb carbon.”
Frank Kweka, the recently recruited Project Manager for the Ntakata Mountains REDD project, spoke these powerful words in response to our first question asking for his impression of changes that have occurred in the Ntakata Mountains in his lifetime. Kweka was born in Mpanda district and grew up in the highlands of the Mwese Division, in Lugonesi Village. It was as a member of Roots & Shoots (Jane Goodall ‘s youth led community action group) during his years at school, that Frank’s love of forests, and passion for protecting them, was nurtured.
Kweka’s intimate knowledge of the forest and the community within which he lives shines through when he answers the inquiry about the importance that the forests have to the local community. “Forests are of great importance to the Bende and Tongwe people who have historically resided in the area for many centuries. The forests are part of the community’s cultural heritage and they continue to value the forest as an important part of their identity. The forests also provide basic needs like water, which is used both at home and for agricultural purposes, and natural food, like honey and herbs which are also used in traditional medicine. Forest protection can also boost both the social and economic standing of the community through sustainable beekeeping and forest protection activities that generate carbon revenues.”
Reflecting on his broader education and global awareness, he adds that “There are also benefits to the global community, because protecting these forests improves carbon sequestration and helps to regulate the climate.”
As with all of the REDD projects Carbon Tanzania develops, the operations are conducted and managed by the community so when the search for a project manager began earlier this year Kweka was the obvious choice.
Kweka’s role as a project manager is to help the community to understand the importance of developing good land use plans and to raise awareness of the tangible benefits of protecting their forests. Kweka notes that “the Ntakata Mountains is of great importance due to its ecological functions in the western part of Tanzania. It is the home to a diverse array of wildlife with endangered species, such asthe Chimpanzee, found in relatively large numbers, and it is also an important watershed and catchment area for the Katuima River that flows through the nearby Katavi Plains National Park.”
When asked about what challenges he faces, Kweka explains “Unfortunately, I am working against misinformation that has created a bad perception of forest conservation and that protecting forests prohibits development within the community”. One approach to tackling this misinformation is the creation of the Carbon Champions program which is overseen by Kweka. Carbon Champions act as a grassroots movement where key community members take their time to engage with the wider community and educate them on the benefits of forest protection in addition to how the REDD project is being implemented and operated. Frank explains the key to the success of the program is that these individual Carbon Champions are community members. “The Carbon Champions are in touch with the community at all times so we hope the people will be more motivated to listen and to take part.”
We ended the discussion with one final question to Frank: “what would be your message to young Tanzanians?”. “Simple!”, he shot back. “Protect forests, it saves lives. Forest protection is crucial because it makes the world a safe and healthy place” – a poignant message in the time of the coronavirus.
If you would like to meet more members of the Carbon Tanzania team please visit the ‘About Us’ page here.