Reaping benefits from village forests

Miombo village land forest reserve. Photo: FORVAC programme
Miombo village land forest reserve is one of the places where FORVAC operates in. Photo: FORVAC programme

With an area of 48.1 million hectares of forested land and the forest sector contributing 4% of the GDP, Tanzania is one of the forest resourceful countries in the Africa. To rural Tanzanians, forests contribute greatly to their economic livelihoods that are met in the forests or other sectors influenced by them. 

However, management of the community adjacent forests is challenging, putting valuable resources and the economic livelihoods they entail at stake. Nevertheless, management is only achievable and sustainable when the adjacent communities are fully involved and know the value of the resources in their daily life.

Tanzania adopted Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) to bring on board communities in safeguarding forest resources in more than 20 years ago.

CBFM pursues to involve communities not as users but as forest managers in their own right, with the custodian and operation authority. It aims to enhance forest resources sustainability, access to, and equitable distribution of benefits from the forests – some of the key challenges in the Tanzanian forest governance.

In principle, communities establish what is known as Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFR) as one of the common resources in the village are supposed to retain all revenues from the VLFR.

Securing Tanzania’s forest resources

The Global Forest Resources Assessment of 2020 reported Tanzania to have an annual loss of 421 000 hectares of forest. Deforestation rate ranks Tanzania as the fifth country globally. Nearly half of the forested land in Tanzania fall under the village land areas that are prone to various activities causing forest degradation and, eventually, deforestation.

However, the establishment of the VLFRs with their proper and sustainable management on these areas serves to secure unprotected forests on the village land from both degradation and deforestation. Implementation of VLFRs has been challenged by the inadequate management capacity of communities, low forest management financing, protection-based management, illegal practices, inadequate community involvement and lack of value additions and hence low financial flow from forests, among others.

Finland’s roles in the management of village forests 

Finland has longstanding bilateral cooperation with Tanzania in the forest sector. The current cooperation is mainly in the management of both privately owned forest woodlots and community-owned natural forests.  Together with the government of Tanzania, Finland is financing the Forestry and Value Chain Development Programme (FORVAC).

The four-year (2018-2022) FORVAC programme envisages increasing economic, social and environmental benefits from sustainable management of forests and woodlands. It works in the regions of Tanga, Dodoma, Manyara, Lindi and Songea covering 12 Districts expecting to reach 85 villages. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) is hosting the programme.

The programme works with the communities in all stages from the establishment of VLFRs to their management and mentor communities on forest governance issues. It supports comprehensive village land use planning in close collaboration with the Tanzania Land Use Planning Commission and the district authorities.

The adoption of a human rights-based approach seeks to ensure the inclusivity of all members of the communities in the programme areas. This is in response to the experience where capacity building mostly concentrated on elected village leadership, a situation that was open to elite capture and poor forest management capacity at a community level.

The experience has it that some communities managed degraded forest resources with the dearth of economic opportunities and hence livelihood benefits. As such, engagement of communities was a way to protect degraded forests, rather than a means of tapping economic returns from sustainable utilisation.

Learning from this, FORVAC has worked with the MNRT in collaboration with the relevant district authorities and the communities to identify VLFRs, which can provide both socio-economic and environmental benefits. The work is to secure the remaining valuable forests in a way that economically and environmentally benefit their surrounding communities.

FORVAC programme supported a mobile and higher efficient sawmill to communities. Photo: FORVAC programme

Value addition and forest-based business promotion

The sales of forest products by forests owners in Tanzania are largely based on the stumpage sale (sales of standing trees). While it seems to be the easiest way of trading trees, without any value addition, it denies forest owners a big chunk of revenues.

FORVAC programme is now working with 22 villages facilitating primary processing of wood to the level of sawn woods. The programme has supported communities with mobile sawmilling machines with a recovery rate of 60% higher than traditional sawmill machines and pit sawing at 25% to 35%. There have been economic gains by increasing the value of one cubic meter of standing tree volume from TZS 260,000 (94.4 EUR) to TZS 416,000 (151 EUR) of sawn timber, equivalent to a 60% increment.

The participating villages are trading sown timber instead of standing trees. The programme is also supporting 60 micro-businesses in the forest value chains, operating in the areas of carpentry, beekeeping, improved cooking stoves (pottery), wild mushrooms, handcrafts and using bamboo for construction.

Forest management financing

FORVAC programme has engaged service providers that work together with the villages by collaborating with the district authorities for mentorship on the implementation of the forest management plans and financial management. Plans are in place to ensure that there is constantly a fund allocated for forest activities in addition to financing other social services in the villages.

With the improved value addition in timber and non-timber value chains, together with good governance, there should be enough finance to facilitate sustainable and economical management of VLFRs.

Addressing illegal logging and timber trade

Two decades of implementing community-based forest management in Tanzania have demonstrated that when communities are aware of their rights and gains from their forests, they become alarmed and concerned about the forest loss, and therefore become more organised and capable to preserve them.

FORVAC programme has been advocating for and demonstrating the value of the forest to the communities for the last three years. There are progressive changes from the communities on how they value their forests through their intense engagement in forest management, the situation that did not exist hitherto.

The programme is also working with Tanzania Forest Service Agency (TFS) and TRAFFIC in establishing a Tanzanian Timber Legality Assurance System. The established chain of custody of timber will largely discourage illegal timber harvesting and trading.

Achievements of FORVAC so far

FORVAC programme has been able to achieve for example the following milestones:

  • Preparation of 22 Village Land Forest Reserve management and harvesting plans in 22 villages with 171 587ha and annual allowable cut of 51 736 m3 valued at 1.1billion TZS equivalent to 417 914 EUR.
  • Preparation of 23 village land use plans in 23 villages covering an area of 303,860 ha
  • Mobile and higher efficient sawmill supported by FORVAC programme to communities
  • Supported communities with four units of mobile sawmills each with processing capacities of 3000 m3 a year.
  • Supported the Sokoine University of Agriculture to develop a curriculum on Master of Science in Forest Value Chain and Development to integrate forest values chain development in training institutions.
  • Supported a national assessment of potential and identification of optimal strategies for national charcoal sub-sector development that has culminated in the development of national charcoal strategy
  • Supported and mentored 60 wood and non-wood product community-based micro-businesses.
  • Supported preliminary steps to review the Tanzanian Forest Act of 2002 to adequately reflect the current practices and take on board developments within the sector and other related sectors.



William Nambiza

Coordinator, development cooperation