The extensive Ruvu Forest Reserve covers 67,000 hectares in total covering portions of Kisarawe, Kibaha and Bagamoyo districts. The northern part of the reserve is now reported to have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous affluent people.
Despite the fact that the forest reserve is surveyed and well demarcated, grabbers disregard the formal boundaries to carve up the land among themselves. Two years ago one of the beacons (marked ZCO 471) among other border signposts was pulled up in Kerege village in Bagamoyo District.
Part of the grabbed land is being prepared for construction of structures including fenced residential houses. Villagers are not allowed to undertake any activities on the appropriated land. The reserve is divided into two parts, namely North Ruvu (32,000 hectares) and South Ruvu (35,000 hectares) as was officially declared as reserve forests by the government in 1978 and 1979 respectively.
During an audience recently with forest workers at Kibaha Forest Head Office, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, assured workers and the community at large that the government was committed to working closely with them to protect the natural resources through public private partnership.
The minister visited the area to make a personal assessment of measures taken to control any destruction of the forest reserve, learn about on-going conservation efforts and discuss with the community on the most efficient way to promote sustainable tree planting and conservation.
"There are people well placed in high public offices that are aware of existing forest regulations, but have decided to acquire land illegally inside borders of the forest reserve. "Your visit today is timely and has been of great relief to us. We (workers) are asking for your intervention. There is a need to order all invaders to vacate the land," requested one of the forest officers (name withheld).
Villages known to have been targeted by land grabbers and continued land encroachment include Kerege, Manofu, Mafumbu, Kiwete, Mapinga, Vikawe, Kidimu, Zinga and Saeni (Visiga), all in Kibaha and Bagamoyo districts.
"Control measures have been taken by regional forest authorities that have called for the eviction of some of the invaders. But there are those who consider themselves as untouchables who we leave in your hands. We hope you will deal with them.
"They have threatened to use their influence to engineer dismissals of vocal forest officers. However, we are confident that you can face them," the officer said. Earlier, Daniel Isara, who is the Regional Forest Officer, presented a formal report to the minister explaining that his office had managed to work very closely with surveyors from the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) to mark forest boundaries near Saeni and Mbwawa villages.
The villages are among the most targeted ones, he explained where drums filled with concrete were posted to serve as boundary marks. Efforts are underway to survey Buma, Zinga and Kerege villages. In the course of land survey, a few arrests were made and two cases are still pending in Kibaha District Court against implicated land invaders.
Listening carefully to the explanation given by workers and the request made for his intervention, the minister also learnt about looming fear among workers who were not ready to directly reveal the names of the alleged 'big shots.' Mr Maige came up with a good suggestion that was largely accepted by the workers. "Let tree planting activities start in the appropriated land immediately and the so-called 'influential' individuals will come forward for compulsory identification," Maige said.
He underlined the need to have more employees in the forest sector, the initiative that he said would now be implemented more effectively following establishment of the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) currently under the Acting Chief Executive, Ms Monica Kagya. "Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) will have the autonomy to devise applicable strategies to collect more revenue and more importantly hire a bigger workforce especially forest guards and other skilled workers putting in place the necessary work tools like vehicles, motorcycles and others," Maige clarified.
Commenting on the need for extensive tree planting crusade, the minister suggested a leap from the traditional approach whereby individuals planted a few trees at their homesteads. He emphasized the need for the community to be engaged in well coordinated tree planting efforts which should go hand-in-hand with a sense of ownership.
"Involvement of the general public is crucial for sustainability in conservation of the environment. Continuous training of the community members on the right moment to plant tree, good choice of the right species and impart skills for good care of trees will enhance extensive tree planting. "Successful pilot projects would serve as a model for expansion of the drive country-wide," he said.