The total forest area is the sum of natural forests, woodlands, village forests and plantations. Reliable data on annual deforestation rates of Tanzania are not available but it is estimated to be around 412,000 to 500,000 ha.With the reported 40 per cent of Tanzania mainland, consisting of forests, one will expect to see a lot of forests and trees as he/she travels within the country.
However, if you happen to travel in almost all corners of the country you will see shrubs and grass lands that are devoid of big mature trees what forestry experts call mother tree seeds. However, in few exceptional cases big trees can be found in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, National Parks and nature reserves that are protected and in most cases un-accessible to the public for general use.
If one travels from Dar es Salaam by road, via, Korogwe, Moshi, Arusha, Karatu to Musoma he/she mainly see shrubs and grasslands devoid of big trees. Similarly if you travel from Dodoma to Geita via Shinyanga and Mwanza you will mainly see shrubs and grasslands devoid of big trees. If you happen to see few big trees concentrated in a small area, in most cases the area will be a grave yard.
If you travel from Dar es Salaam to Songea via Morogoro and Iringa the vegetation situation is also poor with no big trees as per sample photos below.
Nonetheless between Morogoro and Ruaha river you could see some forests that are conserved as nature forest reserves full of baobaob trees (Adonsonia digitata). The reported forest area of 35.5 million hectares could be on paper but in reality there are few trees on the ground. Illegal harvesting of forest products have turned some national forest reserves to grassland.
A good example is the Biharamolo national forest reserve with an area of over 55,000 hectares that has lost most of its tree cover due to illegal charcoal production. Most of the landscapes in Tanzania have no big trees. As a result they have lost their valuable source of mother tree seeds. With no seeds we should not expect to get regeneration of the same tree species in the future.
The few existing young trees for most of the valuable tree species in the landscapes, i.e Mninga (Pterocarpus angolensis) Mpingo (Dalbergia) Mvule (Chlorophora excelsa) Mkora (Afzelia quenzensis ) are harvested for poles and firewood consequently leading to total loss of tree cover as per the sample photos of Kasulu district. Under normal ecological succession the landscapes devoid of tree seeds will take several centuries to attain the original vegetation cover we destroyed.
On-going loss of mother tree seeds accompanied with intensive harvesting of few existing young trees will continue to turn large portions of our landscape to grass land with severe environmental degradation that could lock our development efforts into a vicious circle. Large scale loss of tree cover in our regional landscapes is a national disaster that is not yet fully realized by policy makers hence receiving little attention.
Wise use of our natural resources with sustainable environmental conservation is the foundation for achieving our development visions like KILIMO KWANZA, MKUKUTA and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For example, a vehicle owner could spend several millions to purchase a car. However, if he/she will ignore the simple principle of filling water to the radiator for effective cooling system (water that could cost few shillings) the car will collapse. Similarly in Tanzania we are spending billions of dollars for development programmes but we are ignoring simple issues that endanger sustainability of our development programmes.
In a nut shell, few socio-economic problems that have been created by destruction of forests and loss of mother tree seeds are highlighted to intensify awareness of the problem and the urgent need for concerted efforts to initiate remedial actions. In all regions, most of the rivers and springs that had permanent water have dried up in particularly during the dry season.
Even large rivers like Ruaha and Mara are affected. In the early 1960s the hydro power potential of Tanzania was estimated to be around 4,700 MW due to availability of sufficient water catchment forests. So far (2011) only 561 MW of the reported hydro power potential is utilized. As such generation of more electricity should not be a problem. However we are informed that the few installed dams are drying leading to the current electricity rationing due to upstream destruction of water catchment forests.
Household economic development, basic living standards and even survival greatly depend on access to affordable, reliable and efficient energy services. At national level 94.1 % of the total household relies on biomass fuels for cooking. In terms of population around 99.2 per cent of the rural populations rely on biomass fuels as their main sources of energy for cooking, while in urban areas the average is 79.2%. However, availability of biomass fuels in Tanzania is no longer sustainable.
Modern energy sources like electricity and LPG for cooking are also not easily available to the majority of the people in particular in rural areas. Field observations have confirmed that scarcity of firewood has forced many poor families to use non-wood biomass resources that are of poor energy quality for cooking including farm residues like maize cobs, coconut shells and agro-processing wastes like coffee husks, cashew nut husks, rice husks and animal dung.
To enhance soil fertility, use of the non- wood biomass fuels for energy is not encouraged. Sisal leaves, Euphorbia stems (minyaa) and animal dung are increasingly used as sources of domestic energy in regions with severe scarcity of firewood like Mwanza, Shinyanga, Arusha, Kigoma, Kilimanajro and Mara to cite but a few. Landscapes devoid of tree cover are experiencing severe soil erosion associated with floods that are destroying valuable road infrastructures, houses and farm lands with negative impact to KILIMO KWANZA and achievement of MKUKUTA.
The recent floods in Dar es Salaam is a good example. Landscapes devoid of trees have lost most of their plant and animal diversity. For example, majority of primary school children consulted in Kasulu district indicated that they had never seen a wild animal within their landscape, not even a monkey. Traditional healers’ country wide has reported increasing scarcity of medicinal plants due to on-going destruction of the ecosystem.
It is important for all Tanzanian to realize the national disaster of loosing forest cover and its impact from household to national level. As indicated earlier through concerted efforts the disaster could be handed using our own efforts and resources. Based on existing best practices on community based forest management, some villages in Njombe district (to cite a few) have initiated conservation of their village natural forests with remarkable success.
Networking and sharing of experiences will intensify formulation of strategies for conserving natural forests at household and village levels. Each district should have a clear strategy for conserving its natural forests as a component of KILIMO KWANZA and implementation of MKUKUTA.
Bariki Kaale is an Energy and Environment Specialist based in Dar es Salaam.