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Public knowledge on environmental conservation `still too low`

27th March 2012
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This week Gerald Kitabu interviewed HAKIARDHI Senior Programme Officer Cuthbert Tomitho on public awareness and benefits accrued from the National Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Excerpts:

QUESTION: I understand that last year Tanzania was implementing the National Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) readiness pilot projects from which the lessons learnt would be used to inform policy makers in developing a comprehensive national REDD strategy. How has the plan gone so far?

ANSWER: Thank you, first of all we should understand the essence of carbon credit business which the REDD project is part of it. Climate change which has been fuelled by global warming forced the world to rethink strategies with regard to environmental conservation with increasing pressure from calamities such as drought, increasing sea levels due to melting of ice in the Northern and Southern hemispheres threatening to sweep off of the face of the world, cyclones and related trends like increasing levels of ice in some parts of the world.

It was clear that concerted efforts were needed to bring the trend to a halt. A single nation could not succeed to curb the global warming and associated climate change problems. This called for countries to act collaboratively. It is from this response to the global crisis that brought about the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries commit themselves to a reduction of four green house gases namely; carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride and two groups of gases namely hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbonsand. All member countries committed themselves to this course.

The Protocol allows for several "flexible mechanisms", such as Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). CDM is supposed to give industrialized countries the option of purchasing Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits, also known as “carbon credits”, from less industrialized countries in lieu of reducing their economic activities that emit greenhouse gases. On the other hand, it is meant to allow developing countries, through local and foreign investments, to increase carbon offsets and thus produce carbon credits through projects that contribute to specific sustainable development goals in the host countries.

From that angle it is now easier to show the extent to which the country has engaged in the REDD project. The pilot project identified in the country has shown that the communities if well educated, can benefit a lot from the investment. This is because they would use their own natural and traditional forests for carbon credit schemes.

There are many examples from which they can benefit such as a project in Eastern Arc and Coastal Forest run by MJUMITA and TFCG. However, I must confess that the project is very new and the experience shows that at the end of the day such new projects if not well managed, they may be huge burden to majority villagers.

Q: What’s the position of Tanzania on REDD at present?

A: - As stated above Tanzania has engaged in the REDD project in particular and the carbon credit in general in many ways. First, it is through the pilot project carried out by different organizations such as Tanzania Forest Conservation Group and MJUMITA, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI,; Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP) and Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environment Organization (TaTEDO).

Others are African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Hifadhi ya Misitu ya Asili (HIMA). These countries are implementing the project in various parts of the country. The projects are ongoing and currently are gaining momentum. We expect that knowledge acquired from these pilot areas will add value in shaping the national REDD strategy.

Second, the country has engaged in the project of carbon credit business through the large scale investment in the village land whereby the various multi-national companies are entering into land dealings by acquiring hectares of land in the village land category and plant trees for the business.

The business has attracted a number of companies in the area of forest development for carbon credit business. Such companies include Green Resources in Kilombero district, Mufindi district and others. The other company is New Forest in Kilolo district. These companies have already started to benefit from the business for instance Green Resources Limited in 2010 made a lot of money from the business.

Q: You have talked on carbon credits, what are they and why are they so important to local communities and the nation at large?

A: - If managed well in a sustainable manner, the carbon credit business has many benefits to local communities and the country in general. First, the project will help in supporting diminishing deforestation and encourage reforestation hence environmental protection. Remember that for a number of years the country has experienced deforestation through human induced activities.

Second, the project would promote the livelihoods of many local communities through the money obtained from planting trees and selling the carbon.

Q: There are some communities that are committed and determined to forest resource conservation, but they have never been recognised, let alone financial support to motivate them to carry on with their good work. What could be done for them to benefit from carbon credits?

A: - It is true that there are unrecognized potential areas despite of their potentialities. There are many reasons why these places are abandoned, one of them is lack of priority in planning and implementation of various projects in our country. Two, is poor knowledge among the communities living near the resource.

There is a lot of things which need to be done in order to improve the situation by supporting marginalized communities. The government must make sure that the pilot projects are implemented at a specified period of time so as to allow many other areas to benefit from such projects. For their part, the Civil Society Organizations should conduct awareness creation campaigns among the communities so that they can benefit from the projects.

Q: What are the challenges associated with REDD issues?

A: - The REDD project and carbon credits business in general are faced with a lot of challenges especially during implementation. As I am talking to you now, there are many questions which are yet to be well addressed. Questions like how can REDD be fairly implemented, how can the REDD benefits be shared without doubts and without raising certain sentiments among the communities, how can the implementers ensure equitable compensation for forest conservation, where do the funds comes from and what are the strategies or techniques used in allocating the funds, who or what are the projects which are eligible for qualification of the assessment for carbon credits business. These and many other questions leave much to be desired.

Q: Currently Tanzanians are grappling with a series of land conflicts partly caused by foreign investors and other resources such as water which impact negatively on local livelihoods and sustainable forest management. Given such situation, what is the future prospects of REDD?

A: - It is true that currently Tanzania is passing in a very difficult situation mainly in the land sector. The land sector in the country is facing a lot of challenges and problems if not well addressed the fate of the majority Tanzanians and the nation is in dilemma. I am saying this because we all see the ongoing land grabbing deals conducted under the disguise of the investment. Various local and multinational companies have acquired huge chunks of land in the village land in many parts of the country and their projects are not benefiting the locals.

Many projects are similar to that conducted by colonialists where you produce what you do not eat and eat what you do not produce. Big projects of biofules project in some districts such as Kilwa and Kisarawe clearly explain how worst the situation is.

The future prospects of the REDD in the country will entirely depend on the way government institutions would take it up seriously including reviewing our laws and policies. Without proper management, am telling you, the project would end up benefiting very few companies and individuals while leaving the majority in abject poverty. Precaution need to be taken, especially on land issues. There should be limit in using the village land for forest plantation, otherwise, in the long run, large part of the villages would be converted to carbon credit business which in turn may lead to other problems such as food insecurity.

Q: What plans and strategies should be put in place for the nation and its people to be able to benefit from REDD?

A: There are several strategies. First, the government should put more effort at the grassroots to ensure that they understand the whole concept of REDD including procedures and processes of implementation. Things such as participatory forest management, community forest management and many other terminologies which are crucial for the project.

Second, there must be good governance when it comes to forest management and its associated resources.

Third, the government must formulate a policy to regulate the carbon credit business in order to make sure that the few individuals and companies are not benefiting alone at the expense of the majority villagers who have been protecting the resources over the years.

More over, there should be a limit in transforming village land to become forest simply because the carbon credits business is paying more and more. Caution should be taken to avoid the side effects of the business which includes food insecurity and land scarcity among small producers.

Q: What role has HAKIARDHI played to ensure that REDD benefits local communities?

A: HAKIARDHI has already done a lot in this area ranging from various researches and to fact finding missions to ensure that the general public is well informed on the matter. The findings from the studies are shared with the public in different ways such as through media as well as various websites including my Institute’s website.. the institute has also conducted various training on land rights and governance in a number of villages in the country.

HAKIARDHI has also engaged in making critical analysis on various land laws and the related laws such as Village Land Act No. 5 of 1999, Land Use Plan Act of 2007, Land Disputes Settlement Act of 2002, and Forest Act of 2002. The analysis of these Acts helps the villagers and their leaders to understand their responsibilities and rights over the resources surrounding them.

It is the Institute’s expectation that through these various initiatives and interventions, the villagers have been and would continue benefiting from various projects in their respective areas as they would be able to participate effectively with confidence in the planning and implementation of the activities.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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