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Nature

Forests without Borders

February 13th, 2018
in:Nature
by:Kolawole Talabi
located in:Tanzania
tags:Africa, biological diversity, climate-change, deforestation, environment, greenhouse gas, REDD Programme

Tanzania is home to hundreds of forest reserves but the East African country still has over one thousand species on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes programme classified forest reliance under three levels. The average contribution of forests to livelihood was put at 18% for the dry regions of Tanzania which according to the classification falls under the modest forest reliance level.

The sheer size of Tanzania relative to its population makes the management of protected areas quite challenging. Hence environmental scientists have advocated for the establishment of wildlife corridors that links these natural habitats to facilitate conservation efforts. Protected areas such as marine parks, national parks, game reserves and forest reserves are being threatened by climate change and human activities within wilderness areas. The overarching objective is to prevent habitat fragmentation that can hasten the extinction of species.

As the largest country in East Africa, Tanzania’s territory covers over 94.7 million hectares of which about forty percent are forests and woodlands — home to a diversity of wildlife, the UN REDD Programme notes. The country’s unique geography also makes it the host of both the highest and lowest points on the continent: the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and the bottom of Lake Tanganyika, respectively. With its variety of wildlife habitats from coral reefs to montane forests, Tanzania is regarded as one of the most biodiverse countries in Africa.

Before independence, Tanzania’s forests accounted for more than half of its total surface area, a figure that has since been gradually reduced, with the biggest losses in forest cover occurring during the 20 years between the last decade of the twentieth and the first decade of the twenty-first centuries. Data from the University of Maryland and visualized on the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch show Tanzania lost nearly 2.6 million hectares — 4 percent — of its tree cover just from 2001 through 2014. In other words, Tanzania lost an area of tree cover the size of Rwanda in 14 years. These numbers are trending upward, with more than a quarter-million hectares of tree cover lost in 2013 alone. Only a few isolated areas of Intact Forest Landscape still exist — tracts of primary forest large, connected, and undisturbed enough to retain their original levels of biodiversity.

Deforestation and forest degradation in Tanzania result from the interplay of both direct and indirect factors. Smallholder farming, charcoal and wood fuel production, commercial logging and forest fires are being exacerbated by intense underlying drivers like infrastructure expansion, population growth, demand for forest products by urban populations and exports markets, as well as land management issues.

Agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation globally especially in developing countries where subsistence and commercial farming accounts for 80 percent of forest loss. The conversion of forests to farmland in Tanzania is largely driven by the farming practices of smallholders and subsistence living of rural communities, which directly correlate to rising population growth and poverty rates. In Tanzania, agriculture constitutes about 25 percent of GDP, despite the dependence of three-quarters of the entire population on the land. In addition, smallholder farmers produce 85 percent of the food crops grown in the country. The dominant practice of a short, three-year rotation in Tanzania leaves no room for forests to properly regenerate and replenish soil nutrients.

According to the UNFCCC, commercial logging was responsible for 14 percent of Tanzania’s deforestation as of 2007. Logging activities are largely done in the Miombo woodlands in the southern parts of the country. Timber trade volumes were slightly interrupted by new administrative regulations that banned the export of round wood from natural forests in 2003. The ban proved very difficult to enforce and was therefore overturned by 2004. Yet, more than 830,000 trees were harvested for commercial purposes during this same period. Soaring demands for timber in urban areas like Dar es Salaam and foreign markets like China have driven the country’s logging boom.

Like elsewhere in Africa, charcoal production is a problem for Tanzania’s remaining forests. Around 85 percent of the country’s urban population is dependent on charcoal for household cooking, the result of poverty and a lack of affordable alternatives such as biogas. Besides producing charcoal for their own use mostly for domestic purposes, rural inhabitants supply the charcoal used in cities. In fact, Tanzanian’s largest city — Dar es Salaam accounts for more than half of the charcoal consumed in the country. Charcoal is produced by slowly heating wood or other organic material until it is carbonized. Unlike firewood, charcoal is less bulky and very easy to use indoors because it is almost smokeless. In Tanzania, wood destined for charcoal results in the loss of 150,000 hectares of forest per year. By 2030, it is projected that urban consumption of charcoal will have contributed 2.8 million hectares to the country’s annual deforestation rates.

In 2002, the Tanzania Traditional Energy Development Organisation (TaTEDO) reported that charcoal business generated estimated revenues of more than $200 million. A decade later, the figure has risen to almost $1 billion. The commercial fuel wood sector also employs than 300,000 families.

Charcoal doesn’t just have detrimental effects on the forests it is sourced from, it also affects the climate; the burning of charcoal releases some of the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world.

Article written by:
Kolawole Talabi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
The sheer size of Tanzania relative to its population makes the management of protected areas quite challenging.
Embed from Getty Images
Protected areas such as marine parks, national parks, game reserves and forest reserves are being threatened by climate change and human activities within wilderness areas.
Embed from Getty Images
Smallholder farming, charcoal and wood fuel production, commercial logging and forest fires are being exacerbated by intense underlying drivers like infrastructure expansion, population growth, demand for forest products by urban populations and exports markets, as well as land management issues.

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