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News, 4/7/2016

What is Finland doing in Tanzanian forests?

New winds are blowing in the pinewoods in Tanzania's southern highlands. Finland supports forest sector cooperation which also benefits the poorest people in the region.

Finland and Tanzania have been engaged in development cooperation in the forestry sector for decades. Natural forests have been protected and illegal logging has been prevented. The current phase in the private forests project focuses on forests managed by the village communities.

"The southern highlands provide perfect conditions for tropical pine species. Trees grow here five times faster than in Finland," says Hanne Vaarala, a forest officer who serves as a specialist in the project.

Hanne Vaarala
Hanne Vaarala in the pinewoods of Tanzania's southern highlands. Photo: Martiina Woodson.

"Previously support was directed to natural forests, but today priority is placed on measures that create livelihoods," Vaarala explains the change that has taken place in the forest cooperation. "People study forestry to become professionals and to earn a higher income and gradually get rid of poverty."

"The village people will be given control of forest areas in which they plant and take care of saplings and, in time, reap the proceeds from selling timber. The aim is to gain the best possible benefit from the valuable forest reserves in Tanzania and to sell timber on market prices," Vaarala tells.

Provided that the Tanzanian people take good care of their large natural forests, they can get the forest products that they need and at the same time create jobs. The project supports smallholders' private ownership of forests, forestry and marketing of timber, and improves the safety of timber mills. The project aims at not only nature conservation but also at profitable forestry.

How does planting trees benefit the poor?

Thousands of villagers participate in the tree plantation programme and new members join tree farmer groups.  The most important thing for the farmers is to get good seeds and correct instructions for planting and growing saplings.

Justina Fyumagwa is proud of her own pinewoods plantation. Photo: Outi Einola-Head.

Justina Fyumagwa from the village of Lugolofu is one of the volunteers in the local forest management association. She is a 60-year-old widow whose grown-up children have moved elsewhere. However, she is still supporting three orphaned children in the village.

"We are not paid for planting saplings but we get a part of the sales proceeds. I think it's nice to plant saplings and take care of them on a plot of my own. Income cannot be expected until after seven years at the earliest. Until then we will get by with the money we receive from vegetables. The project has helped us also in growing vegetables by providing better seeds and farming instructions. The forest is important for us and I believe that our standard of living will gradually improve," Fyumagwa tells.

According to Hanne Vaarala, Tanzania has had forest management associations since the 1980s but they have been small and uncoordinated. "Buyers as intermediaries have collected the bigger part of the sales proceeds. Now the villagers get the income to themselves," Vaarala says.

Good for nature and climate

About 90 per cent of the energy used in Tanzania still comes from charcoal. Its use and slash-and-burn forestry are the main reasons for climate change and deforestation.

The rate of deforestation is among the highest in the world. The annual rate of logging exceeds the growth of trees. More trees must be planted to combat climate change and deforestation. At the same time, it is important to protect the natural forests in the new plantations in order to ensure natural diversity.

Fatal timber mills

Portable timber mills used in the area and non-existent safety at work cause broken limbs and fatal accidents every month.

The old-fashioned and dangerous technique used in the timber mills will be replaced by higher quality equipment purchased from China and India. A more secure working culture comes as a by-product.

"Technique is not the most modern one but it is safer and cheaper. Now also the poor can afford it," Hanne Vaarala says.

Finland's support to the private forestry programme in 2013–2017 is EUR 19.1 million.

Outi Einola-Head

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