Rehema Chuma regularly ventures out into the 13,600 hectares of forest in her village of Mtawatawa. She braves the dangers of lions and illegal loggers in the name of protecting this vast resource.
Tanzania has a booming market for Mtawatawa’s lumber. The problem is that illegal logging dominates the industry. Illegal loggers burn trees instead of cutting them, which stops new growth. To generate profits for the village and to protect the forest for future generations, Mtawatawa is trying to start a legal lumber trade.
Mtawatawa village councilors begin every meeting by reciting the village’s motto. “Mtawatawa. Amani na maendaleo. Amani na maendaleo. Mtawatawa.” Peace and development. Mtawatawa.
It’s easy to see how peaceful the village is, with a population of just 1,200. The development part of the motto has proved more difficult to fulfill.
In Tanzania, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism owns 13 million hectares of forest, but local governments manage just 600,000 hectares, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Mtawatawa is attempting to gain the responsibility to manage its own forest.
Along with the other members of the Mtawatawa natural resource committee, Rehema has been trained by a Finnish NGO, Lindi and Mtwara Agribusiness Support, on forest management and conservation. The legal timber trade in Tanzania must meet sustainability guidelines.
After the training, Rehema says she now appreciates the importance of sustainability. She is also keen to see the profits of the legal timber trade used to fund the development of her village.
Once the first logs are sold, Mtawatawa voted to build a medicine dispensary with the profits. Rehema would also like to use the money to improve the water source in the village. Currently, she has to walk three kilometres to retrieve water every day, which she carries back to Mtawatawa on her head. If all goes well, a new school will also be built soon.
“Mtawatawa. Amani na maendaleo. Amani na maendaleo. Mtawatawa.”