March 12, 2017 by Species Ecology
Communities, cooking energy and livelihood-Using forest as a cash point
Following the ban of firewood (also known as fuel-wood) collection from Udzungwa Mountains National Park (UMNP) in Tanzania local communities are now having different trajectories on pursuit for cooking energy. The repercussion of this ban means large number of heavily impoverished communities are now suffering by inhabiting around the buffer zone of this fragile ecosystems of UMNP. There is an unequal distribution of resources among gender and ethnicity in the UMNP region with marked chauvinism pronounced among men. The firewood searching and its collections are done by local women and their children- leaving their men enjoying a glass of local brew and waiting for the meal prepared by their woman. Considerable factors can be observed due to this recent ban on firewood collection: social inequalities have intensified remarkably since the ban come into force. There is simply much of gender disparities towards acquisition of cooking fuels. Women and girls seem to be taken the burden on bushwhacking longer distance now for fuel wood search ever since the ban came into effect.
Millions of people use forest and woodland resources not only to sustain their livelihoods but also to add variety to ‘otherwise’ bland diets or as a basis for risk mitigation and provision of contingent needs. Forest assets for instance represent important livelihood opportunities for many rural communities: providing cash income (to cover education), fuel and timber for building, valuable ethno-botanical medicines and an improved ground water supply. These services play a critically vital role in covering expenditures, providing construction materials for school buildings and residential houses, providing easier access to clean water, and as a source of fruits, protein (mushroom, bush meat) to supplement infants’ and adult’s diets For instance, over one third of the families in Shinyanga region in Tanzania receive income from the sale of woodland products to pay for community education, health and utility fees.
People living in close proximity to the protected areas put pressure on fragile ecosystems in search for cooking-fuel (also known as fuel-wood) both for domestic consumption and commercial venture. Further, they are looking for bush meat thereby killing animals. Some people are also engaged in illegal ivory trade hence killing elephants for its tusks. These anthropogenic negative activities therefore pose significant detrimental impact on the overall biodiversity in these protected areas in Africa. Nevertheless, forest dwelling rural people are natural resources dependent communities. Considering the ban on fuel wood (in the form of cooking fuel) collection from the forest and its buffer zones, it is expected that with community based conservation management and education program in place, villagers residing adjacent to the Udzungwa Mountain National Park can contribute towards conservation of outstanding biodiversity that this park is internationally renowned for.
Ensuring sustainable fuel wood to the communities―conservation organizations such as world wildlife fund (WWF) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) have taken an ambitious measure in the form of conducting routine tree planting campaign to the communities living adjacent to the park with some success. People however are reluctant to plant trees although in public places such as schools and health centers, large number of trees have been planted to curve the deforestation and to introduce homestead forestry practice among local communities by these NGOs. Power dynamics, ill conceived tactics and strategies by stakeholders towards involvement on forest management and conservation seem to be more political and fail to gain perceptible support which locals would recognize. Seeds provision from different organizations to locals such as WWF, TANAPA, to mention few; was noble innovative green idea. However these ideas and visionary measures were unfortunately not fully backed up by thorough research in the direction of finding out whether local communities have ample lands to plant trees. Even a basic community based reforestation research would help understanding whether seed distribution would have positively impact the villagers. In fact most people are living in hardcore poverty line and usually are subsistence farming based community therefore it is not expected that a small household farmer to grow trees in an average one acre of their subsistence farming land when there is no potential cash crop benefits embedded to it in the long run. Compounding to that, trees usually take space and need lot of nutrients as water, minerals and microbes; and worse enough, some of the trees have allelopathy chemicalsemitting to the neighbors plant communities thus run the risk of affecting their growth rate and physiology. All these factors have negative impact to the farmers livelihoods.
Less attention has focused on the environmental context in which these socio-conservation transaction take place. In particular, the fuel-wood needed to sustain the locals’ survival demand has not been taken into much consideration. It is imperative to come up with science based information that can objectively quantify the numbers of fuel-wood that is sufficient enough for household consumption per week. This would enable predicting the possible resource conflict related mitigation measures in the long run and can have a profound positive sustainable impact on local communities’ livelihood and well being.