Conservation and utilization of natural resources in the East Usambara forest reserves: conventional views and local perspectives

J.F. Kessy

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The importance of conserving biological resources and the need for managing these resources for present and future generations has been given much attention internationally in the past three decades. These ideas have been emphasized in key documents such as the Brundtland report as well as in international conventions such as the global convention on biodiversity which followed the Rio meeting in 1992. The challenge in implementing these ideas lies in finding the proper trade-offs between current and future utilization of natural resources. Their success depends very much on the kind of policy reforms undertaken by nations to accommodate both local and international interests. Relevant policy adjustments are rarely observed in developing countries. For example, in Tanzania forest policies of the 1950s and early 1960s are still in use despite the recent developments in thinking about forest conservation issues. Conventional conservation approaches still dominate despite current emphasis on the need to involve all relevant stakeholder groups in preparing forest conservation plans. This approach often neglects the interests and value systems of the different groups of stakeholders with ultimate deleterious impact on forest resources.

This study was conducted to examine the values, perceptions and actions with respect to forest resources of various stakeholders in the East Usambaras in Tanzania. This forest area has a high degree of species diversity and endemism that is threatened by increasing human pressure on resources. Conceptually the research was based on the appreciation of the existence of varying value systems between different stakeholders in relation to forest resources in the East Usambarasas, e.g. conservationists, estate holders and local villagers. The research focused on the collection of empirical evidence to substantiate the disparity of value systems amongst different stakeholders, and on the analysis of the impact of this disparity and possible modalities for reconsiliation reconciliation he objective of the study study was to investigate the potentials and limitations of involving local communities and other stakeholders in conserving the East Usambara forests, and to propose appropriate development strategies for harnessing such potentials. In order to reach this objective, the nature of various stakeholders' activities in relation to the forests was studied and the impact of such actions on long-term biodiversity conservation prospects in the area was assessed.

An extensive literature search indicated a variety of arguments concerning the nature and extent of problems in natural resource management and the range of recommended approaches in solving such conservation problems. Different perceptions on fundamental concepts in biodiversity conservation exist; these reflect the diversity of values that individuals and social organizations attach to natural resources. For effective management of conservation areas these perceptions should be reconciled, and global and local interests should be balanced. This indicates the need to assess the significance of indigenous forest management systems and to augment the conventional approach to managing nature reserves with community management of forest resources. These ideas were used to formulate the key concepts and analytical framework for this study.

The research consisted of the collection of information on both technical and sociological aspects of forestry. Because of this, a variety of research methods were deployed such as participatory rural appraisal, a general questionnaire survey and several more specialized surveys. The specialized surveys consisted of (a) several assessments of the different types forest products collected by local people, (b) a forest survey to ascertain the impact of human activities on the natural forests, and (c) a survey to assess the nature and extent of domestication of forest plants by local people. Additional information was collected through in-depth interviews with key informants, field observations and study of secondary data.

The research started with a reconnaissance of twenty villages out of the total of fifty-four villages in the East Usambaras. These rapid village appraisals entailed both formal and informal discussions. The investigation aimed to expose the general characteristics of different villages and to provide the basis for selection of case study villages. Six villages were subsequently selected as case study villages representing the various ecological conditions in the area. These included Kisiwani, Mikwinini, Kwamzindawa, Potwe-Ndondondo, Hemsambia and Vuga.

In all case study villages an open ended questionnaire was administered to solicit data on socio- economic conditions, forest products utilization trends, and local people's perceptions on a variety of conservation and development aspects. In each village a random selection of 20% of the households was made; in total 292 households were surveyed. Also several surveys on the use of forest products were carried out. An investigation of the different building materials of forest origin commonly used by villagers was done in five out of the six case study villages. The species used for building purposes and their quantities were estimated by surveying 41 houses which were under construction. In five villages a study was made of items of forest origin used at household level. In a sample of 10% of the households (135 households) all utensils derived from materials of forest origin were recorded. Also a market survey was carried out to collect information on the nature and amounts of both wood and non-wood forest products which are commercialized. On three markets 16 merchants were interviewed and their supply of products measured. A study was also made about the extent of human disturbance to the forest reserves as a result of forest products collection. The extent of the disturbance resulting was assessed in 150 sample plots of 0. 1 ha in size established at 100 to 200m, 500m and 1000m from the forest edge. In these plots forest characteristics such as species composition, signs of human impact and forest regeneration were recorded. Finally, in three villages a farm survey took place to record the presence and use of plants of forest origin on farmer fields.

Data analysis was both quantitative and qualitative. The findings from the reconnaissance survey and rural appraisals were analyzed to provide insight for the more detailed surveys which were to follow. Information collected through the questionnaire survey was coded and analyzed with the SPSS statistical program for social sciences. The coding involved structuring the responses from the open- ended questionnaire and assigning them nominal values for analytical purposes. Considering the nature of the study mainly descriptive statistics were used. Data collected from the building materials survey, survey of household used items, market survey, forest sampling and domestication survey were analyzed using the Q&A4 database and Harvard Graphics 3.0 programs. Species names and synonyms were cross-checked using Kewensis database. Content analysis was used to analyze qualitative information from indepth interviews, and participant observations.

The research findings presented in this book focus on the socio-economic conditions in the area, the values of the forests for local people, the effects of forest utilization, and the need to search for alternatives in managing the forest reserves and conserving their biodiversity.

In the East Usambara basically three types of (agro)forestry systems are present: natural forests, forest plantations and on-farm tree growing systems. These forests are under the management responsibility of either the state, district or village institutions, estates or private persons. The natural forests are surrounded by a countryside occupied by very heterogenous human population, which is increasing rapidly because of both natural growth and immigration. Both subsistence and commercial agriculture is taking place. Commercial agriculture is dominated by tea and sisal estates, while subsistence agriculture consists of mixed cropping systems on farms of about three hectares in size. Farmers practice shifting cultivation using short fallow periods and local farming techniques. In some cases when shade trees are required such as for the cultivation of cardamom, or when locally- valued trees are present. not all trees are removed. But in general, due to poor soils the agricultural practices are often detrimental to the environment. In addition farmers also cultivate permanent homestead plots. A range of formal and informal institutions governing land use practices were discerned in the area. However, these institutions are not harmoniously organized to pursue conservation initiatives.

Forests are very valuable to local communities in terms of both cultural and utilitarian benefits. Many different tree products are collected either for household use or sale. Forest plants provide fuelwood (33 species). poles (35 species), withies (32 species), ropes (11 species), foods (28 species), medicines (185 species) and household utensils (83 species). The annual per capita consumption of fuelwood was estimated at 1.7 cubic meters while the annual consumption of forest vegetables was estimated to be about 12 kg per household. The different products are collected either from the forest reserves, estate plantations or privately grown trees; collection in the forest reserves still predominates. Besides these utilitarian functions the local people also value forests for religious (e.g. traditional rainmaking ceremonies) and environmental values. The role of forests for regulating hydrological and micro-climate conditions and its significance for agricultural production are well recognized.

The management of the forest reserves is still dominated by a conventional conservation approach that tends to alienate communities from conservation areas. Despite conservation regulations, human activities in the forest still continue. Illegal collection of forest products has affected the composition and structure of the forests adversely. The destruction of trees is most intensive near the forest edge, while animal trapping becomes more intensive with increasing distance from the forest edge. The harvesting of forest products by local people has resulted in the reduction of stocking level of trees from the estimated normal tree density of 650 stems/hectare to about 500 stems per hectare. The diameter distribution of trees has also been affected: trees with small diameters dominate close to the forest edge (up to 200m from the forest edge), whereas trees have a larger diameter deeper in the forest. Near the forest edge also many coppiced trees are present: respectively 49% and 42% of all coppiced trees were found in the 100-200m and 200-500m range from the forest edge, against about 9% deeper into the forest. Also the number of dead stumps decreases as the distance from the forest edge increases, but the reverse is the case for debarked trees. Illegal collection of forest products affected both endemic and non-endemic species.

The local villagers are not just using the forest resources, they have also developed various management practices for the forest resources valued by them. For instance, villagers from Vuga and Hemsambia communally manage about 30 hectares of natural forest in the public lands. This forest was traditionally used for ritual purposes, but had been mismanaged by irresponsible village leaders. To prevent further depletion of this forest, the villagers agreed on a set of rules and regulations governing the utilization of resources in this forest and appointed a forest management committee. These initiatives were complementary to the conservation efforts by the Forest Division in other forest reserves in the area. Another example of local management efforts is the on-farm cultivation of tree species of forest origin for both consumptive and non-consumptive use. Such domestication concerns trees providing food, medicine, construction, lumber and local tools, or providing ecological services such as water conservation, shade and support to crops. About 10% of the domesticated species are endemic or near endemic.

Although the needs and perceptions of the local farmers and conservationists are not always contradictory, in practice substantial gaps between the values and perceptions of various stakeholders interests in forests exist. Different interest groups have different perceptions of what biodiversity entails and how it should be conserved. Most professionals, donor agents and the educated elite understand and appreciate the importance of biological diversity from ecosystem down to genetic level. Their evaluation of the need for biodiversity conservation tends to focus specifically at ecosystem and species level. But the local people view the importance of the biodiversity of rests in terms the products and services that they can derive from the forests. Both professionals and local people consider the need for intergenerational flow of benefits from forests. However, professional conservationists are predominantly occupied with endangered species, centers of endemism, future prospects of new commercial, e.g. pharmaceutical, products and future use of genetic resources. Whereas local people are considering the livelihood of their descendants in terms of availability of rainfall, traditional medicines, fuelwood and building materials. This contrast in perception on the relevance of biodiversity is illustrated by the fact that conservationists pay more attention to the fact that 25% (about 710 species) of all vascular plant species and 18% (48 species) of all tree species are (near) endemic in the East Usambara, than to the fact that about 350 tree species (of which less than 6% of the endemic species) are used by the local population. Nor do they appreciate the fact that local people have taken conscious efforts to conserve around 100 tree species (of which about 20 endemic species) by cultivating them.

A third interest group with specific perceptions on -the conservation of the natural resources in the Usambaras consists of the private commercial estates, particularly the tea estates. This interest group focuses specifically on two important forest benefits- rainfall and fuelwood. While rainfall boosts production, fuelwood supplies energy to company boilers. Future management of the forests in the area, as far as this, interest group is concerned, should pay attention to the catchment potential and supply of fuelwood from various sources, including plantations outside the forest reserves.

Obviously, all three interest groups value the forests, be it for different reasons. Thus, they have at least in common that no group is in favor of forest depletion. The central challenge to the management of the forests is to build cooperative alliances between these groups, taking full account of the different value frameworks they bring to forest conservation. It is only when the specific interests of each group of forest user is considered, that these groups will develop interest in cooperation with the Forest Division in managing the forests. The main weakness of the current forest management is that it provides neither the forum nor the opportunity for different stakeholders to express their interests in relation to the forests. It is only when such a framework for expressing, debating, contesting and resolving differences of interest is in place that each interest group will respect the interest of other groups and develop cooperative norms. The study ends therefore with the outlining of a Stakeholder Reconciliation Model (SRM), which serves to address key issues such as policy formulation, land- use planning, communication and reconciliation of competing stakeholder claims. It is suggested, that this is an essential institutional prerequisite for achieving sustainable conservation of the forest resources in the East Usambaras.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Richards, Paul, Promotor
  • Wessel, M., Co-promotor, External person
Award date23 Feb 1998
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789054858096
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • forestry
  • forests
  • nature reserves
  • nature conservation
  • forestry practices
  • socioeconomics
  • natural resources
  • land use
  • tenure systems
  • afforestation
  • tanzania
  • non-wood forest products
  • national wealth


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