Senior Chief Nthache of Mwanza says natural resources could be better protected if traditional and community leaders were empowered to look after them.
He said this on Monday during a two-day strategic Forest Area Plan workshop for Thambani Forest in the district.
“Chiefs are very close to government forest reserves and they live with people who go in the reserves to carelessly cut down trees.
“We know the culprits, but we do not have enough powers to effectively end the malpractice,” Nthache said.
He, therefore, asked government to amend the Forest Act so that it gives traditional leaders enough powers to control natural resources, saying the current Forest Act of 1997 gives more power to forest staff.
“Chiefs have a crucial role to play in the promotion and protection of forests in the country, only that their role is compromised by what he described as ‘lack of teeth to bite’ those who deliberately cut down trees in government forests,” he added.
According to Nthache, traditional leaders use their influence in the community to punish those found destroying trees even though there is no law that empowers them to protect government forest reserves.
A forest extension worker in Mwanza, Sabina Manda concurred with the chief’s concern on traditional leaders’ participation in the protection of forest reserves. She said unlike in the past, the approach to forest management has changed to a co-management initiative where communities would be empowered to take care of the forest.
Manda further said co-management means that all people in surrounding areas of the forest reserve should be actively involved in not only looking after the forest but also benefiting from it.
“Money realised from the sale of trees and other forest produce would be shared to all. The Department of Forestry would only take 30 percent of the benefits; 60 percent would go to the community through the council to be used for development projects while the remaining 10 percent would go to the block management committee,” she explained.
Co-management of forest reserves and natural resources encourages communities to have village forests, thereby reducing overdependence on government forest reserves.
Manda warned participants that without forests, all other development projects would not be sustainable.