WWF is embroiled in a two-part scandal over its work in Tanzania. In October 2011, thousands of villagers were evicted from a WWF project area in the Rufiji Delta. This year WWF Tanzania staff were caught embezzling funds.
On 28 October 2011, forestry officials protected by armed police burned down hundreds of farm huts and cut down villagers’ palm trees. The huts were used to plant and harvest rice. The government had announced the planned evictions in January 2011. One of the people affected, was Bakari Wanga, chairman of Kiomboni village, one of three villages in the Rufiji Delta. “What is happening here is absolute madness, our huts are being torched and coconut trees felled by a group of natural resources officials escorted by the police,” Wanga told the Daily News.
WWF denies any involvement in the evictions. WWF’s Country Director, Stephen Mariki, told the Daily News, that “WWF has never advocated the eviction of communities from the delta. The recent evictions were carried out by government agencies.”
WWF’s project in the Rufiji Delta is a mangrove restoration project. According to Jonathan Cook of WWF-US, WWF is “working with the Forestry Division to replant and restore mangrove habitats degraded by illegal rice farming”.
In November 2011, Betsy Beymer-Farris and Thomas Bassett published a paper titled, “The REDD menace: Resurgent protectionism in Tanzania’s mangrove forests”, in Global Environmental Change. The paper is critical of WWF’s Rufiji Delta project and of REDD:
“Within the context of the Tanzanian state and WWF’s climate change ‘adaptation strategy’, mangrove reforestation reduces the ability of Rufiji farmers to cultivate rice for subsistence needs and thus poses a direct threat to their livelihoods.”
Beymer-Farris and Bassett argue that the evictions of the Warufiji, the people living in the Rufiji Delta, is part of a process of creating a REDD project in the Rufiji Delta, where carbon is more important than people:
“The removal of the Warufiji ‘simplifies’ the mangrove forests in order to make levels of carbon sequestration ‘legible’ for carbon markets.”
WWF’s response to the paper is fascinating. After an article based on the paper appeared in Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper, the head of WWF Norway, Rasmus Hansson, wrote a response in which he attacked the research and wrote that it would “make serious researchers blush”. Beymer-Farris and Bassett replied by explaining that there was nothing wrong with their research and that they stood by their findings.
On 3 February 2012, WWF lodged a formal complaint with the journal that published the paper. WWF requested that the article be removed from the journal’s website.
In the complaint, WWF denies that its project in the Rufiji Delta is a REDD project, that it continues to work with communities and that WWF staff do not “enforce” mangrove reforestation.
“WWF has no REDD pilot project operational on the ground in Tanzania, and there are no REDD pilot projects at all in the Rufiji delta,” write WWF’s Neil Burgess and Stephen Mariki in a letter to the editor of the journal.
Someone should have told Jason Rubens at WWF Tanzania. Here’s what he told the Daily News in November 2011:,
“WWF believes there are opportunities to generate funding for community mangrove management from REDD programmes.”
[ . . . ]
“But a REDD programme is unlikely to be successful in Rufiji without the support of communities. Mangroves restoration can only be done through community stewardship. We need to look for positive incentives for communities to conserve forests, that is the whole point of REDD.”
[ . . . ]
“The calculation of carbon capture in mangrove forests is complicated so it’s necessary to work on that first, before deciding whether it’s feasible to engage communities.”
[ . . . ]
“Sitting back and trusting in indigenous practices may not be enough. Times are changing and populations are increasing. We need to find more creative solutions to help communities meet their livelihood needs, but at less cost to the forest environment. REDD may be part of that solution.”
None of which makes the WWF project in the Rufiji Delta a REDD project, but it does suggest that WWF has at least considered the possibility of a REDD project there. And it provides some support to one of the arguments in Beymer-Farris and Bassett’s paper – that there is a serious danger of REDD driving fortress conservation.
The discussion about WWF and the “REDD menance” in Tanzania has been overshadowed recently by the embezzlement scandal. Less than two weeks after co-signing the letter to the editor of Global Environmental Change, Stephen Mariki had resigned. Once again, he denies any wrong-doing. “I have not done anything wrong myself,” he told AlertNet, “but since this scandal happened under my leadership there was no option than to step aside.”
In a March 2012 statement, WWF confirmed that so far, “13 employees have left the organization, along with two managers who had oversight responsibility.” An initial report produced by auditing firm Ernst and Young found that a total of US$1.3 million had disappeared from a Norwegian funded WWF project, “Strengthening Capacity of Environmental Civil Society Organizations”. WWF estimates that the total is US$200,000. It seems that the money was pocketed through inflated “per diem” payments.
The embezzlement scandal is disgraceful, but the bigger issue is whether REDD drives the type of simplification of landscapes and fortress conservation that appears to be taking place in mangroves of the Rufiji Delta.