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WWF scandal (part 3): Embezzlement and evictions in Tanzania

WWF scandal (part 3): Embezzlement and evictions in TanzaniaWWF 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.

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  1. Perhaps the Beymer-Farris and Bassett study answers this point, but surely a key question to ask here is whether WWF Tanzania, “working with the Forestry Division” (ie the government), and providing the funds for the project, has a clear agreement with the relevant authorities that they will NOT carry out evictions, and whether WWF has undertaken proper due diligence to understand what the Forest Division’s policies and practices are on such matters?

    Otherwise, whilst WWF can claim that they are not the direct agents of eviction – because the government is – they cannot so easily escape allegations that they have been negligent in setting up the right kinds of agreement with the government and project safeguards in the first place.

    Perhaps one of the wider issues that this raises is the whole question of how and by whom REDD safeguards, such as agreed within the UNFCCC, are going to be monitored. The tendency seems increasingly to be to rely on NGOs as ‘whistleblowers’ – but if well-funded NGOs such as WWF are not upholding proper safeguards even within their own projects, perhaps they should specifically be excluded from any general role in REDD safeguard monitoring?

  2. i don’t think picking out non-sequential pieces of the Daily News article proves your point.

    Readers should see the passage in its entirety. How on earth would WWF support or endorse evictions?

    Rubens said if properly done, it may be possible for Rufiji Delta communities to reduce dependence on rice farming in the mangrove forest reserve and earn their living by other means, with the support of REDD payments.

    “But a REDD programme is unlikely to be successful in Rufiji without the support of communities”, Rubens pointed out. “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”.

    Through a separate REDD initiative, WWF is currently in the process of measuring and establishing how much carbon is stored in mangrove forests. Unlike other forest types, a majority of carbon is stored in the sediments and root systems.

    “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”, he noted. The two WWF officials refuted as untrue a scholarly report by an American doctorate student which linked a WWF REDD Readiness study to the evictions in the Rufiji Delta.

  3. Thanks for your information. It goes to illustrate that REDD will fail unless the whole programme has a legitimate bottom up approach. See my summary introduction of how social capital will redirect natural capital use.

    The WWF involvement ecologically is similar in the UK to the current position of the LibDems in the Coalition government…all things to all men. They have reasonable hearts but link themselves to unsavoury elements in certain oligarchs in parts of the world.

    Let us hope that the information provided under this particular blog is correct, unlike one recently published regarding the 5 million plus deforestation rate within Indonesia in the last 12 months which was found to be inaccurate, thankfully.


  4. @A real reporter – Thanks for this. I provided a link to the article – I wasn’t trying to mislead. You don’t seem to have understood the point I was trying to make by quoting Rubens, so I’ll spell it out. WWF’s Burgess and Mariki say that WWF’s involvement in the Rufiji Delta has nothing to do with REDD. What Rubens told the Daily News clearly shows that at least he is considering WWF’s work in the Rufiji Delta in terms of REDD.

    I think @A Witness is correct on the evictions. WWF is working with the Forestry Division. The question WWF should answer is what did WWF do to prevent the evictions? Particularly given that they knew about the planned evictions at least nine months before they happened.

  5. @Dr Nigel Miles – The five million hectares figure came from the Jakarta Globe. The Jakarta Globe quoted Greenpeace. I’ve written to Greenpeace to ask them to clarify the numbers. Meanwhile I re-wrote the first three paragraphs of the post (see the update at the end of the post). Here’s the re-written opening:

    Five million hectares of forest has been removed from Indonesia’s moratorium in the 12 months since the President announced a two year moratorium on new forest concessions, according to Greenpeace.

  6. Here are the REDD activities in Tanzania, from Tanzania itself.

    you can see quite clearly that there are no REDD activities in Rufiji, and no REDD activities by WWF in Rufiji.

    I read english, and from the Rubens interview I don’t see any mention of a specific, on the ground REDD activities – he discusses the problems with REDD, the problems in Rufiji. HIs point is that REDD wouldn’t work without the support of communities – evicting people does not make that issue go away!

    The WWF REDD work is at a national level, carbon mapping and monitoring that has no consequence or any relation to the presence of communities.

  7. @Chris Lang “considering WWF’s work in the Rufiji Delta in terms of REDD” is a far cry from “evicting people for the sake of REDD!!!”

  8. sorry, i wasn’t clear. There are no WWF REDD projects in Rufiji. There is a WWF mangrove mapping project, an older beekeeping project and a community fisheries project in Rufiji, and at one point someone may have been considering (i.e, thinking about) REDD as a potential intervention, but that makes absolutely zero connection to any forced evictions for REDD or otherwise.

    Rufiji is a big place, just because WWF is also working there does not make them in any way responsible for, or connected to, or in support of, nor aware of, forced evictions. There is just no evidence of that in any of these publications.

    What would WWF have to gain (money or reputation or otherwise) by making people miserable? It just makes no sense, that’s now how conservation can work…more from the WWF response:

    “First, this overlooks the fact that any project that undermines community livelihoods would not qualify for carbon market payments, either voluntary or compulsory; second it interlinks WWF and the Tanzanian Government with no basis; and third, whatever alleged plan the TZ Government may, or may not, have in respect of delta communities, WWF is not party to any initiative to relocate them and has never supported any such policy either explicitly or implicitly. Beymer & Bassett (2011) present no evidence of any such complicity, nor of the existence of any plan to start carbon forestry projects in the Rufiji.
    In fact, WWF has invested substantial donor resources over the past six years, under its Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa Seascape Programme working with the same communities in the Rufiji Delta to secure and exercise long-term fisheries co- management rights (Mwangamilo & Mengistu, 2009; Mwangamilo & Tibaldeschi, 2011; Meela, in prep), which is wholly incompatible with any alleged policy of relocating communities from the Delta.”

    WWF has many varied conservation projects and working with communities is essential, but such an NGO is not a rougue police force to set right all the injustices that happen, and therefore cannot be held responsible for everything the government does. There are what, 5 WWF emyployees maybe working there? what are they supposed to do, take up arms? it’s so easy to accuse WWF; what about the other NGOs working there? how do you know that Canadian anti-HIV campaign NGOS aren’t evilly complicit in this eviction scheme?
    Where do you live and work, australia? does that make you an accomplice to the massacre of aborgines? what have you done about it?

  9. @A real reporter – WWF is not carrying out a REDD project in the Rufiji Delta. It is, however, considering doing so. Last October thousands of people were evicted from the Rufiji Delta. WWF washes its hands of the evictions. The crucial question is: What did WWF do to prevent the evictions in the Rufiji Delta?

    I fully understand that WWF is not (yet) running any REDD projects in Tanzania, apart from the national level. I’ve read Neil Burgess and Stephen Mariki’s letter to the editor of Global Environmental Change. They make that point several times. So why on earth did Rubens even mention REDD to the journalist from the Daily News?

    You write that there are “no WWF projects in Rufiji”. So why did Rubens and Mariki talk to the Daily News about the Rufiji Delta? And why did Prince Charles turn up in Tanzania to award five community leaders (from Rufiji Delta, Mafia Island and Kilwa District) with a “WWF Leaders for a Living Planet” award last year?

  10. A real reporter:
    You say: “What would WWF have to gain (money or reputation or otherwise) by making people miserable?”

    That major international corporations have many faces they present to the public is widely known. WWF is no different. To the Western world, such actions as have been carried out in the Rufiji Delta by the Tanzanian FBD appear intensely anachronistic and brutal. Locally the same WWF may view this merely as a long-overdue readjustment. The WWF and the FBD are close allies and this relationship is not easily severed.

    Beymer and Bassett 2011 work is based on one-on-one interviews and first-person narrative accounts. It *is* the picture on the ground in the delta. The paper is the evidence, unless of course, you want to simply disbelieve what they say. The locals do not distinguish between the WWF and the FBD. You can verify in a number of official strategy documents issued by the FBD as well. The role of the WWF is enshrined.

    “WWF cooperates actively with the Tanzanian Ministry of Forestry (FBD) for projects in the Rufiji. … FBD staff, one day wearing a WWF hat, get involved in conservation initiatives, and then another day to forcibly move people wearing a FBD hat.”

    -Beymer-Farris and Bassett, in Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

    It is instructive to note how you expect that the WWF would get involved in the day-to-day affairs of the Rufiji by yet they don’t have to ” set right all the injustices that happen,” and they “therefore cannot be held responsible for everything the government does.”

    Examined this a while back: The WWF, REDD and Tanzania

  11. There’s a very interesting post on Connor Cavanagh’s blog REDD+ Earth: “Representing Nature: WWF, REDD, and the Politics of ‘Science’”. Here’s the conclusion:

    In socioeconomic contexts marked by dire poverty, high population growth, and contentious land-based politics, however, contradictions will frequently emerge between conservation/climate mitigation and development goals. Because REDD projects derive their value from delivering on climate mitigation objectives (ie., by sequestering tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), there is an omnipresent threat of marginalizing the social and development goals of these programmes. In minor cases, this may involve the strategic embellishment of the social “co-benefits” that accrue to communities from these schemes. In major cases, however, such as the one examined by Beymer-Farris and Bassett, we begin to see situations in which massive evictions and human rights abuses are construed as completely unrelated to conservation efforts.

    Where relevant, misrepresentative win-win or triple-win narratives must be falsified by critical researchers. Toward this end, I would assert that Beymer-Farris and Bassett have made an extremely important contribution. They courageously took on a narrative promulgated by the mighty WWF – whose dominance had been achieved at the expense of the WaRufiji’s coexistence with mangrove forests- and formulated a counter-narrative based on rigorous ethnographic and historical research.

    Therein lies the seed of environmental justice in the Rufiji Delta.

  12. It’s not a comment but it’s addition that issues of Rufiji are not exposed enough to the Tanzanians.Many students of all levels nothing they know about Rufiji and their resources,i knew about Rufiji after being asked to find out the natural geographical features found in Tanzania. That situation made many projects, even the weak and bourgeois ones to be not challenged enough.According to my first level understand about Rufiji, i advise that all research and projects at Rufiji must be discussed,limited and measured by communities and natives organization before done like that of African Fishing Company.This is because the area is full of potentiality so various organization will use the various ways(even the positives ways) to make sure that after certain period of time they win the game.I memorize you to be care with carbonX company (solar electricity supplier) at Rufiji.The given awards to the them can be a way used to weak Rufijian strength.