in Tanzania

Elite capture and benefit sharing in a community forest in Tanzania. Lessons for REDD?

A study published in October 2017 looks at how the demands of carbon forestry interact with the needs of community-based natural resource management. The study looks at one of the oldest village-based forest reserves in Tanzania, the Duru-Haitemba Villages Land Forest Reserve, in northern Tanzania. The Forest Reserve covers a total area of 9,045 hectares.

The study, “Learning from the other: Benefit sharing lessons for REDD+ implementation based on CBFM experience in Northern Tanzania”, is published in Land Use Policy, and is written by Thabit Jacob (Dodoma University, Tanzania, and Roskilde University Denmark) and Dan Brockington (Sheffield University, UK).

Fieldwork for the study was carried out mainly by Jacob between January and April 2012. Brockington visited in late 2012 and early 2013.

The authors write that the forest sector in Africa has seen two transformations in the past 25 years. The first involves “participatory forest management, devolved governance and co-management of state owned forest and the formation of village-owned, managed and run forest reserves”. The second, is a “nascent revolution of purpose and funding which sees forests and trees transformed into carbon and carbon credits.”

Jacob and Brockington note the importance of considering how a focus on carbon will affect community based forest management (CBFM). “The literature is both optimistic and pessimistic,” they write.

Elite capture in community based forest management

Of course community based forest management is not without its complications. Jacob and Brockington write that,

Inequitable distributions of costs and benefits, and unjust procedures for determining them can be determined at the village level. Oppression can be locally driven and organized.

It is thus a common critique of CBFM that new initiatives can serve to reinforce existing power hierarchies and inequalities in communities rather than bring about equitable sharing of social and economic benefits associated with forest resources (Brosius et al., 2005).

Specifically, relating to Tanzania, they write that,

And in Tanzania research to date suggests that unless CBFM deliberately targets poorer community members, they likely could receive insignificant benefits from forest management efforts, and could even be negatively affected as a result of REDD+ forest related activities (Blomley and Iddi 2009; Green and Lund 2015).

Jacob and Brockington argue that under the participatory forest management regimes set up in the 1990s, governance arrangements improved in Tanzania. But problems of elite capture are now resurfacing. Adding carbon payments could increase the rewards for elite capture. It could increase local resistance to elite capture. “It does make clear the importance of bolstering mechanisms of oversight as REDD+ unfolds”, they write.

Benefit sharing in two villages in Duru-Hatiemba

Jacob chose two villages in the Duru-Haitemba Villages Land Forest Reserve: Ayasanda and Riroda, both of which have populations of about 3,000.

Ayasanda was chosen because it had received a carbon payment in the past. A research project called Kyoto: Think Global Act Local Project ran from 2003 to 2008 and set up trial carbon payments in four villages in different parts of Tanzania. Ayasanda received US$1,750 and decided to build a new school.

Financial benefits in both villages come mainly from fines and charges collected from harvesting forest products. Villagers insisted that the financial benefits were not well distributed. Jacob and Brockington write that,

Most of the income collected is used to support financial and administrative needs of the village government including the VNRC.

But there were non-monetary benefits such as access to non-timber forest products.

The Village Natural Resources Committee chairman in Riroda told Jacob that,

“The money we are getting is too small and it all ends up in paying for meetings and patrol allowances. Villagers have been enjoying non-monetary benefits for many years now; they would like enjoy other benefits especially monetary benefits. Currently I can’t talk of benefits sharing while there is nothing to share with the villagers.”

In Ayasanda, 54% of the people that Jacob interviewed told him that forest benefits were shared with villagers. In Riroda, only 23% thought that benefits were well shared. Jacob and Brockington argue that,

This may be to a large extent associated with the outcomes of the K:TGAL project which brought in carbon payments, and also brought the villagers together to deliberate the best way to allocate the funds received from those payments.

In Rironda, Jacob heard that prominent village officials were collaborating with pit-sawyers who were operating illegally and bribing officials. In both villages, illegal logging and charcoal making took place, which benefited only a few individuals.

Another problem was that members of the Village Natural Resources Committee took part in training in alternative livelihoods activities such as bee-keeping and butterfly farming, but did not pass on what they learned with other members of the community.

In Riroda, villagers were concerned that money from forest activities is kept by the village government, and that only members of the village government benefit financially. Financial reports are rarely given to villagers. “Villagers are concerned this tendency will continue even when REDD+ payments arrive”, Jacob and Brockington write. There were also reports in Riroda that the Village Executive Officer and other village government officials were embezzling and diverting forest income.

There were also reports of favouritism, with village leaders tending to favour their relatives and friends. In Rironda village council members allow close allies to carry out destructive activities in the forest.

Corruption was also a problem. A charcoal makers in Ayasanda said,

“Most of us rely on charcoal burning to meet our daily needs and in most cases we have no option but to pay some bribes to the sub- village head to enable us to continue with our activity.”

Is it all bad?

Jacob and Brockington point out that although their interviews showed a lot of dissatisfaction, villagers can access forest products for free or under licence. The forest had recovered since it had been managed by the communities in 1994. Jacob and Brockington note that,

The existence of these disputes should not draw attention away from the fact that now there are things to fight over, whereas previously there was little. Before devolution benefits from forests were controlled by District Councils and local harvesting, or sale of commodities like carbon was either illegal or not possible. The presence of the contests we have described therefore is a measure of success.

Jacob and Brockington argue that low levels of oversight between the district forestry officers and the village government is a serious and well recognised problem in the management of common resources. They describe the situation in Ayasanda and Rironda as “a situation of elite capture of the benefits of devolved forest reserve management by local elites”. They add,

Lack of awareness among majority villagers and weakness in the VNRC as discovered is also likely to accelerate elite capture of benefits under this approach in the end REDD+ benefits will end up in the pockets of the few.

Capacity building of communities is needed for REDD to succeed, Jacob and Brockington argue. But they acknowledge that capacity building could “accelerate elite capture by creating a breed of local forest bureaucratic elites”.

Will REDD payments ever reach Tanzania’s rural poor?

An underlying assumption in Jacob and Brockington’s paper seems to be that REDD will one day generate financial benefits for communities in the Duru-Haitemba Villages Land Forest Reserve. As noted in various recent studies, this is a pretty big assumption to make.

The small carbon payment to Ayasanda village was a one off, paid in 2006. I couldn’t find any mention of a proposed Duru-Haitemba REDD project in a search on Google. There are two Agriculture, Forestry, Land Use projects in Tanzania listed on the VCS Project Database, but neither of them involve the the Duru-Haitemba Villages Land Forest Reserve.

In a footnote, Jacob and Brockington explain that,

Duru-Haitemba villages were earmarked for future REDD+ expansion after initial pilot projects across the country. There was hope that these reserves will generate income from carbon payments in the future. Village members anticipated REDD+ payments to improve their livelihoods, but they thought that can only be achieved if clear benefits sharing mechanisms are in place.

By 2012, villagers in Ayasanda had measured the carbon in the forest for two years, without receiving any carbon payments. Jacob and Brockington write that,

The lack of buyers has led to frustration that might in the long run trigger illegal harvesting which will affect forest cover and reverse the gains as documented by Treue et al. (2014).


PHOTO Credit: A joint meeting of the Village Forest Committee and Village Government in Ayasanda village to finalise and approve the Ayasanda Village Forest By-Laws. Liz Alden Wily, March 1995.

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  1. These are very valid concerns. Where we work in the Solomon Islands Elite Capture has been a major issue in the logging sector. We see REDD+ as one of the only viable ways of providing sufficient inducements to ensure local land owners can say no to logging but must at all costs avoid the systemic corruption that’s developed since logging started in the Solomon Islands. To this end we are piloting projects using the Nakau Programme, which we believe can avoid corruption.