Sawn wood ups community earnings by 18%

Community processing timber with Ding Dong

Since 2013, we have worked with the Tanzanian Government and other partners to support 14 villages in Liwale District to secure rights to forests on their lands. In four years, we have helped them to set up locally-protected forest reserves that cover more than 128,000 hectares, and harbour more than 15,000 hardwood trees that these communities can sustainably harvest each year to generate income to support local development.

This is a vast improvement on their situation before, when local people had no rights to the hardwood trees growing on their land, which were still the property of the Central Government. However, without the financial leverage, skills, equipment and market access needed harvest and process timber themselves, local people are reliant on selling their trees to buyers who cover the costs of felling and removing them from the forest. This means that they still only see a fraction of the true value of their timber.

We are set on turning this around. Last year, we piloted sawn timber production in two villages in Liwale (and four more in other districts where we work). We trained eight local people in the two villages - Litou and Mikunya - to operate locally made processing facilities known as 'ding dongs' (see picture), which would enable them to process their own sawn timber so that can get a better price for the trees in their forests.

Then, to kick-start sawn timber production, we provided each of the two communities with sufficient funds to sustainably fell 40 to 45 trees in their forests, and to process these into 1,171 graded planks of timber, which was sold in local auctions.

The revenues they generated exceeded everybody's expectations. Collectively, Litou and Mikunya earned $18,224 (TZS 39.8 million) from their wood, an impressive 18%, or $2,839 (TZS 6.2 million) more than they would have earned for the unprocessed logs.

Sawn timber production also created jobs for local people. Part-time employment was created for qualified chainsaw operators in each village who were hired to fell the trees. Once felled, the logs needed to be cross-cut into sleepers, which was done by hiring local labour to use two-man cross-cut saws, and then processed into planks by the eight newly trained ding dong operators.

This pilot was funded by the National Forest and Beekeeping Programme Phase II in Tanzania. However, having seen the benefits, both Litou and Mikunya villages have said that they are ready to invest the money they earned as capital to fund successive, locally-led timber harvests, thus ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project impacts and generating even more profits to fund sustainable community development. Each time they process timber moving forward, the local forest management committees which are now registered as businesses, will pay a contribution of 5% of the value of the standing trees towards national tree planting efforts by the Tanzania Forest Fund, thus also helping to ensure the future of forests elsewhere in the country.