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Forests & Finance: Sit-ins, seeds over seedlings, and fuel-saving cookstoves

Printer Fatu Joe marks logs on a forest concession so they can be easily identified at a distance. Image by Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

  • Liberian communities affected by logging have staged a sit-in protest in front of the country’s ministry of finance, demanding unpaid royalties.
  • Cookstoves and woodlots are the first step in a plan to halt deforestation in southern Zimbabwe.
  • And a reforestation initiative experiments with providing Zimbabwean farmers seeds from indigenous trees rather than seedlings.
  • Forests & Finance is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin of briefs about Africa’s forests.

Liberian forest communities were supposed to get a cut of logging fees. They say they got a sliver

MONROVIA, Liberia — On Sept. 29, several Liberian communities affected by logging staged a sit-in protest in front of the country’s ministry of finance, demanding unpaid royalties.

Under a 2006 reform, 30% of land rental fees paid by logging companies for concessions must be allocated to nearby communities. The National Benefit Sharing Trust (NBFT) was established to coordinate the collection and distribution of this money to communities.

But the government has not honored its commitments, say the villagers, represented by the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees. In a press release, the NUCFDC said that in 2021, the government paid out only $200,000; by the union’s calculations, the state owes communities $5.5 million from fees collected from logging companies between 2009 and 2019.

The NUCFDC said more than $2.7 million in rental fees were allocated to communities in the national budget for 2022, but the trust created to disburse the money received only $100,000.

Woman in a forest.
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees says the Liberian government owes communities $5.5 million from fees collected from logging companies between 2009 and 2019. Image by Open Government Partnership via Flickr (CC BY-2.0).

“It’s unfortunate and does not represent the aims of the anti-poverty program put in place by the authorities,” said Vincent Doe, president of the NUCFDC, “and it doesn’t match the ambition of the government to support development and prosperity.”

The forest communities are considering other actions to claim the full 30% they are owed by law, including a petition to the president and staging another sit-in at the Forest and Climate Resilience Forum taking place in Monrovia on Oct. 5 and 6.

Can cookstoves and woodlots halt deforestation in southern Zimbabwe?

BEITBRIDGE, Zimbabwe — Conservation NGO Rangelands Regeneration says it plans to reach 4,000 households in southern Zimbabwe with fuel-efficient wood-burning stoves, part of a bigger project to protect forests in Beitbridge district.

“Firewood collection is rampant in Beitbridge West,” says Steve Pocock, chief executive of RR.

Commercial loggers harvest timber in the district and carry it away on 5-ton trucks for resale to residents in the border town of Beitbridge. Demand for firewood is also high among locals who spend a lot of time searching for it, buying it from wood merchants, or hiring carts to collect it from elsewhere.

The NGO says the stoves, imported from Kenya, use 70% less wood than open fires, channeling heat from burning twigs and small sticks through the center of the stoves to reduce cooking time.

Rangelands Regeneration distributing stoves
Rangelands Regeneration is distributing stoves as part of a long-term plan help Beitbridge communities move away from relying on firewood. Image courtesy of Rangelands Regeneration.

So far, around 3,000 stoves have been distributed in three administrative wards in Beitbridge West district, Pocock told Mongabay.

The Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, the government body that oversees forests, and the country’s Environmental Management Agency are helping with coordination and technical support for the project. A local NGO, My Trees Trust (MTT), is supplying and helping to distribute the cookstoves.

Alongside stoves to reduce pressure on forests for firewood, RR is backing the creation of woodlots aimed at increasing a sustainable supply of firewood. Starting in December, at least 6,000 tree seedlings will be distributed to 10 volunteers in each of three areas in the district. The volunteers will be paid a stipend over three years to establish and manage woodlots of purple-pod terminalia (Terminalia prunioides) and other indigenous species.

Pocock says tree species were selected based on “what burns best.” In three years’ time, he says, the woodlots will be established. “It is up to the households at this point as to whether they want to harvest the trees.”

The stoves and the woodlots are a first stage in RR’s long-term vision to help Beitbridge communities move away from firewood to alternatives like solar power, says Pocock. RR will also encourage the uptake of small-scale solar, clean cooking and other energy products using financing schemes that lower the barriers to acquire them.

“There are some very interesting pay-as-you-go models from around the world that we think would have applicability in addressing energy needs, and are exploring these and their applicability to the local context,” he says.

Zimbabwean reforestation initiative experiments with seeds rather than seedlings

ZIMBABWE — Meanwhile, My Trees Trust says it plans to distribute millions of indigenous tree seeds to encourage small-scale farmers to plant them. In addition, MTT will plant 320,000 seedlings in the next phase of its ambitious reforestation strategy.

Reforestation efforts have typically relied on planting seedlings. Distributing seed packs is an experiment.

My Trees Trust, set up in 2019, estimates the cost of putting a seedling in a farmer’s hands at $2.50 per tree, and the cost of distributing a seed via a seed pack at less than a cent.

The seed pack distribution venture is a gamble on farmers’ willingness to read the instructions and correctly germinate the seeds. The hope is that they will plant them along field contours, and around field margins and homesteads.

MTT co-founder Nick De Swardt says the seeds will be distributed in packs of around 1,000 seeds that include five species of acacia and two species of Bauhinia.

These are considered pioneer trees, De Swardt says. “When you see farmland that’s regenerating naturally, these are the species that come back first.”

Close up of dark brown and bright orange pod mahogany seeds in someone's cupped hands. Image courtesy My Trees Trust.
Pod mahogany seeds. MTT will distribute seed packs of pioneer tree species to farmers. Image courtesy of My Trees Trust.

A gamble it may be, but Zimbabwean farmers spend the whole of their lives planting, monitoring the seasons, and dealing with the depreciating quality of soil, and MTT is betting that planting an extra pack of seeds won’t be too much of a stretch.

“It’s a very cheap way of getting trees in the ground,” De Swardt says.

Deforestation is accelerating in Zimbabwe, and the country is losing much of its Brachystegia, or musasa woodlands to farmers who need firewood to cure tobacco in wood-fired barns, or as household fuel.

The trust will carry out a survey in February to assess the effectiveness of the distribution program.

Zimbabwe’s forests go up in smoke to feed its tobacco habit


Banner image: Printer Fatu Joe marks logs on a forest concession so they can be easily identified at a distance. Image by Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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