Leveraging Tanzania’s timber industry for sustainable forestry

Partnerships for Forests is supporting MCDI to pioneer a community-based model of sustainable forest management in Tanzania.


The challenge

The Tanzanian mainland has 48m hectares of forest, the large 97% majority of which has grown naturally. For a growing labour force these forests mean new income opportunities, as demand from more consumers requiring more forest-harvested raw materials grows too.

But each year, the amount of wood harvested sustainably in Tanzania only provides about 70% of estimated demand. This deficit is being met by overharvesting or illegal harvesting, which degrades forests and lowers their productivity.


The project

Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative (MCDI) is working with rural villages in Tanzania to pioneer a community-based model of forest management that collectively shares out the benefits of protecting nearby forests. The project focuses on FSC-certified timber from the mpingo tree (Dalbergia melanoxylon) and other high-value timber species.

Since 2009, the NGO has led the way in setting up and supporting Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFRs) – introduced by the Tanzanian government to incentivise forest protection – which give communities the legal authority to own and manage the forests around their village. As they do not pay government royalties, VLFRs can sell timber at a lower price and draw higher profits than royalty-paying commercial companies. In addition to mpingo, MCDI supports 24 communities to sustainably harvest and sell over 15 timber species.

About half of the revenue generated from timber are used by villages to finance VLFR management. It funds forest patrols, fire controls and checks to monitor forest health. The rest is put into funding community development projects, based on priorities set in their village development plans agreed by locally elected Village Natural Resources Committees.

The VLFR model is premised on a mutually beneficial transfer of skills, knowledge, networks and market access, and MCDI is working with private teak plantation partner KVTC to organise its local communities into VLFRs. In return, the goal is for KVTC to help the VLFRs access markets for timber products and use its extensive business experience to help MCDI become a financially viable organisation.

P4F support is helping to strengthen the partnership and complementary values of MCDI and KTVC. There are three main elements to this support: strengthening the community-managed forestry model developed by MCDI; integrating a community management model into KVTC’s commercial plantation; and pushing replication of community-based forest management models across Tanzania.


“My aspiration is that Tanzania is able to strike a balance between the need for additional land and resources to feed and house its growing population and the need to live in harmony with the natural environment … We will share our recipe for sustainable community forestry far and wide, so that it can be scaled up and replicated in other locations across Tanzania and East Africa”

– Makala Jasper, CEO, MCDI

Current impact

The work currently involves 20 villages and around 200,000 hectares of forest are already under sustainable management. An example of the benefits brought by the scheme can be seen in one village, Nanjirinji A, where MCDI has worked since 2008.

  • Economic and social value: being part of a VLFR has earned the village US$412,660. The village’s Natural Resource Committee decides where to invest this money, which has so far funded a borehole, classroom and community marketplace.
  • Environmental value: 83,538 hectares of forest are under sustainable management.

MCDI has successfully hired a Business Development Manager, who is working on their long-term market strategy, and has conducted its first forest assessment in partnership with KTVC. The two partners are also working to develop the joint community forest management agreement.

MCDI’s success in securing an FSC group-certificate – the only one of its kind for community-managed natural forests in Africa – has the potential to generate between £3m and £5m annually through sales of sustainable timber. At the moment, communities supported by MCDI currently have a market for less than 5% of full production potential and so the program seeks to increase timber sales reach around 14% of the annual potential (£0.5m).

KVTC plans to implement the same model in the neighbouring forests, with trees which can be used for both timber and charcoal production.