By Nike Doggart, University of Leeds and Charles K. Meshack, Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
Between 2010 and 2012 UBoC supported communities in Tanzania’s Rubeho Mountains to establish three Village Forest Reserves. Ten years on and the two largest reserves have just had their status upgraded, reflecting the success of the communities in managing their forests.
The Rubeho Mountains are a little-known range of mountains within the Eastern Arc Mountain biodiversity hotspot. The mountains are remote, accessible only by hazardous mountain tracks, and are home to some extraordinary forest species. While most of the tropical forest in the Rubehos is protected in government forest reserves, two biologically important forests, Ipondelo and Ilole, are on land owned and managed by local communities.
Biodiversity surveys carried out in the Rubeho Mountains between 1999 and 2002 resulted in the discovery of three species new to science, as well as new geographical records for various threatened species. Following these discoveries, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), an NGO specialising in the conservation of Tanzania’s high-biodiversity forests, requested support from UBoC to assist the communities to establish community-based forest management. UBoC then persuaded Deloitte LLP to provide funding for the project and by December 2012 the new village forest reserves had been established covering 3,550 hectares of evergreen forest and woodland.
In 2020, the communities reviewed the management of the reserves and, supported by staff from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, applied for the reserves to be upgraded from ‘declared’ to ‘gazetted’ status. The process was completed successfully and their new status was announced in government notices published in June and August 2020. Achieving gazetted status is a reflection of the communities’ success in managing the forests, and provides an additional layer of legal protection for the reserves.
The reserves provide valuable forest products for the communities, protect delicate mountain soils from erosion and are the source of various streams. Ipondelo Forest (also known as Chugu) is home to the Eastern Arc-endemic Mountain dwarf galago (Paragalago orinus) and to the Endangered Udzungwa partridge (Xenoperdix udzungwensis). The Udzungwa partridge is closely related to forest partridges in Asia, a relationship that probably dates back to the early Pliocene when primitive forest partridges were distributed all the way from Asia to Africa. Some scientists consider the Rubeho population to be a distinct species known as the Rubeho forest partridge (Xenoperdix obscuratus). In Ilole Forest, a population of the secretive and Endangered Abbott’s duiker (Cephalophus spadix) was discovered. The village forest reserves supported through UBoC provide important habitat for these species.
The communities’ achievements over the last decade are a positive example of international cooperation in the global struggle to safeguard biodiversity for future generations. The research that sparked the renewed conservation effort involved researchers from Tanzania, Italy, Denmark, the USA and the UK, while investment in establishing and sustaining the management of the reserves has involved cooperation between the Rubeho Mountain communities and organisations in Tanzania, Italy and the UK, including UBoC. However, a conservationist’s job is never done. While local government authorities and TFCG continue to provide backstopping for the communities, more work is needed to establish long term support mechanisms that enable communities to continue to protect the biodiversity and other ecosystem values of village forests. Working closely with the Government of Tanzania, TFCG is currently looking at financing options to support communities, such as the Rubeho villages, to sustain their forest management activities for many decades to come, including through international collaborations.