Investigating smallholder farmers’ silvicultural practices and markets through MSc research in Tanzania

Assessment of agroforestry practices by smallholders, Ihalimba village

I am Japhet Noah Mwambusi, MSc student of the Tropical Forestry Course. I just returned from my fieldwork in my home country Tanzania. My research focuses on “Silvicultural Treatments of Smallholder and their Relation to the timber market in Mufindi District, Tanzania”. It contributes to the WoodCluster project. My research aims to assess different silvicultural treatments among smallholders, then evaluate silvicultural treatments practised in their woodlots and discover the benefits of these treatments to timber values in the market. There are only few studies on conditions influencing successful silvicultural outcomes based on affordable practices to local farmers and market demand.

In the following, I want to give insights in my research topic and field work.

The study was done under the supervision of Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and conducted in Mufindi district. Mufindi is in the Southern highlands of Tanzania and experiencing an increase of small-scale woodlots and plantations of a medium-sized owned by smallholders. The tree planting efforts in Mufindi have been fuelled by high timber demand and rural economy factors. But the rate at which forests increase to cover the wood gap and support the rural economy is low because of poor tree survival, retarded growth and severe fire events. Setbacks are influenced by different factors like lack of important silvicultural treatments among smallholder forest producers as this knowledge is often available to professional foresters. Moreover,timber market Mufindi is not clear on criteria considered to timber grading based on different timber qualities as a result of silvicultural treatments.

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Prior to my fieldwork, I met with different forestry stakeholders at SUA and Mufindi for important information about the nature of tree farming and timber market in Mufindi. 13 sample villages (10% of all 125 villages) of Mufindi district were selected based on research objectives and expert recommendations. The sampled villages were Vikula, Ihalimba, Nundwe, Ikongosi, Mwitikilwa, Ifwagi, Itona, Igowole, Ibatu, Nzivi, Mninga, Mkalala and Kasanga. Pinus patula and Eucalyptus grandis were the target tree species in this research. I interviewed 78 smallholder forest producers and assessed their woodlots practically. Additionally, I interviewed 20 timber dealers in the market and visited two big forest enterprises, Sao Hill Forest Plantation and Green Resources Limited, to observe their silvicultural treatments.

I successfully completed my fieldwork within three months though the work was intense to visit every single woodlot for assessment and inventory. The challenge was the accessibility to woodlots because they are randomly allocated far from human settlements in different directions. Also, the rainy season with poor access-roads to the woodlots made the fieldwork more challenging. Some stakeholders denied offering cooperation during a study. For instance, some veneer industries denied my request.

Apart from mentioned challenges, I receive huge cooperation from my research supervisors Prof. Gerald Kapp and Prof. Shabani Chamshama as well as WoodCluster project team (Dr Maxi Domke, Prof. Yonika Ngaga and Dr Felister Mombo). They offered strong advice, guidance and supervision to make this study successful. 13 key informants from District Office, Tanzania Forest Service Agency, Private Forest Program and Forest Development Trust provided useful information during a discussion on a different aspect of silviculture of smallholder and timber market in Mufindi. Moreover, smallholders in all 13 villages were collaborative to offering needed information and on the assessment of their woodlots.

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Tentatively, this research found out that smallholder woodlots have limited silvicultural treatments, while some don’t receive any tending thus its poor performance. This caused by the fact that smallholder forestry is often poorly planned hence affecting woodlots management. Forestry knowledge to smallholder in Mufindi is very limited due to inadequate extension services. Moreover, the timber market in Mufindi is not price sensitive to high-quality timber from well-managed woodlots due to lack of formal timber grading system.

Generally, a lot needed to strengthen the sustainable performance of smallholder forestry in Mufindi as well as to initiate a quality based timber market. Smallholders should be organised in associations to facilitate access to knowledge and better market. Forestry extension is one of the key aspects to be addressed as soon as possible in Mufindi. For sustainability, the timber market in Mufindi needs to be well organised and linked to smallholders associations for better grading and pricing of products. At the end, not only the rural economy will be built stronger, but also the timber demand-supply gap in Tanzania will be covered by smallholder forest producers.

Passion fruits from the woodlots as reward for Japhet in Mwitikilwa village

By Japhet Noah Mwambusi

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