Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal Logging in Tanzania

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Illegal Logging in Tanzania


Tanzania in its region

Old growth forests are an invaluable resource (metaphorically) which provides us with an abundance of services. One of these includes protecting humans and the planet against climate change. Others include environmental, social, economic and spiritual benefits. Forests are a resource which all of us use every day whether directly or indirectly. The global timber trade industry is projected to be worth USD 299 billion by 2020.[1] However evident, it should be noted that forests are intrinsically finite and a somewhat sensitive resource which therefore warrant fierce protection.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism of the United Republic of Tanzania boasts their “great potential for natural resources, cultural and tourism attractions.”[1][2]. However, this is seriously threatened by some of the many illegal activities taking place in Tanzania and bordering nations. The illegal harvest of timber is one such threat.

Illegal logging is a grand term for purposely evading overarching laws in the forestry sector of a given region. The WWF defines illegal logging as “…timber is harvested or traded in violation of relevant national or sub-national laws or where access to forest resources or trade in forest products is authorized through corrupt practices.”[3] They further subdivide the problem into 3 key elements: illegal logging, illegal trading and corruption.[3] The practice of illegal logging exists in part due to the high demand for timber products locally and internationally. With an ever increasing population coupled with an increasing percentage of families globally moving into the middle class, the demand has never been so high. Timber can be fashioned into furniture and other wood products, making it a very valuable commodity.[4] In countries where timber is a major export or where deforestation/conservation are taken seriously, some measure of monitoring is put in place. Countries will often set up protected or managed areas. Illegal logging however, evades these laws. This develops into a tangle made up of corruption, biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystem services, indigenous species extinction and unsustainable economic pursuits.[5]

Clearcut in Tanzania

Framing the Problem

Tanzania’s forestry sector and timber exports have experienced an accelerated surge in demand since the early 2000s.[6] The impact of this illegal logging on social, environmental and economic milieus is devastating for Tanzanians and their country. To counter this illegal logging, the industry must uphold strict standards of sustainability for it to remain sustainableover the long term. This is where we begin to see complications. The act of illegal logging stems from complex social and economic systems influenced by national and international pressures. For years, the Tanzanian forestry sector has been the object of poor governance compounded by poverty and corruption. This environment creates a solid framework for an unsustainable and poorly-regulated industry. Forestry-related governmental deficits have slowed economic growth and hindered a poverty reduction strategy.[1]


Within an increasingly globalized climate, two factors have primarily dominated the global timber trade. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 - 1998 and China’s rapid rise as a competitive global force. In 1998, following the financial crisis, China committed to slowing domestic timber harvesting while simultaneously eliminating import duties in order to maintain an abundant supply of logs to sawmills.[1]

This acted as the major catalyst in international demand from countries supplying hardwood, such as Tanzania and its neighbours.

Cross-border trade with Kenya has been taking place for decades. In fact, this is one of the most active crossing routes in East Africa for illegal forest products.[7] The three most notorious border points used for the transboundary trade are Horohoro-Lungalunga, Holili-Taveta and Namanga. [8]A notable difficulty in the region has been the discrepancy in certain laws. For example, the harvest of sandalwood is not permitted in Kenya, but Tanzania operates a sandalwood processing factory.[7] When each country monitors compliance only with its own rules and regulations, it can be exceedingly difficult to shut down a corrupt operation. [7]


The notion referred to as regulatory capture has likely been taking place in the logging industry of Tanzania. This refers to the collusion taking place between illegal loggers and those responsible for monitoring or regulating logging activities. Both local peoples and district forest officials face criticism for their direct role in illegal logging. On the part of district forest officials, residents accuse them of covertly issuing permits or securing an uninterrupted export route for the timber in question. Further, law enforcement officials like police also face allegations for their involvement with the practice.[6] It is estimated that less than 20% of traded wood products have proper, legal documentation.[9]

Part of the problem is that the disproportionately low penalties for offenders fails to function as a deterrent. Forest conservation officials state that someone in possession of illegal timber worth 100 million Tanzanian shillings, or USD $59,000 would only be fined the equivalent of USD $294.[6] This penalty equates to less than half a percent of the potential earnings. What’s more, residents assert that while police seem to perform their rightful duties by inspecting vehicles, they are in fact colluding with loggers - helping them escape without incident.

Aside from governance issues, infrastructure also plays a part in the process of illegal logging. In 2003, the Mkapa bridge crossing the Rifiji River was constructed. This bridge is a key connection between Dar es Salaam on the coast, and the southern part of Tanzania and facilitates the movement of logs.[10]. Because of new roadways, previously isolated areas in southern Tanzania became easily accessible by vehicle and therefore a new source for exploitation. Illegal logs from this area can be quietly transported to Zanzibar [WHY ZANZIBAR?].[10]

A practice which at first glance appears localized and unidimensional, can suddenly unravel into a transnational multifaceted wicked problem without a single clear solution.



An ornate carved doorway in Zanzibar

Illegal logging negatively impacts the livelihoods of those living in or in close proximity to forests and of those living in rural communities. This occurs in a number of ways but primarily through the degradation of environmental services mentioned above. Some of these environmental harms include holding marginalized people in poverty, damaged or degraded water supplies and other infringements on elements of human well-being.[1]


The role of illegal logging in Tanzania is made worse by a number of compounding factors. One is the institutional corruption - a sheer lack of law enforcement capacity facilitates the unlawful practice. Illegal loggers are well-organized and often armed. Even in the unlikely event that local forest guards are present, they are certainly not equipped to confront or deter the loggers.[11]

The unlawful harvest of timber in Tanzania is only one of many instances of corruption in the country. Illegal poaching of elephant tusks for their ivory is estimated to yield traffickers approximately $10.5 million USD per year – five times Tanzania’s wildlife budget. xx? making up only a small proportion of the estimated $7 to $23 billion dollar per year market.[12]

Corruption and poor governance in the forestry sector partly explain the problem. In a developing nation such as Tanzania, experiencing such explosive growth in the timber sector is compounded by regulatory bodies being ill-equipped to monitor logging activity – legal or illegal.[4]

Mtandi summit


Forest cover in Tanzania is shrinking at an unprecedented rate. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2012, forest cover declined by 2 million hectares.[13] Illegal loggers particularly target indigenous species: mninga and mpodo, which are now on the brink of extinction owing to the high demand.[6] A village executive officer in Rufiji noted that “most trees [are] cut in the middle of the forest to dodge authorities."[6] This adds to the complexity in monitoring deforestation. Beyond mere forest cover, forests provide many other environmental services which can sometimes seem secondary or indirect. Risks associated with deforestation can include but are not limited to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity risking extinction of species, impacting water resources, and promoting fire outbreaks.[4]


According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, it is estimated that Tanzania loses more than $8 million annually and Kenya loses $10 million due to cross-border illegal timber trade. [13][2] A report by TRAFFIC International, a joint program of the World Wildlife Foundation and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), suggested that 58 million USD were lost annually in each of 2004 and 2005.[4][10] It is suggested that Tanzania’s ties to China’s insatiable demand for timber products have played a key role in deforestation. In the 8 years between 1997 and 2005, Tanzania saw a 1,400 percent increase in their export market.[4] It has been reported by TRAFFIC International, that all exports of indigenous hardwood and 75 percent of sawn wood and raw material, in the 6-month period between July 2005 and January 2006, were directed to China.[4] During this period, Tanzania was Africa’s sixth largest timber exporter to China. This is due in part to China’s logging ban – they even went so far as to set up forestry projects in Tanzania.[1] Unregulated trade – especially in the magnitude of trade with China – lost revenues are of primary concern. Milledge (2007) proposes that according to Chinese import records, Tanzania only collected 10% of the revenues related to timber exports to China because those exports were not reported in Tanzanian records.[1] Legitimate exporters are negatively affected by illegal logging because while the former continue to pay a premium for their access, the costs of labour and royalties, illegal loggers evade those initial costs. Illegal logging is said to devalue legal timber through the under-cutting of prices. The American Forest and Paper Association estimated that illegal timber depreciates global timber prices by between 7%-16%.[1]

Initiatives to Combat Illegal Logging

Governmental / Intergovernmental

Several initiatives are being undertaken in an effort to curb the harvest and trade of illegal timber. This is no small feat however. In September 2015, a joint effort to combat the illegal trade was enacted by forest protection agencies in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Madagascar. The Zanzibar Declaration on Illegal Logging is a collaborative motion aiming to facilitate communication between customs authorities and forest officials.[13] This alliance is intended to improve transparency between neighbouring countries and to uphold the paper commitment to integrity and accountability.

In 2016, FAO-EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan program provided a comprehensive list of best practices for tracking timber from its origin in the forest through its journey along the supply chain. If implemented, this approach would address illegal logging.[14]

In 2017, the minister for tourism and natural resources, Jumanne Maghembe, announced a renewed demarcation of national parks and forest reserves. This is in an effort to combat conflicts between human and wildlife brought on by severe drought. This will be led by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) – particularly to deter illegal cattle grazing, logging and poaching.[11]

Additionally, in a joint effort, Tanzania will participate in its first ever comprehensive ground-based forest inventory.[15] The National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment project (NAFORMA) will be conducted by the government of Tanzania in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and funded by the government of Finland. This project aims to collect information regarding conservation and sustainability efforts directed to Tanzania's forests. This pilot project emerged from a demand that developing nations reduce their carbon emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, and changes in forest management practices (REDD). This inventory will help Tanzania uphold its requirements in REDD+.[14]


Kids at Maringa Chini Primary School, Tanzania

External non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working in Tanzania in a more wholesome and hands-on way – apart from governmental intervention - to recover some of the natural landscape and ecosystem services which are provided by old growth forests.[16] One such initiative is being undertaken by an organization called Community Forests International (CFI). This is a grassroots NGO based in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick. CFI was originally founded when a Canadian tree planter visited Pemba Island and was asked to do some tree planting work as it was desperately needed. Today, CFI’s involvement in Pemba has grown into other domains - larger than simple replanting efforts. Subsequent projects revolve around empowering community members in poverty alleviation through sustainable food systems (permaculture), accessing education, and making use of innovative technologies such as solar panels used to charge motorbike batteries which can then be transported to more remote locations.<[16]

Another NGO involved in Tanzania is Raleigh International. They host a series of natural resources management programs which focus on supporting sustainable management and promoting the conservation of biodiversity.[17] They’ve established infrastructure which inhibits illegal logging and poaching, set up tree nurseries and worked to increase education among local people on the impact of natural resource management for future generations.[17]

Community Forests International and Raleigh International are just two examples of NGOs' intervention and their proactive role in empowering local people in a system which isn’t always able to suit their best interests.

Recommendations from a Forestry Perspective

Reforms promoting good governance: reduce/eliminate corruption and improve transparency. An example of this in terms of resource management might include an optimum rent collection scheme and an improved fiscal regime.[1][18] These may be reinforced by smaller systems such as the establishment of responsible authorities, human resources development, and promoting transparency and accountability at all levels. Anti-corruption training for leading agencies in all sectors is crucial for the maintenance of integrity. Next, focusing on interventions aimed at promoting efficiency in the natural resources sector would be of great assistance but again this effort presupposes the above outlined criteria, i.e., good governance. The World Bank suggests that efficiency can manifest in multiple areas. Some of which include the, “enforcement of property rights, correct resource pricing, elimination of distorting taxes and subsidies, and improvement in benefit sharing".[18] Establishing and upholding tenure and property rights encourages protection of vulnerable areas. Shifting local peoples' relationship with land from low accountability open access land rights to private or community rights puts the power back into the hands of those most affected. A coalition for local people might promote their knowledge and capacities within the industry. Lastly, as a preventative intervention, “safety nets” are advised. These are key in identifying vulnerabilities in a system and actively working to address and plan for them. In natural resource planning, this might look like reducing vulnerability of shocks and enhancing populations depending on the above mentioned resources.

Participatory forest management, see: Participatory management is outlined as an initiative with great potential to combat the practice of illegal logging. This practice is suitable for the region of Tanzania due to its large areas of unreserved forest paired with the potential financial incentives – especially for forest-dependent peoples.[1] Increased community management as part of an initiative to clarify property rights, could mean substantial revenues for communities close to or within natural resource areas.[18]

Finally, the World Bank proposes the creation and subsequent acceleration of an Executive Agency responsible for Forestry. This agency would mediate between district and central governments. [18]

  • Stricter penalties for those with proven involvement in illegal logging process
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  • Increased access to profits of those who reside in forests


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Milledge, S. A. (2007). Forestry, Governance and National Development: Lessons Learned from a Logging Boom in Southern Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa / Tanzania Development Partners Group / Ministry of Natural Resources. Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. (2017, October 8). About Us: United Republic of Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. Retrieved from United Republic of Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism:
  3. 3.0 3.1 World Wildlife Fund. (2017). The GFTN Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing: Defining "Illegal Logging". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved from>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Barclay, E. (2007). China Spurring Illegal Timber Trade in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: National Geographic News. Retrieved from
  5. Smith, D. (2015, January 14). Tanzania: illegal logging threatens tree species with extinction. The Guardian. Retrieved October 8, 2017, from
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Makoye, K. (2015). Armed illegal loggers devastate Tanzania's coastal forest. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Otieno, J. (2014). Kenya-Tanzania popular route for illegal loggers. The East African. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
  8. Ihucha, A. (2015). Kenya, Tanzania to combat timber smuggling. The East African. Retrieved from
  9. Eastern Africa Coastal Forest Ecoregion (EACFE) Programme Development. (2004). Review of Trade Issues for Management of Tanzania's Coastal Forests. Dar es Salaam: World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Tremblay, S., & Lowry, W. (2016). Despite conservation efforts, Tanzania's forests are still under pressure. Mongabay. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from
  11. 11.0 11.1 Makoye, K. (2017). Tanzania demarcates national parks to avert human-wildlife clashes. Thompson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved from
  12. de Carbonnel, A. (2016). Illegal poaching, logging and mining worth up to $258 billion: report. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved from
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Arsenault, C. (2015). African nations aim to brake surging trade in illegal timber. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved from
  14. 14.0 14.1 United Nations: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016, January 22). Overview - Tanzania. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016). Traceability: A Management Tool for Enterprises and Governments. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from
  15. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2012, May 16). FAO helps Tanzania monitor carbon stocks. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
  16. 16.0 16.1 Community Forests International. (2017). About Us: Community Forests International. Retrieved from Community Forests International:
  17. 17.0 17.1 Raleigh International. (2016). Impact Report: A summary of our achievements in 2016. London: Raleigh International.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 The World Bank. (2008). Putting Tanzania's Hidden Economy to Work: Reform, Management, and Protection of its Natural Resource Sector. Washington: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-7462-7

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Kayla Kenny. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.