Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/The evolution of the Mgori Forest in Singida District Tanzania

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The evolution of the Mgori Forest in Singida District, Tanzania

Mgori forest reserve in Tanzania is a champion example of community-based forest management. Centrally located in the Singida District, the approximately 40, 000 ha forest initiate blossomed to deliver the foundation for many other community forestry endeavors across the nation. In the early 1990’s, Tanzanian governments proposed that the area in question ought to be a government forest reserve in order to protect the area. What they failed to consider in their proposal were the livelihoods of the local people in 5 neighbouring villages. After some consultation, it was agreed that local people should steward the land. It turned out to be the answer with the most added benefit at the lowest cost - villagers, government officials and the forest itself agree.


Tanzania regions - Singida in orange
Forest Reserve Tanzania

This page discusses the evolution of management practices of the Mgori Forest in Tanzania. Centrally located in the Singida Region, the Mgori forest is approximately 40 000 ha situated along the Great Rift Valley. This is a unique case whereby 5 distinct neighbouring villages border the Village Forest Reserve in question and, collectively manage it in partnership with local forest authorities, the local District Council and external advisors.[1] There are a great number of interested and affected stakeholders to consider, as well as a vast landscape in need of protection. The 5 forest-adjacent villages are: Pohama, Mughunga, Nduamughanga, Ngimu and, Unyampanda.[2][3]

A key factor when considering community forestry is decentralization. This relates to the devolution of power – shifting from a top-down approach to a more lateral and equitable power dynamic. Each region, state or nation embodies a unique history and culture – dimensions which function to both benefit and degrade a society can and do coexist simultaneously. Community forestry therefore, is more fluid and less prescriptive in its approach. Efforts in many Tanzanian projects aim to strengthen resource governance, benefit local livelihoods and improve forest conditions.

Mgori is considered to be a pioneer in the establishment of village reserves in Tanzania and in the subsequent Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) practices.[4] In 1998 the provisions for the Forest Policy were set out and Community Based Forest Management was adopted into law with the passing of the 2002 Forest Act.[4] At present, it is reported that the net impact is indeed positive although not measurable across Tanzania as a whole.

Mgori Forest is a Miombo woodland area – characterized as dry, open-canopy and semi-deciduous African forest of the southern hemisphere.[5][6] “Forty-three percent of the Mgori Forest has been categorized as forest, although it is only medium to low density and rarely even reaches 20 m in height. The remainder is thicket, scrub or brush of about 8-10 m in height.”[5] The thickest forest is populated by highly valued species including Pterocarpus angolenesis, Afzelia quenzensis and Dalbergia melanoxylon. The less dense areas are comprised of species such as Combretum, Terminalia and Acacia. Brachystegia is also characteristically found in miombo woodlands.


SIgidani lake in Singida region

In the 1980s the Mgori Forest and nearby Duru-Haitemba Forest were envisioned as Government Forest Reserves, but were not wholly state-owned. The government proposed that they take greater control in protecting these areas on the basis of eminent domain - it was for the greater good. At this time, it was not uncommon that most lands were managed as state-owned forest reserves while the remains tended to be public, common property. These public lands are customarily managed by those communities and people who inhabit them. This is problematic because of the absence of statutory ownership and any successive rights. In the early 1990s, when the forest was under government control, it was suffering from severe degradation due to a complete lack of management.[2] This open access land allowed for uncontrolled clearing for charcoal burning and shifting cultivation of finger millet, extraction of timber and over-hunting of both small and big game – including the rare ground pangolin and elephant.[3][5]

This problem with flow is partly explained by a weak identification of both tenure and property rights. When substantive or "de jure" rights are not explicitly given or had, sustainability is of much less importance to those users of land. Hence, a conflict arose between government officials and local villagers when word spread of plans to demarcate the area to create a government reserve. Villagers feared that if the government were to take control, it would inhibit their access to the forest-based goods and services they had traditionally become accustomed to and, upon which many of their livelihoods directly depended.[7]

Elinor Ostrom at Nobel Prize Press Conference

At this time, there was a sharp increase in the rate of stock removal. The tragedy of the commons as described by Elinor Ostrom and her predecessors provides a rich theoretical framework upon which we may draw parallels through the Mgori case. Gordon (1954) as cited by Ostrom, “There appears then, to be some truth in the conservative dictum that everybody’s property is nobody’s property. Wealth that is free for all is valued by no one…”[8] Villagers appropriated all that they could before the government took control of the area.[9] This lead to expedited degradation.

To complicate matters, there was disagreement about ownership over the land. Legally, two thirds of the area in questions was open access, public land, and the remaining third fell within the boundaries of the five communities. Local people however felt it all belonged to them.[5] In favour of the local people, the government halted the procession of the government reserve in order to reach an agreement. An agreement of rights and ownership is a necessity in the gazetting process. It was during this process that it became clear that the government by itself was unable to sustainably manage the vast area – they were understaffed, lacked necessary funds and other resources. The most holistic approach, simply, was to include local people in forest management process. In this case, because there was more than one village adjacent to the forested area, a Village Land Forest Reserve (VLFR) may be put into place, which is subsequently managed by a Joint Village Forest Management Committee (JVFMC).[10]

Tenure arrangements

Woman loses farmland to unknown foreign investor

A donor and an expatriate advisor were hired to consult with key stakeholder groups, namely villagers, the District Forest Officer and an expert technical advisor. All parties were enthusiastic to collaborate in the caring and maintenance of Mgori.[5] Due to the deteriorated state of the relationship between local people and the government foresters however, the expatriate advisor was vital in facilitating the flow of communication at this initial phase. Trust was low, and reparation efforts can take a very long time to be realized. Finally, management discussions began. Topics discussed include: the development of Village Forest Committees (VFCs), the demarcation of village forest reserves, the preparation of Village Forest Management Plans (VFMPs) and bylaws, opening bank accounts, monitoring forest condition and patrols.[5] The management of the Mgori forest concerned a number of key interested and affected stakeholders with varying degrees of power. Devolution of power onto those lower in rank is actively controlled by those actors who hold the power. Affected stakeholders are those whose livelihoods depend directly on policy decisions made generally, by mere interested stakeholders. Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) practices attempt to shift this power dynamic, whereby land users self-govern.

Administrative arrangements

In 1995, Dr. Liz Wily from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), along with two field technical advisors met with local Mgori authorities to determine how to best manage the forest. The 5 forest-adjacent villages were visited and consulted and then a Village Forest Committee (VFC) was established. The committee comprised of 6-12 people including a minimum of 2 women and an elder.[2] Boundaries were demarcated using rocks or stones and paint on certain trees. Village Forest Management Plans (VFMPs) were prepared to affirm allowable and disallowable forest uses, as well as to assist in patrolling the forest. All villages declared their areas as protected areas where only limited use was acceptable. Certain areas were designated for specific purposes such as the collection of wood or fruit or, timber or beehive management.[2]

Clear rules and sanctions for rule breaking were agreed upon. One of the primary rules was that access was granted only to members of the respective villages. Outsiders could apply to use the forest but access could not be guaranteed.[2] Mgori village rules followed a similar structure of the neighbouring Duru-Haitemba Forest Reserve. Uses were divided into 4 categories of: free uses, notifiable uses, uses by permit and banned uses. Below is a list outlined by Dr. Liz Wily:

Category Description Uses
Free Uses Freely permitted forest uses based upon their non-destructive nature Collection of dry fuel wood for cooking, wild fruits, mushroom and grinding stone collection.
Notifiable Uses Forest uses which must be reported to a Sub-Village Chairman or VFC Chairman prior to implementation New beehive placement or harvesting, collection of withles or medical plants not for personal use
Uses by Permit Forest uses which are rationed through quotas or controlled by permits. Fees or free depending on the user Polewood collection, use of fallen timber, wood for beer-brewing, felling of a particular tree for communal purposes, felling of a specific tree even for communal uses.
Banned Uses Forest uses not permitted under any circumstance Any forest use by a non-member is generally forbidden. Other banned uses include charcoal burning, pitsawing, shifting cultivation or clearing, encroachment over boundaries, hunting and bark-stripping.
Afrocantharellus platyphyllus

It was agreed that those with higher authority would be doubly fined for breaking the contracted rules – essentially for abusing their power. Just over 100 patrolmen, commonly referred to as “Sangusangu”, were selected to guard the forest They were primarily groups of male youth who would patrol in a “para-military” fashion.[3] For apprehending any person engaging in banned uses, the patrolmen would receive a reward which came from the fines the offender.[3] In accordance with the Forest Act in 2002, villages are legally permitted to levy and retain any fines issues on their property.[10] Forest management is maintained in a variety of ways. Beyond the VFMP, village rules became by-laws, and each village received title of its common property and the village forest reserve.[2]


By the turn of the 21st century – four years following the shift in management – the forest was improving. Rights and responsibilities were clarified creating an air of integrity amongst community members. The villages were recognized by the local district council – certain areas became the legal property of those villages who maintained them. Flora and fauna health had become markedly enriched, offences by outsiders and late-season fires were on the decline. As well, a transparent banking system was implemented and maintained. The total area of the forest reserve increased by 6,000 ha beyond the original demarcation because villagers felt it would increase protection.[2][10]

A woman carrying a bag of charcoal

Affected Stakeholders

  1. Local villagers: rich, intermediate, poor
  2. Village leaders
  3. Forest patrolmen (Sungusungu) generally groups of male youth
  4. Village Forest Committee


People selling charcoal in the forest

Social inequalities still exist between the rich and poor. Despite regulations outlawing charcoal making or wildlife hunting, it still occurs. Villagers were highly unlikely to disclose wildlife hunting. However, it was still widely observed. A Mughunga village Elder states, “Fingers have been pointed to the rural peasants that we are the agents of environmental degradation while the greater quantities of the total environmental resources are consumed by rich households.”[11] There is much greater leniency towards rule breaking when it is committed by those from lower socio-economic classes and for subsistence purposes.[9]

Alongside differential power dynamics, the risk of abuse or exploitation always remains in the undertones. It is reported that some district officials have in fact been colluding with those they are meant to protect the forests from. This might be a symptom of a sluggish nature of changing an institutional framework. Further, there are still difficulties with water and other social services. Suggestions about improved primary education and health services remained unanswered.[11] Instances of poor sanitation and water borne illnesses including typhoid, cholera and diarrhea remained present through 2012.


Income sources from differential social classes

Poorer villagers overwhelmingly generated income from the fuel wood industry – they represented almost 90% of those earning income from fuel wood. This sector alone made up 60% of the total Mgori forest product revenue.[3] Although this act was a banned use of the forest, it was commonly overlooked when one’s livelihood depended upon it directly.[2] Alternatively, the selling of chickens had great potential for this group, if a few volatile factors could be resolved. Those designated as rich generated incomes largely through the honey, building pole and charcoal industries.

Since the introduction of the Forest Act in 2002, estimates of village forest incomes increased from USD $540 in 2002 to USD $720 in 2005.[4] It has been measured that honey production from beekeeping was the most lucrative source of revenue following the installation of 7,500 beehives in 2008.[11] The estimated yield in the first year was roughly 151,000 liters of honey, growing to 189,000 liters in subsequent years. It has been observed that wealthier community members have greater access to the honey industry – through the use of modern harvesting techniques and improved technology.[11]

Interested Outside Stakeholders

  1. The Councilors
  2. The Chairman of the Council
  3. District Commissioner
  4. Regional District
  5. Divisional Forest Officer
  6. Field technical advisors
  7. Chief Executive Officer of Tanzania Forest Service (TFS), Juma Mgoo 2016



Shortly following the onset of the VFCs, a village leader was found to be breaking the rules for his personal gain.[2] He accepted bribes and participated in private pit sawing from outsiders as well as clearing part of the forest himself. In this case, he used his relative power for personal gain. Eventually, he was stripped of his power. Despite many villagers being aware of his involvement in theses happenings, it was still a lengthy process to have his power revoked as many villagers were fearful of him.[2][5]

In a 2008 report, some limitations of neighbouring CBFM and JMF projects are outlined. In particular, one shortcoming of the Duru-Haitemba Forest Reserve is the inability to monitor the far reaches of the reserve. This reserve is approximately 9,000 ha, whereas the Mgori Forest covers roughly 40,000 ha. It is suggested that there were more than 3,500 households in the Duru-Haitemba region in 1997.[3] At the same time, there were only 166 Sungu-sungu, or village guards who shared the responsibility of patrolling the Mgori expanse. It is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the Mgori Forest then, might also face some of the same obstacle in monitoring and, enforcing boundaries and use by outsiders.[3]

External support

It is estimated that Joint Forest Management (JFM) endeavors in Tanzania have yielded over $30 million in support from governments and donor funding since the 1990s.[12]


My assessment of the Mgori community forest reserve is rather positive. Based on the reports available, there have been many winners and few losers -- aside from high ranking officials releasing their relative power onto generally lower, affected stakeholders. The Mgori community forest reserve is unique for a number of reasons, but two of which are the fact that 5 distinct villages are directly impacted by decision making and likely have varying notions and traditional practices as to how the land ought to be managed. Second, is the sheer vastness of the land that these people occupy, which, without proper management holds the potential to render them vulnerable to threats.

The Mgori community forest reserve is a pioneer. it was the first of its kind in Tanzania and functioned to build the framework for other CBFM efforts across the nation. In any collective effort, especially multiscalar ones such as this, management must take place within whatever dynamics comes to be. Albeit, this project came to involve the community out of necessity from a higher governing body solely because they lacked the capacity for preservation. Community involvement was the solution to a lack of government resources and desired outcomes of preservation, not in an effort to empower the people who are most closely tied to that landscape.


  1. It is well documented that successful community forestry rests upon a solid framework of good governance. Any recommendation assumes this prerequisite or, at least, improvements in this domain. Often, government officials are the holders of power prior to devolution to local people. Hence, a key recommendation is for higher authority figures such as government officials to facilitate and expedite the gazetting process.[5]
  2. Maintaining that those who inhabit a given land area ought to be the ones who reap the fruits of their collective land and labour. Specifically targeting and prioritizing the livelihoods of the most marginalized groups – the poorest poor.[5]
  3. Empowering forest depending communities through knowledge sharing regarding rights, responsibilities and laws. Strengthening capacity of local governments to ensure that the poor benefit from renewed management practices. Specifically, initiatives to avoid elite capture must be employed.[1]
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  4. Ad hoc, or site based interventions should be avoided. Decisions should be reached with utmost consideration for maintaining long-term relationships. reactive decision-making is generally more harmful than valuable.[4]
  5. Today, Mgori forest reserve should be eligible to receive payment for ecosystem services (PES), or carbon credits through the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) program.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Blomley, T., & Iddi, S. (2009). Participatory forest management in Tanzania: 1993 - 2009 Lessons learned and experiences to date. Forestry and beekeeping division, Ministry of natural resources and tourism
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Massawe, E. L. (1999). Community management of Mgori Forest, Tanzania: a case study from the field by a field officer. Local management of natural resources programme (LAMP), Tanzania. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Wily, L. (1998). Villagers as forest managers and governments "learning to let go" - The case of Duru-Haitemba and Mgori forests in Tanzania. London: IIED. Forestry and Land Use Programme. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Blomley, R., Nelson, F., Martin, A., & Ngobo, M. (2007). Community Conserved Areas: A review of status and needs in selected countries of central and eastern Africa. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Massawe, E. (2001). Chapter 7 External donors and community-based management of Mgori Forest, Tanzania: What happens when the donors leave? In social learning in community forests (pp. 128-149). CIFOR and the East-West center. Retrieved from
  6. Wily, L. (1997 a). Finding the right institutional and legal framework for community-based natural forest management - The Tanzanian case. Jakarta: center for international forestry research (CIFOR). Retrieved from
  7. Wily, L. A., & Mbaya, S. (2001). Land, People and Forests in Easter and Southern Africa at the Beginning of the 21st Century - The Impact of Land Relations on the Role of Communities in Forest Future. IUCN The World Conservation Union - Eastern Africa Programme. Retrieved from
  8. Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons - The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hersi, N. A., & Kangalawe, R. Y. (2016, August). Implication of participatory forest management on Duru-Haitemba and Ufiome forest reserves and community livelihoods. Journal of ecology and the natural environment, 8(8), 115-128. doi:10.5897/JENE2015.0550
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Forestry and Beekeeping division - Ministry of natural resources. (2007). Community based forest management guidelines - for the establishment of village and forest reserves and community forest reserves. Dar es Salaam. Retrieved from
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Abdallah, J. M., & Mwakisu, A. I. (2012). The challenges and opportunities conservation initiatives may present on livelihoods to smallholders in Mgori community based forest reserve. Proceedings of the first climate change Impacts, mitigation and adaptation programme scientific conference, 84-105.
  12. Persha, L., & Meshack, C. (2016). A triple win? The impact of Tanzania's joint forest management programme on livelihoods, governance and forests. International initiative for impact evaluation (3ie). New Delhi: 3ie Impact evaluation report 34. Retrieved from

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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