Tanzania is home to some of the most stunning wildlife on the planet. Nature enthusiasts from all over the world flock to the iconic Serengeti National Park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the great wildebeest migration, or any number of other breathtaking spectacles. Yet while Tanzania is best known for expanses of savanna grasslands, its network of dense dryland forests are an equally important conservation concern.

These forests not only serve as critical habitat for elephant, giraffe, rhino, African buffalo, leopard and lion populations, but they also play an indispensable role in the fight against climate change. As trees grow they pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in their roots, trunks and branches. When trees are cut down and forests are cleared or burned, this sequestered carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

Despite their local and global importance, Tanzania’s forests are disappearing at one of the fastest rates of all African countries. Agricultural expansion, rising energy needs, and commercial logging are all partly to blame. In the face of these challenges, the international community is supporting Tanzania’s efforts to preserve its forests.

Since 2005, donors have been committing funding to Tanzania and other tropical forest countries in support of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, a component of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Forest Trends REDDX Initiative is tracking this funding of forest conservation in 14 countries.  The REDDX project is bringing greater transparency to these financial flows, and helping donors and recipient governments to maximize conservation impact. REDDX is funded by the Skoll Foundation and Germany’s International Climate Initiative.

REDDX findings in Tanzania

REDDX has tracked more than US$90 million in donor commitments to support REDD+ in Tanzania, with the Government of Norway being the major donor (US$80 million). This REDD+ funding has supported a range of activities, including government policy reform efforts, academic research, and community outreach and training, all aimed at reducing the pressure on Tanzania’s forests. More than 68 percent of the US$90 million committed had already been disbursed to in-country recipients by the end of 2013, defying the trend of slow disbursement rates observed in many other REDDX countries.

Tanzania’s REDD+ finance has been used in some innovative ways, illuminating promising pathways forward for REDD+ globally. An example is Norway’s decision in 2009 to dedicate a large portion of its commitment to support REDD+ trial projects in local communities throughout the country. These projects have generated important lessons.

Pilot Projects and Payments to Communities

More than US$30 million of Norway’s commitment to Tanzania was channeled to international and local NGOs to carry out REDD+ pilot projects among forest-dependent communities throughout the country. These communities rely on forest products for basic subsistence, including cooking fuel, traditional medicines, building materials, and food. Many of these communities have been effective guardians of forest resources, protecting them against illegal logging and encroachment by outsiders. At other times, the incentives for communities align in the direction of forest clearing, often for the purpose of expanding their agricultural fields.

Recognizing these dynamics, many of the NGOs in charge of designing these REDD+ pilot projects came up with effective interventions to support communities in their efforts to improve their socioeconomic standing while also protecting their forests. Training in conservation agriculture led to increased yields on fewer acres of land, preventing the need to clear forests. Communal land titling of traditionally managed forest areas gave communities the ability to better plan and manage their forests, and to keep outsiders from illegally felling their trees.

Various communities also received trial payments as compensation for their forest protection efforts. These payments provided a direct financial incentive for the communities to address local drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. REDDX tracked US$560,000 in direct cash payments to local communities in Tanzania through 2013, evidence that REDD+ dollars in Tanzania are reaching all the way down to local forest users.

The future of REDD+

Challenges remain. At the recent REDDX national stakeholder workshop in Tanzania, government officials pointed out that donor commitments have stagnated since 2010, leaving the continued development of REDD+ in limbo. They are hopeful that global leaders will strike a historic deal at the upcoming climate meetings in Paris (COP 21), supplying much-needed continuing finance to support forest conservation and climate protection in Tanzania and throughout the world.

To learn more about the REDDX initiative, explore our website, or watch our recent webinar.