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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Experts fault minister over cattle grazing in reserves

  •  They argue that a grace period for livestock to graze in protected areas will reverse conservation achievements attained so far. WILDLIFE stakeholders have opposed a recent government decision to allow pastoralists a grace period for livestock to graze in game reserves and forest protected areas.

Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Prof. Jumanne Maghembe recently issued a directive allowing pastoralist groups to graze for two-and-half months in protected areas until mid June, this year. However, the stakeholders said the decision could seriously impact on conservation efforts.
They said the decision had sent shock waves to all conservation stakeholders the world over, explaining that it amounted to reversing the achievements made in wildlife conservation in the country.
“The decision is against the Wildlife Conservation Act 2009 Section 18 (2) under subtitle ‘Protection of Vegetation in Game Reserve and Wetlands Reserve,’ which says: ‘Any person shall not graze any livestock in a game reserve or wetland reserve,’" they said.
The Wildlife Conservation Act 2009 does not give any powers to the minister in charge of natural resources to allow grazing of livestock in game and forest protected reserves.
The stakeholders hoped and believed that, with President John Magufuli’s zeal and promise to uphold the rule of law, he would interfere and reverse the decision.
Chairman of Tanzania Professional Hunters Association (TPHA) Sheni Abdallah said the minister’s decision would have negative consequences on long-term conservation efforts in areas such as the Moyowosi-Kigosi Game Reserves in Kigoma region.
Sheni, who operates a hunting company - Royal Frontiers of Tanzania - has been operating in Moyowosi North Block for more than twenty years and says the game reserves have already been under heavy pressure for many years from the establishment of refugee camps on its boundaries.
“The refugees, who illegally import and use military weapons such as AK-47s and other types of sub-machine guns, engage in poaching of wildlife in order to survive by selling meat in the camps,” he said, adding:
“There is also pressure from illegal fishing activities, bee keepers, illegal loggers and illegal mining activities.”
“Where is the law; we need to act according to the law. It is only when there is no law that we can attempt to use commonsense to act,” added Sheni.
He said grazing animals for two-and-half months in protected areas such as Moyowosi, Kigosi, Ugalla and Kilombero Flood Plains in the rainy season with plenty of grass available for grazing in open areas and village land could result in degradation of the areas which are currently under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
Sheni wondered what would happen during the dry season when pressure on grazing areas increased even more.
“On top of that livestock keepers avenge when lions kill their livestock by using poison on cattle carcasses so that when lion prides, leopards, hyenas, several cats and other species feed on the carcasses they die,” explained Sheni.
He said since the minister made the decision there have been reports that tens of hundreds of head of cattle from neighbouring countries were flocking into Moyowosi game reserve and other protected areas in Kagera region.
The decision had also demoralized conservation stakeholders, including game scouts who work in poor conditions to protect the country’s wildlife, he added.
He said the existence and value of wildlife was incalculable and unsurpassed, adding that the tourism industry, which was dominantly wildlife-based in the country, contributed up to 19 per cent of Tanzania’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 25 per cent of foreign exchange income, second only to the agricultural sector, surpassing even the mining sector. Besides, Sheni added, the sector had all the prospects for increasing.
On the reverse side, the livestock sector contributed only 1.7 per cent of the GDP and 2 per cent of foreign exchange earnings, he said, adding that the decision by the minister could affect not only tourism but also employment prospects as hundreds of people were engaged in the sector.
An ecologist in one of the country’s high learning institutions said the decision was politically motivated as some prominent politicians owned livestock which grazed in protected areas. However, he pointed out that the move was likely to spark human-wildlife conflicts.
The ecologist added that large herds of cattle in protected areas were likely to degrade the habitats for wildlife.
A Member of Parliament who preferred to remain anonymous said: “This is a legal issue that the minister has no authority to make. He has no powers to give concession to give pastoralists to graze in the areas.”
The lawmaker pledged to take up the matter in the National Assembly in its forthcoming sitting which begins in Dodoma later this month.
“Grazing livestock in game protected areas is against the law and nobody can sanction that. It needs to be strickly prohibited,” said the politician.
A retired long-time wildlife conservationist said since the minister made the decision there have been reports that there was an influx of cattle in game reserves.
He cautioned that the minister’s decision to remove the project manager of Moyowosi Game Reserve, Hassan Mnkeni, who was assigned to the area very recently on allegations of corruption by the powerful livestock lobby, would have an adverse effect on the performance of the Wildlife Department as officers and game scouts would fear to discharge their duties for fear of being sacked.
"It does not make sense to accuse the project manager of taking bribes when he took the culprits to court,” added the retired wildlife officer.
To the contrary, he said, the minster should have praised the action taken by the project manager in the interest of wildlife conservation and encourage him for a job well done.
He ruled out corruption claims among wildlife staff, saying if there was corruption it should properly be handled by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) and courts of law.
“Soon the wall will falling on conservation and all the protected areas will be converted into grazing lands for cattle, to be exact, ranches,” he said.
He added: “The decision by the minister is suicidal and a death warrant to wildlife in all the protected areas. It is a stab in the back of wildlife conservation range globally.”
He said there had never been a similar directive by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in the history of the country since the establishment of protected areas.
He said the frequent changes of high level leadership had affected the performance of the ministry as many experienced and performing wildlife officers had been sacked due to a number of allegations, leading to underperformance of the ministry, especially the Wildlife Division.
“The capacity building of dedicated and experienced officers in conservation is a very long process and it needs wisdom in handling allegations against them,” said the officer, who has worked with the ministry for over 30 years.
When contacted for comment on Thursday, Prof Maghembe said he gave the two-and-half-month grace period to pastoralists to remove their cattle from protected areas in order to avoid disorder.
“I was very clear when I made this directive. Just imagine there are more than two million head of cattle in the Muyovosi-Kigosi protected area. You cannot remove such a large number of animals overnight,” said the minister when reached by phone.
But this argument was brushed aside by the ecologist, who said the two million-plus population of cattle in the Muyovosi-Kigosi protected area was a political statement with no merits because no census had been taken to establish the exact number of animals in the area.
The Muyovosi-Kigosi protected area is the source of Malagarasi River which drains into Lake Tanganyika, said the ecologist, adding that all irrigation undertakings in western Tanzania depend on the river.
“Allowing pastoralists to degrade the river amounts to distressing irrigation projects and tampering with water flow to Lake Tanganyika,” he said.
Prof. Maghembe, for his part, stressed that after the grace period there would be no negotiations as there would be dire consequences for pastoralists who would dare resist eviction.
“By giving them the grace period to vacate the protected areas I was just being humane,” he said, adding that there was a lot of politics when it came to issues involving pastoralists.
Early this year, Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ramo Makani decreed stoppage of operations to remove cattle herds in various protected areas.
He further ordered an unconditional release of all livestock that had been impounded by wildlife officers pending ruling by the courts.
This decision was also protested by conservation stakeholders, who said the move was likely to affect conservation.
Prof. Maghembe served in the same ministry for a very short period during the fourth phase government under retired President Jakaya Kikwete.
Over seven ministers, several permanent secretaries, directors of wildlife and assistant wildlife directors have served this sensitive ministry in the last 10 years.


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