Five Ingredients to a Thriving Community Forestry Enterprise

Mama Hadija Makokoto (Tanzania)

Mama Hadija Makokoto is a resident of Nainokwe – one of the first villages in south-eastern Tanzania to benefit from sustainably managing local forests
with MCDI’s support

“Before, local people weren’t aware of the importance of the forest… I know the importance of the forest, so I will protect it.”

These are the words of Mama Hadija Makokoto, one of 40,000 Tanzanians that the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative has empowered to take control of, manage and benefit from local forests.

MCDI at a glance

  • Supported 20 communities in southern Tanzania to set aside more than 214,000 hectares of forest as village land forest reserves.
  • Facilitated the 1st commercial timber harvest from a community-managed natural forest in Tanzania.
  • Helped five communities generate more than $200,000 from certified timber sales in just five years – this is expected to quadruple in by 2018.
  • Holds the only Forest Stewardship Council certificate for community-managed natural forests in all of Africa.

How did we do it? – By sticking to five guiding principles…

#1 – Be pioneers in the field

We have established ourselves as the leading service provider for community forestry in Tanzania, itself one of Africa’s leaders in community-based forest management. We supported the first commercial timber harvest from a community-managed natural forest in Tanzania in 2009. We were awarded the first – and still the only – Forest Stewardship Council certificate for community-managed natural forests in the whole of Africa. Our pilot REDD project is the only REDD project worldwide to focus on fire management in dryland forests.

#2 – Maintain scalability

Participatory evaluation of timber resources in Kisangi village land forest reserve

Participatory evaluation of timber resources in Kisangi village
land forest reserve

We developed our community forestry model in Kilwa District in south-eastern Tanzania, but have now taken it to scale in different parts of the country. By the end of 2015, we expect to provide services to 26 or more villages across five key forest-rich districts in southern Tanzania, with at least 15 of these villages deriving sustainable forest revenues, and the remainder in process for doing so. We also pioneered a method of community-based fire management through wide-scale early burning. This method has been approved by the Verified Carbon Standard for use in Eastern Miombo Woodlands that stretch across some 2.8 million km2 of East and Southern Africa. These successes have increased MCDI’s credibility as a regional/national organisation rather than a small site-based project, demonstrating that the business models we have developed and refined in Kilwa District are replicable elsewhere.

#3 – Develop strong partnerships based on trust

MCDI has developed strong relationships of trust with our client communities. This trust can take years to build and is not easily achieved. It is reflected in the area of forest that communities feel comfortable to set aside as village land forest reserves. The first community that we worked with in 2006, Kikole, established a 454 hectare reserve, whereas in 2010 Nainokwe village chose to set aside 15,512 hectares. MCDI has helped communities to generate significant local income from these forests. After learning about this value in the forest, in 2012, Nanjirinji A village set aside 61,505 hectares of forest.

MCDI has also earned respect and a high level of support and cooperation from the government – it recognises us as a credible and trusted organisation. Government authorities have hired our services to facilitate community forestry in different parts of the country. We have also pursued strategic partnerships with other NGOs and bilateral donors to expand community forestry in Tanzania.

#4 – Maximise local benefits, through product innovation, sales and marketing

Previously, communities in Tanzania typically received less than $1 per cubic meter of timber sold. Following our intervention, they now earn more than 100 times this amount. We employed a dedicated Timber Marketing Officer last year to ramp up sales of timber. This was an excellent move – communities earned more than $100,000 from timber sales in 2013-14 alone, 60% more than the previous year. Now, we are supporting communities to diversify by trading sawn wood in addition to raw logs. This has two key purposes:

  • Value addition – Sawn timber fetches a higher price compared to raw logs, and so will maximise returns on timber stocks from village land forest reserves. Sawn timber that is FSC certified can be exported directly to international markets, securing a premium price for our community partners.
  • More and diverse revenue streams – Supporting communities to expand the range of products they sell will lead to more diverse revenue streams and a wider customer base. This is a valuable means to mitigate risk in case of shifts in market demand for certain products.

#5 – Strive for financial sustainability, using a business-oriented approach

A key strategic focus for MCDI in coming years is to transition to a more financially sustainable operating model. We aim to generate sufficient internal revenues from services provided to communities, forest-product traders, and investors to fund an increasing proportion of our work. Communities have already begun paying for service provision – to date we have received payments from four community partners who have started selling timber. This is a strong vote of confidence that the work we do is recognised and appreciated.

Our value proposition and business model builds upon our track record of advancing communities’ capacity to be reliable and long-term partners. Exposing communities to service provision charges cultivates a business-orientated culture that will build confidence for buyers, potentially leading to larger and long-term investments. Moreover, the proposition to donors and investors will be more attractive: supporting the development of a sustainable business with real on-the-ground impacts.

To implementers of community forestry elsewhere, our recommendations are these:

  1. Identify your niche and excel at it.
  2. Develop and refine a model that works at your site. Then adapt, scale and replicate it elsewhere.
  3. Don’t try to do everything – that’s what partners are for. Build diverse collaborations with strategic partners that will support you to achieve your mission.
  4. Make sure communities realise economic benefits as early as possible. Maximise their economic returns through rigorous sales and marketing on their behalf (don’t underestimate the importance of this).
  5. Do all of this whilst building the capacity of communities to become long-term and reliable business partners. Be a role model in this respect.

Blogpost and picture submitted by Abigail Wills (Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative – Tanzania) – abigail.wills(at)
Pictures courtesy Fabiola Monty and Lodrick Mica

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.

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