The forest resources of Tanzania are of great importance to Tanzanian people in many respects. Forestry sector plays significant role in the economy of Tanzania and ecosystem stability. Although its contribution to the GDP is about 3.5% and to Tanzania total export trade about 11%, its role to subsistence economy is over 20%. Forests create conducive environment for agriculture and tourism development and have important link to other natural resources especially water and soil. These forests and woodlands provide wildlife habitat, unique natural ecosystems and biological diversity. Its importance for maintenance and improvement of environment, climate, water resources and soil enrichment is evident.
The use of fuelwood is estimated to cover more than 90 percent of the total energy consumption in Tanzania. The term “fuelwood” covers both firewood (usually branches and twigs obtained in forests) and wood processed into charcoal. Firewood is the dominating energy source for cooking and heating in rural households. Usually, the firewood is collected by women; dead branches and twigs are preferred. The production of charcoal requires great amounts of wood that is processed into charcoal in kilns; it serves a mainly urban demand as the charcoal is considerably easier transported into the towns and cities than the firewood needed to provide the same amount of energy. The annual use of fuelwood is between 1 and 3 cubic metres per capita. Numerous small industries such as brick burning, fish smoking, village metal works, lime and cement making demand fuelwood. Industries such as tobacco and tea estates often use considerable amounts of fuelwood for the drying (curing) processes.
Construction and furniture:
Timber and poles are extracted from the forests for construction use or for making furnitures or articraft both for domestic and foreign markets. In forest reserves concessions are issued to private firms, allowing felling in a certain area in a fixed period. Some of the timber, including valuable hardwoods but also other species are exported to other countries. Ideally, the felling in forest reserves is controlled by the forest government through TFS but also the Local Government authorities to some extent, but some illegal felling for the local markets and export markets are encountered and actions taken to defaulters. The public forest lands cover most of the need for construction materials for houses and furniture of local people. People also use wood for art objects for commerce such as the ebony (mpingo) Makonde carvings.
Non-wood forest products (NWFP):
Also termed non-timber forest products (NTFP) these terms refer to the variety of useful things besides timber that people obtain from the forests: edible plants, animals, honey and fungi are collected, herbs and bark with medicinal properties are sought for, and much of the vegetation can be used for many other specific purposes. Often the collected items are marketed locally or even further away.
The forests are the habitat of numerous animals hunted by man for protein supplement and prestige. The use of fire in order to chase out the animals, or to create grassy spots where the animals can be caught whilst grazing is by no means uncommon. Another hunting technique seems to be night-hunting with torches; when the glaring eyes of an animal are seen, the torch is thrown at in order to deprive it of its night vision, thus making it considerably easier to kill. Although these are mainly traditional but professional hunting is being regulated by the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA) where hunting blocks are leased out on long term to investors. Some of these are found in forest reserves.
Most of the National Parks and Game Reserves include large tracts of woodland, giving shelter to many of the spectacular animals of East Africa. Sights, photographs or indeed trophies of these animals are coveted by the safari tourist, generating equally coveted foreign exchange for the state.
Stretches of forest are reserved for scientific purposes, often in connection with educational institutions. The Amani Botanic Garden (now part of Amani Nature Reserve) in the East Usambara mountains, is an example of such an area, founded during German colonial rule. The Uzungwa Mountains National Park is intended partly as a biodiversity research area without leaving the, Mazumbai Forest, SUA training Forest Olmotonyi and Kitulangalo Forest Reserves which are used for research and training among other forests.
The protection of forest areas for water catchment and soil protection purposes has been mentioned. It is believed that these indirect uses of forest resources are invaluable; if short-sighted utilization of such areas were to flourish, environmental degradation with catastrophic consequences for the livelihoods of people might ensue. Finally, the use of certain forest areas for various religious purposes (sacred groves) must be mentioned.