Taking control of our natural resources

Author: Liz Alden Wily, Independent development practitioner and scholar


About the Image

Creator(s) and copyright: Liz Alden Wily
Date: 1995.
Medium: Photograph.

This photo of February 1995 records a key event in the history of Community Forests in Tanzania. The date is March 1995.  Ayasanda Village in northern Tanzania is holding a joint meeting of the Village Forest Committee and Village Government to finalise and approve the Ayasanda Village Forest By-Laws. Once accepted by the supervising District Government as consistent with local government law, these rules will become the formal law governing tenure, access and use of the Ayasanda Village Forest Reserve. ‘From that day’, the Chairman of the Village Government will declare later in this meeting, ‘even the President of Tanzania must obey our forest rules. Should he fell timber in our forest, we will by these By-Laws have the power to fine him up to 50,000/-. Should he fail to pay the fine, we will send him to the District Court and the Magistrate will be obliged to see that the fine gets paid – or imprison him!’

While this will bring mirth, the point is nevertheless clear; for the first time in Tanzania, by-laws devised by villagers themselves will have the force of law, binding not just upon village members but upon all persons in Tanzania. Making the By-Law has become urgent for Ayasanda Village. Having turned their degraded village forest into a conservation area and created community access rules by consensus, the village has faced not one, but two challenges in the District Court by pit-sawing groups. One group holds a Permit issued by the District Forester to fell. The other group, which comes from another village, asks the Magistrate: ‘Where is the law saying this village has the right to limit our use and fine us if we abuse the rules?’ Turning community-agreed rules into formal law binding upon all has become imperative. With the help of a district adviser, the village combs the law. They find they have in fact had the right to issue binding By-Laws since the advent of village and district government in 1982, but that none of the country’s 7,500 villages have done so, merely adopting the occasional template Village By-Law issued by the Ministry of Local Government in Dodoma.

The Ayasanda Village Forest By-Law will be the first of several thousand such By-Laws enacted over the coming decade as more and more communities act to secure their ownership of local forest resources and their right to control how these will be used. The trend they establish will lead to new National Forest Policy in 1998 and to a new Forest Act, 2002. This will support creation of some 500 Village Forest Reserves covering three million hectares by 2008. Around 1,000 other communities secure the right to formally govern National Forests in return for access and use rights. 6

But we are racing ahead. Look again at the picture. The meeting is yet to get underway. The district adviser, well-dressed on the right, is laying out the procedure for making By-Laws. Note also that the circle is large and left open; this is for ordinary villages who will shortly arrive to participate in the meeting and give their stamp of approval for the Village Forest By-Law.

6 Alden Wily, Liz, 1997. Villagers as Forest Managers and Governments ‘Learning to Let Go’ The case of Duru-Haitemba & Mgori Forests in Tanzania  No 9 Forest Participation Series IIED, London; and 2012. “From State to People’s Law: Assessing Learning-By-Doing as a Basis of New Land Law” In Jan Michiel Otto and André Hoekema, eds., Fair Land Governance: How to Legalise Land Rights for Rural Development, p. 85-110. Leiden: Leiden University Press.