Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Saturday 21 September 2013

To change others you have to change yourself

In 2002 The Suledo Forest Community won the Equator Prize. The project is described in the UNDP collection of casestudies (United Nations Development Programme. 2012. Suledo Forest Community, Tanzania. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY).  Here we tell the story based on the the case study and the accompanying video. We choose to tell it from the perspective of a forester who shares his experience with his peers.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other foresters
Key point: to allow for community forest management means that we ourselves have to change from policing to advising
Conflict: illegal logging and poaching
Hero: Shaban Luono
Adversary: local communities that need and want to use the forest 

My name is Shaban Luono, Government Forest District Officer in Miombo in the South West of Tanzania. 25 Years ago there were not many people here. This was an area of dry forest with many different species. Masai used to trek each year through the forest with their cattle, they used the fruits of the trees and took care of the forest as  unofficial custodians.

Because of all the political and economic changes in the country, new people arrived to look for farmland and settlements. They also roamed through the forest and logging and poaching started. Our government then reacted with legislation: the new forest law forbids all activities in the Miombo forest both by Masai and newcomers. We in the forest service were tasked with implementation and enforcement. I came from Arusha to Miombo and with my colleagues I had to patrol this huge area. Right from the start it put us in the position from us against the communities. We the protectors of the forest against them the enemies of the forest. In hindsight I cannot say we were very succesful: logging and poaching even increased.

The communities needed the forest. They formed Environmental Committees to prove the government they could manage the forest themselves. Each Committee laid out by laws for the sustainable use of the forest. They came to our office to have us approve these by laws according to the proper legal procedures. It took us many meetings in our office and in the villages to get over our suspicions and our prejudices that only we knew what was good for the forest. Slowly we started trusting them, because through our meetings in the villages we had seen some promising good practices. Finally we accepted the by laws. And we realized that in the process we ourselves also had changed: from policing, to advising. Once we left the policing role the villagers even took more responsibilities for sustainable forest management.

Today instead of harrassing people we are now friends with them, we come in our cars to check the state of the forest, have a quiet tea in the village, answer questions of the Environment Committee and advise on management issues. The enmity is gone. Our job became a lot more satisfactory. Illegal logging and poaching is under control.

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