A CARTEL of high profile businessmen are sponsoring illegal charcoal dealers camping in Masito-Ugalla forest reserve and export the commodity to Democratic Republic of Congo.
A bag of charcoal is allegedly sold at between 30 and 50 US dollars ( between 45,000/- and 75,000/-), villagers said.
The over 70,000 hectares forest reserve which is under Jane Goodall Institute’s Masito-Ugalla Ecosystem pilot project, is shared between Kigoma and Rukwa regions.
A fortnight ago villagers from Karago in Kigoma Rural district arrested eight men with four heavy duty chain saws, 70 bags of charcoal and dozens of felled logs inside the forest.
“We arrested the men and handed them over to the police at Ilagala,” said Mr Masumbuka Salehe who is a forest monitor trained by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to patrol part of the forest reserve bordering Karago village.
Speaking over the phone from Kigoma, Mr Salehe said the eight men were found right inside the forest and when interrogated, they named some senior district and regional government officials as being the owners of the business.
“We asked them to call the so- called owners to bail them out of the police station,” Mr Salehe noted.
Both Regional Commissioner Joseph Simbakalia and Regional Police Commander George Mayunga, told the ‘Daily News’ that they knew nothing about the arrests but promised to follow up on the matter.
District Forestry Officer, Mr Siulapwa Kishera, confirmed that eight men were arrested at Karago but gave no details saying he was on his way to the village which is over 60 kilometres from Kigoma town. “I will give you details later when I arrive in the village,” Mr Kishera said.
Residents from seven villages of Kigoma Rural district which border the giant forest reserve said booming charcoal trade in Democratic Republic of Congo has led to increasing number of illegal loggers targeting the forest.
JGI’s Conservation Botanist, Alex Njahani said reports say a bag of charcoal in DRC was a big deal because the country has tough laws against loggers.
Mr Njahani said forest watchdogs have regularly reported incidents of arresting charcoal dealers in the forest. “It looks like big business in Kalemie which is just across Sigunga village,”
Mr Njahani said. Sigunga which lies on Lake Tanganyika shores and included under JGI pilot project, is three hours away by boat from Kalemie.
Boats with capacity to carry up to 400 bags of charcoal travel across Lake Tanganyika to Kalemie regularly threatening the future of forest reserve which JGI wants to protect by motivating villagers to get payment under Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
REDD is expected to come into effect in 2013 after expiry of Kyoto Protocol. Scientists argue that natural forests have a huge potential to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and save the world from global warming.