By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, April 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the international forest conservation scheme known as REDD+ first came to Tanzania in 2008, it brought hopes of slowing deforestation and curbing climate change.
But according to a recent report, funding for the programme is drying up, threatening the future of the East African country's efforts to safeguard its forests.
REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a U.N.-backed push to reduce climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions through having developed countries pay poorer nations to protect their forests, which store carbon.
Richer countries buy credits for CO2 emissions reductions, and the money is used to keep tropical forests standing and to support forest communities.
But a report last month from a forest finance tracking initiative called "REDDX", run by non-profit group Forest Trends, said financing to prepare for REDD+ in Tanzania had stagnated, with no new funding announced since 2010.
As a result, pilot REDD+ projects in Tanzania, including forest conservation activities and land-use planning, have been shuttered, it said.
"The lack of new donor funding is a matter of serious concern for the sustainability of the REDD+ initiative in Tanzania," the report added.
When REDD+ was launched in Tanzania, Norway was its biggest donor, committing $80.2 million in 2009, or around 85 percent of all REDD+ funding for the country, to be paid over five years.
Other backers included Finland, Germany, Britain, Belgium, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, the multilateral UN-REDD programme and the government of Tanzania itself.
The money was used to develop an action plan with 10 priority areas, including identifying and tackling the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and accurately measuring and recording emission levels.
But according to the REDDX report, the flow of funds from Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative has declined significantly since the programme began.
"Following a jolt of funding from Norway that jump-started Tanzania's REDD+ process in 2009, progress has now come to a standstill," Brian Schaap, REDDX senior program associate, said in a statement.
Norway's involvement with the REDD+ initiative in Tanzania has had its detractors. In 2012, it drew criticism when green group WWF was embroiled in allegations of misappropriating NOK25 million ($3.07 million) of Norwegian REDD+ money.
The WWF Tanzania country director, Stephen Mariki, denied the accusations, but later resigned.
And with only 18 percent of the REDD+ funding going to the government, according to the report, there is concern that too much money is going to NGOs and academic institutions, and not enough into building state capacity.
But Norwegian officials stand by the country's role in REDD+, saying some of the projects have already started to reverse the damage done to Tanzania's forests.
According to officials from the Norwegian embassy in Dar es Salaam, the drop in funding for the REDD+ projects is, in fact, a sign of success.
"The annual amount of funds has decreased along with the progress of projects under the REDD+ portfolio as most of them have been completed, and consequently the annual spending is less than at the start of the partnership," said Berit Tvete, councillor on environment and climate change.
Some pilot and research projects were completed in the last two years, and have delivered "new knowledge and valuable lessons", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
According to Tvete, the embassy is still implementing its original plan, which was extended to 2016 since not all the funds had been committed. Two projects are ongoing, and a third is still being drafted, she added.
Across many parts of Tanzania, poor households look to forests as a source of income, harvesting trees to supply a growing market in charcoal and timber.
That activity has contributed to the loss of 420,000 hectares (around 1 million acres) of rainforest every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization's 2012 State of the World's Forests report.
So far, one Norway-funded project has trained 50,000 local people in sustainable forest management, while another has established land-use plans for 82,754 hectares of land, said the REDDX report.
The REDD+ initiative has also helped establish carbon monitoring for seven types of trees and reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, it added.
Norway intends to fulfil the promise it made in 2008 and support the rest of the projects through completion, Tvete said.
"The intention of the current support is to make it possible for Tanzania to participate in results-based REDD+ funding schemes," she said.
But there are no "concise plans" for additional REDD+ funding from Norway, Tvete added.
Faustine Ninga of the independent Tanzania Natural Resources Forum is confident Norway won't abandon its investment in Tanzania's forest-saving efforts.
He pointed to another REDD+ project, the National Carbon Monitoring Centre, one of the projects funded by Norway, which is being set up to measure, report and verify carbon levels in the country's forest ecosystems.
"Since this is a big investment, it would be futile to let it go," he said.
But without an official commitment from Norway of further funding, the future of REDD+ in Tanzania remains uncertain.
For now, according to the REDDX report, the government is working with the World Bank to secure around $3.5 million to consolidate its REDD+ preparation efforts and make sure the good work done so far doesn't go to waste.
"Unless donors renew their commitments to support forest conservation in the country, the progress made early on will begin to erode," said Schaap.
($1 = 8.1480 Norwegian crowns)
(Reporting by Kizito Makoye; editing by Jumana Farouky and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.