Just as tropical forests help to maintain ecological balance and support livelihoods in the hinterlands, so mangrove forests fulfil critical functions in coastal areas.
Mangroves are found in 10 of the 17 West African countries and play a vital role in the region’s coastal fisheries, contributing about $400 million annually to the regional economy, according to USAID. In spite of their important roles, mangroves are experiencing deforestation and are a heavily threatened ecosystem throughout the region.
Reliance on mangrove wood as a primary fuel source for curing fish and other purposes, urban expansion and intensifying demands for land for agriculture are growing drivers of mangrove deforestation and degradation. These factors, together with rising sea levels, erosion from extreme weather, and more intense storm surges, represent significant and growing threats to mangroves.
The ‘PAPBio C1-MANGROVES’ Project
In a move to reverse these trends, an integrated programme to protect West Africa’s biodiversity and fragile mangrove ecosystems is being implemented in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissua, The Gambia and Senegal. The initiative is known as “Management of Mangrove forests from Senegal to Benin: The PAPBio C1-MANGROVES” project and was formerly introduced to Ghanaian stakeholders during an inception and stakeholder consultation meeting in Accra on Thursday, February 18, 2021.
The Secretary and Advisor to the Awomefia of the Anlo State, Togbe Kumasa, was Chairman for the meeting. He noted that mangroves have been supporting the livelihoods of local communities for ages. Togbe Kumasa reminded chiefs that they have a key role play in maintaining mangrove ecosystems and need to ensure that the people live in harmony with the resources.
The project is expected to enhance the ecosystem’s resilience to climate change through strengthening the management of mangroves in both protected and unprotected sites. The aim is to link governance and production systems with mangrove conservation structures at the territorial level.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the lead implementing institution in partnership with Wetlands International Africa and Collectif 5Deltas (represented by a team of four NGOs namely: Untied Purpose, Eclosio, GRDR and KINOME).
The €9.9 million four-year project, started in July 2019, following the signing of project documents by an official of IUCN in Glend, Switzerland and the Head of EU Delegation in Dakar, Senegal.
Implementation is based on the landscape approach, which focuses on a range of land and not just isolated areas of interest, and seeks to balance competing land use demands in ways that are best for human well-being and the environment. It involves coming up with solutions that consider food and livelihoods, finance, rights, restoration and progress towards climate and development goals.
IUCN’s Coastal and Marine Regional Programme Coordinator for Central and West Africa, Renaud Bailleux explained that to facilitate the implementation process, the area has been zoned into four priority conservation landscapes. They include the Grand Saloum encompassing Saloum Delta Biosphere in Senegal and Niumi Park in The Gambia; and Rivieres du Sud, which stretches from Casamance, Senegal through Guinea Bissua to Triston, Guinea.
The others are Grand Mano, an area covering Yawri Bay, Sherbro-Turtle Islands in Seirra Leone and Lake Piso in Liberia; and Mono-Volta comprising Songor and Anlo Keta lagoons in Ghana, Mono Delta Biosphere in Benin and Togo; and Roy Mouth in Benin.
Renaud said the implementing team is looking forward to an integrated coordination of socio economic and sectoral activities, developed and operationalized effective protected area management systems, and coastal populations benefiting sustainably from protected areas and becoming more resilient to climate change.
The Project’s Grant Fund
A Grant Fund has been established under the project to help mobilise interested actors including government institutions, private and NGOs in the various landscapes to undertake activities in protection, restoration and enhancement of mangrove management sites.
According to a Project Officer at IUCN Ghana, Dorcas Owusuwaa Agyei, the purpose of the Grant Fund is to provide additional livelihood support to the communities to reduce their dependencies on mangrove resources. She explained that “the livelihood options are yet to be validated by the communities,” adding that the project will engage in mangrove planting to restore degraded areas in the targeted landscape.
To ensure sustainability of the gains that will be made under the project, the Team is seeking top-up funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). If successful, this will fund additional landscape activities.
Diagnostic Analysis Findings
Earlier, the meeting discussed findings of an Environmental, Socio-Economic and Cultural Diagnostic Analysis of the Songor and Keta Lagoons Mangrove Landscape. IUCN Ghana contracted Dr. Opoku Pabi and Dr. Daniel Nukpezah, both of the Institute of Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) of the University of Ghana, Legon to conduct the study. The aim was among other things, to identify localities in the landscape, where investments will yield optimal conservation benefits in terms of making a significant impact in achieving the project goals.
Their findings acknowledged that over the years various interventions have been implemented to improve the mangrove ecosystem and address exploitation related problems. They cited projects such as the Ecological Restoration Programme under the World Bank funded Coastal Wetlands Management Project implemented from 1993 to 1999.
They also identified existing gaps in the mangrove sub-sector as including inadequate broad policy and legal instruments on wetland resources, with policies largely remaining statements of intents, lacking actual management community-based, business models where mangrove resources are commoditised.
Presenting an overview of their findings, Dr. Pabi noted that exploitation of mangrove ecosystems to meet the increasing demand for it uses, has a long history in the country. So, over the years, conversion of the ecosystem for fish and shrimp farming, rice and sugarcane cultivation, salt pans, and human settlements in addition to intense cutting for fuel wood have degraded, fragmented and diminished mangrove coverage in Ghana.
“This,” Dr. Pabi stated, “has led to changes in the soil and microclimatic conditions that favor invasion of weeds that outcompete and suppress the natural regeneration of mangroves.” He added that consequently, “these days, many have resorted to manual weeding or weedicides before they can replant. That involves a financial investment, which is not affordable to most of the community members.”
To ensure viability of possible investment in mangrove management, the consultants proposed that criteria for sites selection should include: localities with potential for multiple ecosystem and functional benefits; areas already under protection by current national policy, legislative instruments, bye-laws and traditional authorities; availability of degraded mangrove lands for restoration interventions; and where lagoons are linked to the sea by a creek or river to allow free movement of fish inland for breeding and feeding.
Features of Mangroves
Mangroves are among the most productive and complex ecosystems on the planet, growing in places where ocean, freshwater, and land meet. Thus, they thrive in salty and brackish conditions in which most other plant cannot survive.
Mangrove forests can be mainly recognized by their dense tangle of prop roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. This feature allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides and slow the movement of tidal waters.
And by their nature, mangroves fulfil important functions such as coastal protection, conservation of marine biodiversity, fuel wood, provision of habitat, spawning grounds and nutrients for a variety of fish and shellfish, salt production.
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang