We hear of them, maybe we know they are a forest type, we harvest wood from them and then we do not think much of them at all. Like all of the other natural resources of the Earth, we take mangrove forests for granted. We exploit them for our purposes, and we assume they are always going to be there. After all, they always have been.
But, the people who live closest to mangrove forest types will tell you things are changing.
At least, that is what this chief in Ikot Ekriba, Akpabuyo local government area in Cross River State thinks.
“In those days, our fishermen could catch very big fish from the rivers around here but these days, they spend days out on their boats and come back with small fish. We cannot sell and get a good price.”
As mangrove forests have been depleted for their value as fuel wood, fish spawning grounds have been lost and communities that relied on their fishing occupation teeter ever more precariously on the edge of poverty. The timber harvested from mangrove forests is sold in wood markets in the nearby city of Calabar, where it is used as construction material and also to fuel the fires that cook the tasty meals the town is known for.
Many people make an honest living as restaurateurs and food kiosk operators dotted all over the coastal city, but local culture dictates that wood-fuelled fires produce tastier meals than other types of fuel (kerosene or gas). The smoky flavour added by forest wood has a charm hard to emulate any other way. Experienced cooks assert that mangrove timber burns cleaner and better than other types of wood.
Very few of these cooks think about the ecological cost of their practices, nor do their customers consider the costs of their food preferences.
However, these ecological costs are a reality that mangrove-dependent communities live with daily. In addition to the loss of fish spawning grounds and depleted income from fishing, they experience stronger environmental consequences because the barrier to strong ocean winds and flooding that mangroves provided is lost.
And this is why they have not hesitated to come together to take concerted action to preserve the mangrove forest ecosystem. They are replanting mangroves, they are formulating by-laws for the more sustainable use of mangrove forests, and they are exploring alternative livelihoods.
They know their actions are not quick wins but stepping stones to create long lasting solutions for the health of the mangrove ecosystem.
So, they are grateful for the technical support provided by the UN-REDD programme and the funding provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP). They are also thankful for the facilitation support provided by the team at the Centre for Information and Development in Cross River State.
The Centre For Information and Development (CFID) is implementing a Community-Based REDD+ project in selected communities in the mangroves of Cross River State.
“We thank you and we promise our unflinching dedication to the success of this project we have started,” says HRM Elder Etinyin Maurice E. E. Nya, the village head of Eden Edo, clan head of Edem Edo Clan.
By Christine Edet (Centre Manager, Centre for Information and Development)