Mangrove ecosystems support the planet and people in unique ways. Many Nigerians living near the river in Cross River State know that. “Mangroves provide the best firewood, as people who roast fish know,” says Idem Williamson, a villager living in Esierebom community in Cross River State. “But by cutting the wood, the mangroves disappeared. And without the mangroves, water floods our houses.”
The need to restore mangroves inspired Williamson to get involved for a REDD+ project that saw the whole community come together to plant more than 10,000 seedlings.
“The positive effect is that it controls the level of water coming in from the rivers and allows us to use the creeks for fishing. And we can pick the unwanted branches of the mangroves in specific areas for firewood.”
Pressure’s on for Nigeria’s mangroves
Nigeria is said to have the largest mangrove ecosystem in Africa, and some consider the Cross River estuary mangrove to be one of the most important in the country. However, indigenous fishing communities on the coast harvest mangrove wood for household domestic use, in particular for cooking and smoking fish. This has put severe pressure on mangrove forests, leading to steady deforestation.
Wood from mangrove forests is also used for housing material, scaffolding, fishing stakes and more. The increasing demand for mangrove wood and the steady encroachment and spread of the nypa palm, an invasive mangrove plant, has exposed the country’s mangrove forests to severe degradation.
Restoration and replanting in Cross River State
Since 2010, the UN-REDD Programme has provided valuable support for Nigeria’s ambitious efforts at forest conservation, climate change mitigation and community development. Cross River State, where more than 50 per cent of Nigeria's tropical forests remain, is host to a community-based REDD+ programme that promotes activities for poverty reduction, improvement of crop varieties and yields, gender empowerment, biodiversity, conversation and climate change mitigation. The programme has supported a total of 18 community projects with 540 households—or 2,000 people—participating.
“The goals of the community-based REDD+ programme are to sustainably manage forests, encourage forest communities to move away from business as usual, and to improve the well-being of the people and the environment,” says Moses Ama, the national REDD+ coordinator. “The only challenge is the slow pace of getting the funds and investments needed to deal with the poverty within forest communities.”
A partnership between the UN-REDD Programme and the Small Grants Program of the Global Environment Fund has provided US$800,000 to different community initiatives in Cross River State. Villagers have been trained to improve cassava, afang and cocoyam farming, set up cassava processing mills and harvest non-timber forest products like bush mango to reduce forest loss through improved agricultural practices. Over 15 different nurseries have been established and more than 10,000 seedlings raised and planted to regenerate degraded forests.
Villagers have also been trained in protecting mangroves, as is the case in Esierebom. “REDD+ activities have been very successful in raising consciousness about the effects of mangrove loss,” says Tony Atah, the UN- REDD Programme stakeholder engagement specialist in the area. “The Esierebom community in Cross River State has many households catching fish and using mangroves as their main source of energy. The fishermen were losing income because less mangroves means less fish. It was sad to see some people selling 6 kilos of mangrove wood for just 75 cents while doing significant damage to the ecosystem.”
Through the UN-REDD Programme, villagers like Comfort Akabum have learned to cut the invasive nypa palm and plant new mangrove seedlings. She is one of the villagers who works daily to cut the nypa and replant mangrove seedlings. “I make sure the mangrove grows well,” says Akabum. “We have been replanting mangroves for the past five years and the volume of water flooding the river has diminished.”
As part of the community-based REDD+ mangrove restoration project, the community has planted over 10,000 mangrove seedlings and developed a community mangrove management plan. “This allows the cutting of mangrove wood only in controlled areas, raising seedlings and replanting. Mangroves are so important because the mangrove ecosystem absorbs more carbon than a tropical rainforest,” says Atah.
“We hope that Cross River State will become a model of excellence with its mangrove restoration and other community-based REDD+ mangrove projects, and that it will be replicated elsewhere. Currently, five other states are about to begin similar projects,” says Moses Ama, the national REDD+ coordinator.
For more information, please contact Griet Ingrid Dierckxsens.