Sustainable Mangrove Restoration Can Be Achieved Through Local Governance

Feature Article Mangrove restoration activity in Winneba
MAR 31, 2017 LISTEN
Mangrove restoration activity in Winneba

For much of history many people have regarded mangroves as wastelands, but the scale of human impact on mangroves has increased dramatically in recent years. Mangroves have been overexploited or converted to various other forms of land use, including agriculture, aquaculture, salt ponds, terrestrial forestry, urban and industrial development and for the construction of roads and embankments.

Mangrove, a tree, shrub, palm or ground fern, generally exceeding one half metre in height, normally grows above mean sea level in the intertidal zone of marine coastal environments and estuarine margins, but predominantly along the coastline of Ghana tend to be associated with coastal lagoons and estuaries. The distribution is sparse and mangrove populations have also been degraded through over-cutting and conversion of mangrove areas to salt pans.

Even though mangroves play a central role in transferring organic matter and energy from the land to marine ecosystems, researchers say many countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia are now estimated to have lost at least 50% of their original mangrove area.

Mangroves have been widely assumed to provide nursery habitat functions for juvenile fishes and decapods to support local fisheries. The importance of mangroves as nurseries has been one of the reasons advanced to support the conservation and management of mangroves and to stem their rapid loss. Mangrove habitats along the Ghana coast also tend to host a wide variety of fauna species such as oysters, gastropods, crabs, invertebrates, birds and fish. They also play an important role as nursery areas for many species of fish and crustaceans.

Mangrove forests are extremely productive ecosystems that provide numerous good and services both to the marine environment and people. Mangrove forests are home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk species. These fisheries form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. The dense root systems of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off the land. This helps stabilizes the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storms. In areas where mangroves have been cleared, coastal damage from hurricanes and typhoons is much more severe.

In Ghana, efforts to restore mangrove have mainly focused on restoration activities of degraded areas, and mangrove sensitisation in communities to halt the exploitation. However, such efforts have been rendered ineffective because communities return to their old ways over time of exploitation once the activities come to a close. Therefore a more sustainable effort is required, and one that could help in the effort is use of local governance system in localities.

"People have proposed restoration activities, we have had NGOs going into mangrove areas and planting and trying to restore degraded and lost areas. In addition, education in terms of conservation sensitisation and awareness creation has also gone on. Almost all the tools have been employed when it comes to mangrove issues.

"Most mangrove communities have had one way or the other an engagement that has to do with conservation. They have had engagements that has to do with sustainable use, engagement that had to do with some form of restoration activities. I have seen areas where restoration have been very successful but you go there many years after, degradation has set in and most of the progress made is lost," says Dr Winston A. Asante, a Lecturer at the Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

"It is a typical governance issue. If communities beyond education can be made to understand that their ecosystem are intricate and linked to their own livelihoods and their existence then efforts should be made to explore opportunities to use the community structures to protect some of these protected areas," Dr Asante notes, who is part of the first team to study carbon stock in mangrove areas in Ghana.

Some of these have been tested in areas such as Ada in the Greater Accra region with the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission and communities are working very well, he mentions.

"So you have a situation where communities come together and then join forces with government institutions where the institutions use their legal backing to support the community ownership to place a memorandum of understanding that describes how a particular mangrove vegetation has to be used. This ensures that even if you restore there is a form of understanding and then byelaw that seeks to enforce some of these understandings.

"For me that has been the major progress I have seen in researching into mangroves, it is not a question of going there to restore, to conduct education, it is a question of understanding the governance arrangement, in terms who holds decision power when it comes to mangrove use and exploitation and how that be joined with government support for of these areas to manage mangrove sustainably," Dr Asante emphasises.

It is highly impossible to inform communities not to make use of mangroves, but they need that backing to do that in a sustainable manner to achieve dual benefits, where ecosystem services supports livelihood and livelihood activities are not detrimental to ecosystem services.

"For instance, if you go to the Keta area that is a huge mangrove landscape see people planting mangroves themselves and cultivating it, waiting for it to grow and cutting it to sell. Because they are under individual ownership and people take active control over it, nobody goes there to cut aside the owner," he states.

But in other areas, mostly part of the western region, due to community ownership and family ownership, open access and exploitation of mangrove is high, he said.

"So the combined efforts can be upscaled and those are the findings I have had during governance engagements in those communities-in areas where we had government institutions combining with communities through memorandum of understanding to establish byelaws governing how mangroves have to be used, managed and exploited, have led to good mangrove cover," Dr Asante emphasises.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says local governance for the vast majority of men and women, in any country regardless of its political situation, remains the most accessible level of engagement with public authority and state institutions. It is the mechanism and channel closest to the people for accessing basic services and opportunities to improve their lives, for participation in public processes where decisions affecting their lives are made, and for exercising their rights and obligations.

The UNDP believes that effective local governance is key to development that is inclusive and sustainable, at the local level as well as the national. It is essential in improving the quality of life of the people both at the urban and rural settings, reducing inequality in all its forms across the society, and enhancing relations between people and public institutions.

He explains that the combined and balanced approach of coexistence between humans and ecosystem services are the pathways that have to be explored, adding, "Else you can do all the education, restoration but still roll back to the degraded state, because people need to be guided," Dr Asante points out.

There should be governance arrangement for those efforts, he recommends.

"Beyond that restoration efforts or conservation education, there is the need to explore some governance arrangements for these mangrove areas, and if you are able to succeed in doing that, then you would have put in place a good system. And then enforcement is critical because if you don't enforce the rules or hold them to their own byelaws, then your rules don't bite, and it is as good as not having them in place," Dr Asante stresses.

In this modern time bottom up approach to natural resources management is the way to go, says Mr Andy Agyekum, Wildlife Division Site Manager at the Forestry Commission in Winneba.

Laws made at the national level and passed on to people at the local level to adhere to is not working, Mr Agyekum, also a prosecutor for the Forestry Commission explains.

"We try to enforce the law as much as we can but then also you realise that illegal activities is on the increase and that is because those national laws are losing their grip.

"But if you look at our traditional system, how it was even without regular monitoring or enforcement people still obeyed it. It is because in our traditional setting, the traditional authority which is the chiefs are very much respected so if we are able to delegate some power back to the chiefs to allow them to make their byelaws or regulations, people will respect it. If we allow the chief to be able to institute their own structures that will punish people who destroy natural resources including mangroves that would be useful," he indicates.

There are many cases where people were arrested and handed them over to the chief to punish to show respect to the chief and gain support, he mentions.

"Due to that most of the chiefs in Winneba threw their weight behind us even we arrest their own community members. It is time we manage the natural resources hand in hand with the traditional authorities," Mr Agyekum said.

Mangroves and serving immediate needs of people

"What makes it easy for that to happen from what I have seen is basically because people own these mangroves and the immediate needs that the mangroves can satisfy overrides any other services that the mangroves gives.

"Even in communities where there have been conservation efforts and interventions, together with varied levels of education, and how it has translated to the extent of protection, you still see people going in to exploit them," Dr Winston Asante states.

"As for how it impacts, it is obvious in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide and fisheries-the moment you impact on mangroves, then these are benefits you essentially lose and it has been the case for greater Accra, central regions and then for most parts of the Eastern and Volta regions," he notes.

Whereas there is a legislative regulatory framework for territorial forests-where some have been carved out as forest reserves to safeguard protection, and likewise sites-which are recognised as protected wetland of international importance under the International Convention on Wetlands, referred to as Ramsar sites also enjoying same, mangroves do not have sort of protection in Ghana.

"I have seen areas in the Nzema in the western region, where people came in for huge charcoal burning business, it took efforts from NGOs to engage the communities to stop those processes. But if these communities know the benefits and understand the linkages and it is able to override whatever livelihood limitations they have, then you can achieve something out of it," Dr Asante says.

Mr Agyekum says even though a lot of importance are generated from mangroves resources, it has been depleted over the years by communities living close to the resources.

A research conducted in 2014 by the Forestry Commission and University of Ghana through support from SNV Ghana to map out all the mangrove areas in Ghana revalued that over harvesting was the major cause of destruction along the coast of Ghana. The work done, which Mr Andy Agyekum was part of covered Ghana's border with Togo to New Town in the Western region. The researchers studied issues and options surrounding mangrove vegetation in the country.

In Winneba, that is the main cause of mangrove destruction, he states.

"There is a belief in the community that fishes smoked with mangroves taste better and because of that, fish smoked with mangroves sell higher than those that are smoked with ordinary wood at market centres in the community," Mr Agyekum notes.

"The other cause of destruction is the pollution from open defecation, dumping of refuse directly into water bodies thereby making it extremely unclean and unhealthy for mangroves.

"We also have the issue of conversion of mangroves for other land use practices like farming, salt production and few cases where mangroves have been burnt from bush fire accidentally," he adds.

Mr Richard Adupong, Monitoring & Evaluation and Communications Specialist at USAID-funded and US Forest Service-managed Coastal Sustainable Landscapes Project (CSLP) says the mangroves ecosystem in the country are under serious threat due to the conversion of this resource to other land uses such as industrial, agricultural and residential purposes.

"Cutting for fuel and for charcoal production is also a growing practice among resource users in communities fringing mangrove ecosystems.

"Generally, the more urbanized or populous a place is, the higher the rate of destruction of mangroves. No comprehensive inventory of mangrove forests exists in Ghana due to lack of resources, it can be said that the rate of destruction could range between 40% and 60%," Mr Adupong notes.

Visit to Winneba
A salt producing company cleared mangroves to make way for a dam construction to aid in producing salt. Surprisingly, the company did not even engage in mangrove restoration except that only few ruminants of mangroves remain along the edges of the dam. This company is making huge sums of profits from the salts whereas the environment which belongs to all toils. It would take strong leadership both at the local and national levels to ensure such a company engages in restoration activities in the area it operates.

Research on Mangrove Species
The species of mangrove found along the Ghana coast are the red mangroves, Rhizophora racemosa, Rhizophora mangle and Rhizophora harrisonii, the white mangroves Avicennia germinans and Laguncularia racemose.

In the whole of Ghana there are three mangrove species even though past research has documented five species, Mr Agyekum mentions.

"What we have realised from our research in 2014 is that we have only three species that are represented in Ghana on the coast and that is to be expected because when resources are depleted, whether it is fauna or flora, one of the indicators is that the specie number goes down and the population also goes down," he states.

The mangrove species in Winneba are the red and white.

"There is another specie that some people have reported as mangroves and the past research also reported the same specie as mangroves, but we are calling them mangroves associate, and they are the Conocarpus erectus. They look very much like mangroves and they are able to thrive in the environment where mangroves are found but we need DNA analysis to be able to tell whether it is really mangrove."

Benefits of mangroves
Winneba, being a coastal community where fishing is a major economic activity, mangroves ideally serve a crucial role in increasing fish stock.

"The environment around the mangrove areas has calm water because the root system reduces the energy that the waves are coming with from the sea.

"As a result, it is able to help fish to spawn there, particularly fishes that are not able to spawn in the sea due to the tidal wave. The fingerlings feed there, swim about and then when are matured, they swim through the estuary and the back into the ocean. The roots of the mangrove system are inter connected to provide refuge for other species from predators," Mr Agyekum indicates.

The mangroves provide food for species of animals that stay within, he adds.

Mr Agyekum explains that whenever the leaves of the mangroves fall, the crabs eat them and as it passes through their digestive system it comes out as defecation and also adds nutrients to the soil and the mangroves pick up the nutrients.

"In the era of climate change, mangroves have been found to be able to sequester a lot atmospheric carbon dioxide. Research shows it can sequester ten times what the natural forest can sequester, so it helps in mitigating climate change at the local, national and international levels," Mr Agyekum adds.

In Winneba, members of the various communities are allowed to harvest the dry branches of mangroves, however, some go to the extent to harvest live mangroves, even though it is discouraged by the Forestry Commission Wildlife Division. The community members say the mangrove is strong and able to withstand sea breeze which causes metal rusting.

Mr Adupong also says mangroves are very important because they sequester about five times more carbon per unit area than any other forest ecosystem, including tropical rainforest. "Thus, the role they play in mitigating the effects of climate change-the wetland ecosystem of which they are part has the ability to mitigate the effects of climate five times more than terrestrial forest eco-system," he adds.

Initiatives to promote sustainable mangroves

The Coastal Sustainable Landscapes Project (CSLP) is a USAID-funded and US Forest Service-managed intervention being implemented in the six coastal districts of Ghana’s Western Region. The project, originally planned for October 2013 to September 2016, was extended to September 2019, through Feed the Future funding, based on its substantial achievements.

The project, being implemented in collaboration with Government of Ghana institutions, particularly the Forestry Commission and Ministry of Food and Agriculture, aims at contributing to moving Ghana into a low greenhouse gas emissions, high carbon sequestration development pathway in the land use sector. It is embedded within a broader, multi-partner food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and environmental governance effort within the coastal forest landscapes along the western coast of Ghana.

The project has established three mangrove nursery sites and currently raising over 10,000 high quality seedlings of mangrove and acacia to be tendered and replanted at degraded sites identified during the mapping and ground trothing process. Last year, more than 10,000 mangrove seedlings were raised and successfully planted in the communities, according to Mr Adupong.

A total of 2000 red mangrove propagules have already been replanted at degraded sites around the Anyanzili community, Mr Adupong mentions.

Stakeholders in the area, mostly community members and resource users in the project area have become more aware of the need to protect mangroves and other wetland resources, Mr Adupong emphasises.

"The rate of destruction has reduced significantly due to project intervention. In some communities the size of the mangrove forest is increasing and this is good for REDD+ implementation in Ghana. The district assemblies have seen the need to have sub-committees that champion the sustainable management of mangroves and traditional authorities are playing their roles effectively. As a result of CSLP’s efforts, the assemblies have incorporated issues of mangroves and wetlands in their Medium Term Development Plans (MTDPs)," he said.

The Forestry Commission through the Wildlife Division works closely with stakeholders including NGOs, other government institutions, district assemblies, traditional authority and local community to safeguard natural resources.

"We have established site management committees and resource protection volunteer groups which we gave trained to help protect the resources by way of patrols and law enforcement. This is because staffing is a challenge with the Forestry Commission and because of that we need the community support," says Mr Agyekum of the Forestry Commission.

The commission also supports communities with livelihood ventures to prevent communities from further destruction of mangroves.

"It is very difficult to get them to stop, so we try to take that hands that would have destroyed the resource and put that to good use in other areas," Mr Agyekum stresses.

"We have also formed wildlife clubs in schools. Most of the information we get to go into the community to carry out any arrest have come from the school children who inform us about people cutting mangroves," he said.

Solutions to mangrove restoration
For any restoration to be successful, there is the need to include local communities, Mr Agyekum states.

"If you come in strong, plant and then leave, at the end of the day they are staying with resource and can easily destroy it. But if you let them understand why we need to restore that mangrove forest, then they will appreciate it better.

"Most often than we have always started with education, and then gone on to find local champions who lead the cause. Sometimes it is very useful if the information is coming to them from one of their own, for better understanding than coming from someone coming from outside their community," he notes.

There is the need to also do monitoring after restoration, and also throw in a bit of enforcement, he indicates.

"People will always do the things you tell them not to do. Once there is the need to survive and market for a commodity, people will always dare to do the wrong thing, so we need enforcement to be put in there to serve as deterrent for others," Mr Agyekum adds.

According to Mr Adupong of the USAID coastal landscape project, there should be intensified sensitization and education on the importance of mangroves to the resource users and the need to sustainably utilize this resource.

Credit: Under the aegis of the CSE Media Fellowships Programme

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