One mangrove, a thousand hopes is a sentiment common to many Nigerians living near the river in Cross River State. “Mangroves provide the best firewood, as people who roast fish know,” says Idem Williamson, a villager living in Eseriebom community in Cross River State. “But by cutting the wood, the mangroves disappeared. And without the mangroves, water would flood our houses.”
The need to restore mangroves inspired Williamson to get involved in a Community Based REDD+ (CBR+) 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.”
The Pressures Facing Nigeria’s Mangrove Ecosystem
Nigeria has the largest mangrove ecosystem in Africa, and the Cross River mangrove is 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 a
nd 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, which has more than 50% of Nigeria's remaining tropical forests, is host to a community-based REDD+ Programme (CBR+) that promotes activities to reduce poverty, improve crop varieties and yields, gender empowerment, biodiversity, conversation and climate change mitigation. A total of 18 community projects have been supported, including an estimated 540 households comprising more than 2,000 direct beneficiaries.
“The goals of the CBR+ are to sustainably manage forests and 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 (GEF) has provided $800,000 (US) 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 (NTFPs) 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 Esieribom.
“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 Eseriebom 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 six 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 in order to plant new mangrove seedlings. She is one of the villagers who works daily to cut the Nya 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 CBR+ 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 CBR+ 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.