In 2021, Farmstrong received funding from UNEP to start the first phase of an ambitious forest restoration project covering 1,000 hectare of the sacred Forêt Classée du Mont Kourabahi. Over 16,000 farmers and their families are benefitting from this project.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, but research proves that educating girls and empowering women are key climate change solutions. Reforestation, when done with regard for gender equality, can restore degraded ecosystems, absorb carbon and empower women.
Seri Lehaba is a 45-year-old, mother of three and president of the women’s association in the village of Gnogboyo in the southwest, Nawa region of Côte d'Ivoire.
“The rain has become irregular,” she said. “It doesn’t follow the seasons anymore. And when it comes, it comes down with such force that rather than nourishing the plants and trees, it destroys the soil. Growing vegetables and cultivating other crops has become very difficult.”
Three years ago, the Swiss foundation, Farmstrong, gave the community a greenhouse which allowed them to grow vegetables for sale. They also helped organize a local women’s group, now with 144 members, and taught them how to save money.
FarmStrong’s work in the Nawa region serves to promote resilient, holistic, structured, rural economic development, through integrated agricultural production systems. “We care a lot about securing basic human needs, fundamental human rights and protecting the environment at the same time,” said director, Michiel Hendriksz. “We make sure to involve the village chiefs in everything we do and make sure they agree with our work.”
“Every Friday, each member gives 2,000 CFA (about $5). Every week our capital grows. And then, when one of us needs a big sum to buy seeds or pay school fees, the money is there,” says Sabine Logbo, a 40-year-old mother of two teenagers.
“Now we can save. It’s something we had to learn because in the past, whenever we had money, we would be enticed to spend it all at once. That’s what happens when your income comes very irregularly, like it does with us. It comes from selling crops. When we harvest, there is money, but after that there’s no income for a long time. In the past we would spend everything at once, and then be left with no money for school fees or other essential items. Now we save, spending only on important things while trying to budget in advance.”
Change in landuse over the past 30 years
FarmStrong, with the help of UNEP, is also supporting reforestation in the area through planting village forests, regreening schools and reforesting sacred and other forests.
“People used to cut the trees to make fields to grow cacao. But then the rains disappeared and the flora and fauna,” says Marie. “We are now planting trees in the middle of the village, a one hectare forest, so there will be a place where we can find shade from the harsh sun, and we hope that the animals will return once the forest has grown.”
“This micro-forest will bring the rain back and that means we won’t have to drill so deep to find water for us and the animals,” adds Seri.
FarmStrong wants to create a micro-forest in every village, with an aim to create 60 forests. Seventeen have been completed so far. As Gishlain Andoh, the project manager, explains, they need three years to plant a micro-forest, using six different kinds of indigenous trees. In between, villagers can grow bananas and manioc.
“We also plant trees outside schools to create barriers and shade,” says Kone Moussa, who follows up on the reforestation projects. “We plant flowers and engage the students by teaching them about the importance of nature. We have produced 75,000 seedlings in the past three years. We involve the local youth to make this happen. Since the project buys the saplings, the young adults have a job, salary and knowledge.”
Reforesting a sacred forest
According to Ghislain, the community is host to a sacred forest, le Forêt Classée du Mont Kourabahi. A sacred forest is a place that is venerated and has a special religious importance for a particular community. “Normally, sacred forests shouldn’t be deforested because very few people are allowed in,” he says. “You only enter a sacred forest with the permission of the village head who first has to ask the gods for their approval. But during the conflict in 2010, there was lawlessness and a part of the forest was taken and exploited. Trees were cut, animals hunted. Now, two hectares have been reforested and in five years, the forest will hopefully be growing back.”
“We’ve worked with farmers to help them find ways to diversify and grow their incomes, as well as with communities to access credit for unexpected costs or loans to start a new business. Tackling deforestation in the long term is about more than just planting trees. It is about creating the right conditions for farmers to earn a living income and for their families to access education and plan for the future.”
Ghislain says they work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including traditional village chiefs, ethnic representatives, Nawa government authorities and cocoa producers to protect the land in the long term.
“We work together with FarmStrong and the people living around the forest,” says Francois Kaouao, the local government representative for the Water and Forest Ministry. “While we are replanting trees, they plant peppers, manioc, banana and cacao under our supervision, so that it benefits both. The cacao benefits from the shade of trees around it, while they earn income from the fruit trees and learn about zero forestation cacao production at the same time.”
“Reforestation is a key and essential process to capture carbon and achieve both UN-REDD programme and Paris agreement objectives. It is also a prerequisite for bringing back the forest and its biodiversity within the landscapes. However, it is important to keep in mind that such initiative won’t be successful if not done for and by local communities. By doing so, a project implementer will ensure a great success, contribute to local activities and above all bring a multitude of co-benefits in addition to the needed fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” says Yoann Allanic, Technical Advisor for Africa for the UN-REDD Programme.
The project, which has benefitted from the overall advance in knowledge on REDD+ and the broad acceptance across Cote d’Ivoire that the UN-REDD National Programme helped to establish, aims to sustainably develop with the landowners and communities so that they have enough alternative livelihoods and skills to provide for themselves and have no need to turn to the forest to make money by illegal logging, charcoal production or poaching.
Over the past decade, the UN-REDD Programme has helped countries develop inclusive national strategies and multi-stakeholder partnerships to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, while generating jobs, promoting gender equality, and improving livelihoods.
For more information on FarmStrong, click here.
For more info on agroforestry, read here