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Communities at the frontline on climate change and mangroves restoration

By Mohamed Konneh

It is quite visible here at the Gbonbgoma community, a small island off Bonthe Municipality that still struggles with effect of sea rise and climatic conditions. Communities here are still eking to make ends meet while working hard to control running water into the community but also destruction to their rice farms. Community resilience is visible and both men and women have resolved to build their community using local expertise as part of training and education they continue to receive from the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) programmes implemented in Bonthe District for coast line communities.

Pa Musa Lahai-showing Mangroves restoration sites in Gbongboma

Gbongboma is blessed with mangroves and fresh sea food including fish of different kinds, ouster, crab and lot more. The outstretch sea along this community is home to sea birds brightly coloured eaglets and the beautiful manatee that eats up rice plantation whenever they are drifted by the running water or high tide towards community farm lands. The community still struggles as they continue to grapple with destruction of the mangroves plantation that gives them cover to protect farm lands and protection from flooding.

Mangrove is an important commodity that protects shorelines from damaging storm and winds, waves, and floods.  This natural gift also helps prevent erosion by stabilizing sediments with their tangled root systems. Without this knowledge, communities in this part of the country were destroying this fine natural gift and this has exposed them to climate change related issues.

However, communities are now turning these challenges to opportunity and have resolved to restore mangroves for their own protection including farm plantation. Restoring the depleted mangrove that used to cover and protect these communities, inhabitants here are now using a mix bag of expertise gain from series of training and sensitization messages they continue to receive. The establishment of the Village Savings and Loans Associations is now addressing coastal resilience to climate change in communities, and this also include embankment for sea level rise.

Embankment in Momaya

Eugene Cole is WA BiCC Knowledge and Learning specialist during a visit to one of the communities said the ecosystems are under threat from climate change and human activities.

“Increased floods and landslides, rising sea-levels and temperatures, is among challenges to coastal erosion, loss of species habitats, widespread ecosystem and degradation. Sustainable management of coastal environments cannot occur without consideration of what is happening on land” he said. This is the more reason why WA BiCC is focusing on combating wildlife trafficking and reducing deforestation, forest degradation, and terrestrial biodiversity loss, he said.”

Based on the connectivity of systems and issues, the programme implement an integrated approach to increasing coastal resilience that encompasses setting up an enabling policy environment and implementing interventions across various scales.

Gbongboma remains among communities that continue to work hard in restoring the mangroves. This rural community is in the Empire Chiefdom and just in two years since the start of the project the community has done so much restoring the mangroves plantation despite there is more to be done.

Musa Lahai is a community elder in Gbongboma and was full of praises for the training and support they continue to received from WA BiCC programme.

Mangroves restoration in Kega Community

“We have received series of training on how we could help protect our community but also protecting our farms from manatee and debris from the sea.  This community used to flood but since we started planting the mangroves we hardly experienced flooding and for the past two years this community has not been flooded as it used to be” he said.

The Gbongboma Community is also now free from waste plastic that used to flood the community and all of these efforts are done from less support from outside.

“We now have the knowledge and education to protect our community and we now know the danger behind the destruction of mangroves. Yes we used to sell it as woods and also used them for the construction of our houses. All of these have reduced in the community using the VSLA as an alternative to earn money” Mr. Lahai said.

What is happening here at Gbongoma remains the same in Momaya community where communities continue to restore mangroves that have been destroyed over the years. However, the Momaya experience is unique in the sence that the community battles with embankment and restoration of mangroves.

Abu Sankoh, chairman for Momaya community mangroves restoration explains how happy they are now that they are now working as communities in restoring the mangroves but more so the embankment.

“Water used to disturb our farms including the community. Anytime there is high tide the community will be flooded. We now buy our own bags and cut logs to d the embankment. We no longer wait for help to come by because this is for our own protection. We have seen the benefits of not destroying the mangroves he said.

Communities heading to farm sites

Sankoh said the only challenge they have this year was the destruction of farm lands by the running water that flooded their farms. This he said will be controlled the sooner the mangroves would have matured.

“This community is also challenge with the kind of soil we have at the frontage where the embankment is done. Mangroves or ordinary trees do not grow on clay soil and this is one big challenge we are having. This is something we are still thinking of how to deal with. The cockle shells we buy as part of local materials used for the banking is becoming costly. This is something we are still thinking off, he said.

Notwithstanding this challenge the community has resolved to continue the rehabilitation of the embankment as when the need arise.

With Kega community doing same, the small rural community along the Sherbro river estuary has also braced up in protecting the community from flooding and destruction of farm lands.

“We are now planting mangroves all over the place for our own protection. We are restoring the mangroves because we know it protects us and our farm land. If we do not see benefit in it we would not have done what we are doing says Moinina Yopoi, a young man living in Kega.

He said the first mangroves they planted did not do well but the others are now doing fine. We will continue to restore these mangroves until we are sure that we have covered all the areas affected.

“We no longer experience heavy storm as it used to be and for the past two years and with the training and education we got from WA BiCC the situation here has improved” Moinina said.

The West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) program is a five-year program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that aims to improve conservation and climate-resilient, low-emissions growth across West Africa. WA BiCC also focuses on targeted geographical areas within the region to improve governance and policy over critical natural and human systems. By working through the core regional partners, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mano River Union (MRU) and the Abidjan Convention, and with targeted national and sub-national institutions, WA BiCC increases the capacity of institutions at all levels to address the three core WA BiCC components. These are combating wildlife trafficking, increasing coastal resilience to climate change and reducing deforestation, forest degradation, and biodiversity loss.

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