Restored forests fight climate change and preserve community wealth in Benin
Gallery forests, narrow strips of trees growing on either side of waterways, are threatened by human activities such as overuse and land clearing. This situation has serious consequences such as flooding, impoverishing riparian communities and higher CO2 emissions due to deforestation.
“The forest is our source of wealth,” explains Elie Sèwabo, a rural development officer in Azohouè Ahowéssa, a village in the Lower Valley of the Ouémé River that is prone to flooding. “We go and look for raffia to weave baskets, medicinal plants that can cure us, wood for cooking meals and building houses etc. It makes me sad to see that we are not caring enough for the forest. People have cut down all the trees, the river is silted up, we can’t fish there any longer, and the water finds its way into our homes.”
- About 1 million people are benefitting from the preservation and sustainable use of gallery forests in Benin.
- More than 50 hectares of riverbanks have been reforested with native plant species.
- Almost 15,000 aerial photos of the country have made it possible to establish detailed topographical maps.
To address these issues, a preservation and mapping project was established in 2014, with support from the European Union and the UNDP.
The project has two distinct objectives: first, to reduce flooding by promoting conservation and sustainable community use of gallery forests; and second, to provide Benin with high resolution photographs that will make it possible to produce very detailed topographic maps that can be used for forest management, flood control, agriculture, urban planning, etc.
With a total budget of 8.3 million euro, the project enables 13 riverside communities in Ouémé, amounting to about 1 million inhabitants, to conduct reforestation activities, restore the riverbanks, dredge waterways and develop micro-infrastructure for water capture.
So far more than 50 hectares of shoreline have been reforested with about 15 indigenous plant species. These plants are planted on a 25 metre strip along the river and help prevent water overflows, while protecting riparian areas from erosion and flooding. Some 30 gallery forests out of about 50 in the Lower Valley of the Ouémé are being restored.
Through a participative process, communities have identified income-generating activities such as fish farming, beekeeping, food processing and developing improved cooking stoves.
Local authorities are also heavily involved in the management of the project. Ten councils have already issued legal recognition orders to integrate the gallery forests into the national protected area system and secure their land tenure arrangements. Municipal authorities have also developed and implemented a guide on incorporating climate change issues into local development plans.
On top of this, nearly 15,000 aerial photos have been taken to map the national territory. Désiré Djomamou, Director of Geodesic Equipment and Mapping, is thrilled with the results: "In the 1960s, when the last national mapping project was carried out, the north of Benin was characterized by dense forests. The maps that we continue to use are far from providing a realistic portrayal of the current situation. The forests have now disappeared and given way to socio-economic infrastructures. The updating of the mapping exercise will have immeasurably important impacts on development."