The Livelihoods-Senegal project is the largest mangrove restoration program in the world. It is the result of collaboration between thousands of villagers, Océanium, a Senegalese NGO working to preserve mangroves, and the Fonds Carbone Livelihoods, an impact investment fund supported by private companies committed to voluntarily offsetting their CO2 emissions. Let’s take a look back at the origins of this extraordinary project and the innovations it has enabled to develop.
When planting a mangrove tree becomes simple and reproductible on a large scale
Mangroves form a forest that grows between land and sea in tropical and subtropical areas. It is mainly composed of mangroves, trees with aerial roots, immersed at high tide, which serve as a refuge for fish, shrimp, oysters and other birds and animals. As a result, it is one of the main sources of food for nearby communities, in addition to providing them with firewood and timber. It also acts as a filter between seawater and fresh water, protecting arable land. In addition, mangroves are a very efficient carbon sink, capable of sequestering between 3 and 4 times more carbon than tropical forests*.
In Senegal, the estuaries of the Casamance and Siné Saloum rivers constitute one of the largest mangrove reserves in Africa. Since the 1970s, the region has lost more than 45,000 ha of mangroves due to successive droughts, unsustainable agricultural practices, logging for cooking and construction, and road infrastructure blocking the flow between fresh and salt water. Year after year, the inhabitants of the coastal villages of Casamance and Siné Saloum began to perceive the consequences of the disappearance of mangroves with fewer fish, shrimp and oysters.
To face this situation, the Senegalese NGO Océanium, chaired by Haïdar El Ali, an environmental activist and former Senegalese Minister of the Environment, and Jean Goepp, then director of the NGO’s programmes, put forward a simple but indisputably effective concept: collect propagules, those long seeds that allow mangroves to reproduce, in healthy mangroves, and plant them where the mangrove had disappeared and where the soil (locally called the poto-poto) remained somewhat fertile. The biggest challenge is to mobilize the villagers. Océanium then sets off to the countryside through hundreds of villages in a truck bearing the slogan «Plant your tree». Océanium raises awareness of the importance of mangroves through film debates and discussion groups. The NGO also trains them to plant mangroves: identify healthy propagules to collect, recognize areas to reforest, know how to deal with the tide to plant… In 2006, through conviction and awareness, Haidar and his team were able to replant 65,000 mangroves with the support of the inhabitants in the Tobor region.
In 2009, the partnership between Océanium and the Carbon Livelihoods Fund enabled the NGO to expand this action. Thanks to the investment of the Carbon Livelihoods Fund, the NGO Océanium has been able to finance large-scale field teams, trucks, canoes, computer equipment and village training. In 3 years, the NGO has succeeded in mobilizing more than 100,000 volunteers from 450 different villages to plant 80 million mangroves.
In addition to the social benefits generated by these new mangroves, the 8,000 ha of mangroves restored thanks to this project will sequester nearly 600,000 tons of CO2 over 20 years. The project will be monitored until 2029 thanks to the long-term commitment of the companies that have invested in the Carbon Livelihoods Fund.
Innovation at the heart of the world’s largest mangrove restoration program in the world
The scope of the Livelihoods-Senegal project and the long-term commitment of the Carbon Livelihoods Fund’s investors have made it a laboratory for launching innovations that benefit all mangrove restoration projects around the world.
For example, the NGO Océanium, the Carbon Livelihoods Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have developed a new methodology to measure CO2 sequestration by mangroves on a large scale. This methodology, derived from forest methodologies, has been validated by the United Nations, and has enabled mangrove restoration projects to benefit from carbon credits. It has therefore made it possible to mobilize investments from carbon finance to develop mangrove restoration projects all over the world. The same methodology has been used by The Carbon Livelihoods Fund to develop other projects in India and Indonesia to improve the living conditions of vulnerable populations and to combat climate change.
In 2011, the Livelihoods – Senegal project included 3500 plots spread over an area of 40,000 km2. Mapping and accurately identifying all these parcels was a real challenge. To this end, the Carbon Livelihoods Fund collaborated with the consulting firm Agresta and the European Space Agency to develop a satellite plot mapping, with precise plot quantification and GPS planting density measurement. This method is now being deployed on all Carbon Livelihoods Fund projects through the use of more accessible mapping tools.
More recently, due to the good growth of the plantations, it had become impossible to enter the plantations without damaging the trees. As a result, «traditional» forestry techniques consisting in assessing carbon sequestered by physical measurements (height, trunk diameter) were no longer usable. A new technique for monitoring mangrove growth was then implemented by a three-dimensional measurement done by a drone. Thanks to 360° shots, it is now possible to virtually reconstruct the forest cover and measure its growth. This method, developed with the support of the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM), has been approved by the United Nations and allowed the second verification of the project in 2017.
The Livelihoods-Senegal mangrove restoration project in pictures
Photos: Hellio-Vaningen/ Livelihoods Funds.
Photos: Hellio-Vaningen/ Livelihoods Funds.