By Elizabeth Kahurani
At the UNFCCC COP 21, scientists are calling for climate action that allows communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change through conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems.
At a session organized by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Dr Lalisa Duguma, a Scientist at ICRAF noted that ecosystem approaches to dealing with climate change are i) cost effective as multiple outputs can be achieved, ii) efficient as they address both adaptation and mitigation at the same time, and iii) locally relevant for local communities. He further noted that most policy frameworks and initiatives on climate change and environmental conservation depend on the effective functioning of ecosystem services, yet little attention is paid to their important role.
“Ecosystems such as mountain forests protect against erosion, increase slope stability, and reduce the risk of avalanches. Dryland vegetation help to improve drought conditions and control desertification,” said Duguma. These services are important to farmers and local communities as they provide a source of income from fuel wood, honey, timber and fruit trees. They further promote health through medicinal plants. Social benefits such as education are realized, particularly when women, who walk for long distances and consume so much time looking for water and fuel wood can focus on studying when these commodities are easily accessible.
Dr Dennis Garrity, the UNCCD Ambassador and Senior Fellow at ICRAF gave examples of farmer managed natural regenerated trees on croplands in the Sahel where “200 million trees had been established in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal with tremendous benefits to communities as soil fertility improves and water provision is improved.” He emphasized the point made earlier on these tree crops and wood products being an important source of income and energy thus improving livelihoods.
As such, restoring ecosystems promote resilience by reducing exposure to shocks and increasing farmer’s capacity to cope with extreme conditions. To cope with long waiting periods of tree maturity, Garrity recommended integration of trees with “fodder systems, fertilizer trees, grafted fruits that give significant benefits early.”
Dr Meine vanNoordwijk, ICRAF chief scientist said that climate discussions and initiatives have separated three crucial things that belong together, a situation that has hampered action on the ground. “Three things separated include trees and farmers; climate and rainfall; mitigation and adaptation,” said Meine. He explained that bringing these things together requires i) Agroforestry (trees on farms); ii) recognition of the role of biological rainfall generation (rain generated by trees); iii) creating synergies between mitigation and adaptation.
Enabling policies for ecosystem based adaptation were discussed at length with Winnie Asiti, Research Fellow at Africa Centre for Technology (ACTS) emphasizing the need for policy to focus on promoting business cases and private sector involvement, agricultural finance, education, youth and women participation. “Incentives such as good transport, energy and telecommunication infrastructure; effective legal and regulatory environment and favorable market economy policies play a critical role in facilitating adaptive mechanisms for farmers and stakeholders including investments by the private sector,” said Winnie.
Casting a spotlight on the important role played by women, Dr Margaret Kroma, Deputy Director Partnerships at ICRAF said that “women play a much stronger role in the management of ecosystem services and have specialized knowledge of biological resources and ecosystem functions.” It only therefore makes sense to invest in women as a catalyst for ecosystem restoration.
Also speaking at the session was Dr. Edmund Barrow, IUCN and Dr. Larwanou Mahamane, African Forest Forum. Both laid emphasis on the need for local ownership and management of ecosystem service projects and external facilitation through finance and technology.
“In a project we implemented in Kenya, Farmers could access small loans as long as they had a simple management plan of how they would adapt to climate change and what their understanding of risk was. They controlled the project themselves, owned the process, and there was great improvement on conservation, tree nurseries, climate smart perspectives on for example right tree species,” explained Barrow.
Larwanou further added that it was important to provide incentives and that the ecosystem was a natural capital that guarantees farmers of their investments.
A new policy brief, Transforming REDD+ and Achieving the SDGs through support for adaptation-mitigation synergy was launched with a call for synergy in climate actions. The ICRAF forum was held at the UNCCD Land Day on the sidelines of UNFCCC COP 21.