Women are championing mangrove conservation in Nigeria
A women-led civil society group in Nigeria is empowering women and the whole community to protect Nigeria’s extremely productive but disappearing mangrove forests, which provide abundant services to the marine environment and people.
A group of women are working tirelessly to reverse life-threatening challenges facing local economies in Nigeria, as the country’s declining mangrove forests face extinction – after decades of degradation. The Society for Women and Vulnerable Groups (SWOVUGE) is helping communities to restore and sustainably manage mangrove forests in the five villages of the Ukpom Okom District in South East Nigeria.
The Ukpom Community Mangrove in Akwa Ibom State is an important breeding site and home to numerous species of wildlife such as crocodiles, tortoises, turtles, fish, shrimps, crab, snails, clam and oysters. A large population of people also depends on resources from this rich mangrove forest to support their livelihoods.
However, limited knowledge about sustainable resource management in the communities has exposed the mangrove to activities that threaten its biodiversity. Overharvesting of mangrove forest products, including trees used for firewood in homes, or to dry fish or build canoes, have reduced the mangrove at an alarming rate. Patches of the forested mangrove have also been cleared for housing development, putting the ecosystem services and economic benefits of the mangrove at risk.
To preserve mangrove's bounty and ensure that communities continue to benefit from its resources, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has provided financial support to SWOVUGE through BirdLife International, in our capacity as regional implementation team for the Guinean Forests of West Africa Hotspot. The funds will support a mangrove restoration project on the site.
The project empowers women to conserve the land on which their livelihoods depend
The project, funded under the Small Grants programme and referred to as the “Ukpom-Okon Community Mangrove restoration and tree planting project, Nigeria”, empowers women to conserve the very essence on which their livelihoods depend.
“Nigeria has no gazetted mangrove protected areas. Apart from this ongoing project, there has been no internationally supported women-driven project on mangrove restoration in the country,” said Emem Umoh, Coordinator of the project.
At least seven women are on the frontline, working with communities and coordinating all project-related activities to ensure that everyone in the five villages benefits from the project during its two-year cycle, with special attention to women beneficiaries. More than 330 women have been reached directly through different workshops organized in various communities to raise awareness about the importance of mangrove restoration and tree planting.
“We tell them to encourage other women to participate in project activities,” said Ms Umoh.
“I did not know, until now, that felling of mangroves indiscriminately could damage resources if trees are not planted to replace the felled ones,” explained 53-year-old Christiana Akpan, leader of a women’s group from the Ikot Etegne community who attended one of the sensitization workshops.
Barely nine months after the project was launched, over 400 trees have been planted in key areas and 600 more have been earmarked for distribution to women in the communities as part of efforts to promote agro-forestry practice. Two nursery sites have been established in two communities to grow the Rhizophora species of mangrove tree and over 400 seedlings grown.
The Guinean Forests of West Africa (GFWA) Regional Implementation Team (RIT) is a project of BirdLife International, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The RIT manages the CEPF investment (2016 -2021) in the 11 countries of the Guinean Forests of West Africa Hotspot.
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.