Context of the analyses

The Mano river basin countries of west Africa comprise; Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. These four countries host most of West Africa’s remaining Upper Guinea forests, including fertile agricultural lands; some of them occurring in virgin forests; including numerous other natural resources. As a result of the region’s natural wealth and socio-cultural linkages with neighboring States, sister States countries like Burkina Faso (a non-MRU State) exports a considerable amount of human labour; notably southwards through the north western parts of Cote d’Ivoire, and into the richest west African forests of south eastern Liberia.
As a result of such connections, it is less meaningful to analyze human resource economics; land use, forest conversion to agriculture in the three Mano River Union States, without noting the strong influence of Burkina Faso. Therefore, land degradation and soil fertility loss in Burkina Faso, if coupled with sporadic insecurity, increasing population pressure and southwards migration tends to have a direct impact on the forest resources of the Mano River Union countries; more than cursory pundits can observe. Especially so because, as the Mano River countries struggle to recover from lost opportunities during many years of conflict, manual labour for agriculture is a resource Burkina Faso has a lot of.
Ghana another non-MRU State on the other hand, has historically been an influential country in west Africa; economically, politically and intellectually. Given recent instabilities in the four Mano River Union countries, Ghana became a magnet for regional investments, headquartering numerous international organizations. Significant lessons have also been learned in Ghana and are now being applied across the Mano River Union countries thanks to the former’s stability.
Therefore, this landscape restoration analyses and outlook, although focusing on the Mano River Basin countries, will include experiences from Burkina Faso as contribution to overall knowledge on perceptions of land degradation and restoration options for Drylands. Furthermore, it will draw deeply on Ghana’s experience, especially as Ghana was the West Africa regional “Guinea Pig” for the ROAM methodology. Ghana is also the first country with significant private sector involvement in landscape restoration.
This analyses and outlook is presented in four parts; (i) brief global, overview of landscape restoration; (ii) a brief presentation of the contexts of the Mano river countries; (iii) contextual introductions to, and definition of landscape restoration; and finally, (iv) an analysis of the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology applied across a “transect”; using (iv.1) a Drylands Experience (Burkina Faso); (iv.2) river basin forest ecosystems (three transboundary forest complexes), with the option of wildlife corridors; and (iv.3) coastal landscape complexes.

Landscape Restoration: an overview

In 2011, following meticulous and multidisciplinary analyses, four institutions came together to declare “A World of Opportunity” for global forest and landscape restoration. These institutions were, the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), the World Resources Institute (WRI), South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That declaration stated that; more than two billion hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded landscapes are likely to offer potential for restoration — a vast opportunity to reduce poverty, improve food security, reduce climate change, and conserve biodiversity (GPFLR, 2011).
In the same year (2011) the Bonn Challenge platform came into existence and set a target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2020. Later-on in 2014, the AFR100 or African Restoration Initiative platform was created in Paris and set a longer-term target to restore 350 million ha of degraded landscapes by 2030. Both platforms simultaneously contribute towards attaining numerous other existing international commitments with landscape restoration components, including; REDD+ and Nationally Determined Contributions (to the Paris Climate Agreement), under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This landscape restoration movement also promises action towards achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Target 15 on bringing at least 15 per cent of the world’s degraded ecosystems under restoration actions, by 2020; including meeting other international goals related to combating desertification and land degradation.
To provide thought leadership to the process, as well as a systematic framework for action, a handbook was developed by the leading organizations – the IUCN and the WRI, as a contribution to the GPFLR and the Bonn Challenge. This Handbook sets out the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) for conducting national or sub-national assessments of restoration potential (IUCN & WRI, 2014).

The Mano River Union context: the sub ecosystems, people and history

Since 2016 at least two major programs; the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change – WA BiCC (Supported by USAID), and the International Water Resources Management (IWRM) Project funded by GEF and executed by the IUCN, are engaged to support work on transboundary forests in the Mano River Basin. The four countries; Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire make up the Mano River Union (MRU) and are home to the last remnants of the unique Upper Guinea forests; nine river basin ecosystems, creating unique habitats for biodiversity.

• Forests

The forest area and biodiversity are in decline as a result of small holder slash and burn agriculture, agro-industrial plantations, mining activities, including exploitation and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products (eros.usgs.gov, 2013; CEPF, 2015). The remaining Upper Guinean Forest ecosystem are today largely confined to four transboundary, High Biodiversity Value Forest (HBVF) complexes. These are (i) Sapo – Grebo -Taï and Cavally forest complex (ii) the Gola Rainforest complex of Sierra Leone and Liberia, (iii) The Ziama – Wolegizi -Wonegisi forest complex and (iv) the Mt. Nimba WHR-Diecke forest complex. These are the last remaining blocks of intact and semi-intact forest mosaics left in the entire Upper Guinean Forest ecosystem (CEPF, 2015). The remaining forest is highly fragmented, restricting habitats to isolated patches, and threatening the ecosystem’s unique species of flora and fauna. The four countries share extensive common borders with each other. These borders correspond to seven (07) out of nine (09) river basin ecosystems in the MRU (MRU, 2011).

• The River basins

The river basins of the Mano river basin are; (i) the great Scarcies – Kolenten (linking Sierra Leone and Guinea), (ii) Lofa (stretching into Liberia from the Guinean Highlands, (iii) the Mano, and (iv) Moa Makona (linking Sierra Leone and Liberia), (v) Little Scarcies (linking Sierra Leone to Guinea Conakry in the far west), (vi) Cavally (linking Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire), and (vii) Sassandra, being contiguous with the Cavally linking Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire. The remaining two river basins; (viii) Cestos and (ix) Saint John, have their entire upstream portions in the Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Conakry, respectively, with the bulk of their downstream, within the territory Liberia.
These river-basins are narrow-shaped and small-sized (22,000 km² and 320 km-long on average), and highly vulnerable to degradation (MRU, 2011). The key biodiversity hotspots are largely in their upstream catchments, whereas protected areas tend to concentrate downstream. Upstream furthermore, small holder agriculture land-use by resident populations constitute important drivers of landscape degradation and land cover change, often resulting to water quality and water quantity issues. Meanwhile, the downstream catchments report land use conflict issues, which may involve land use operations like mining, logging and agro-industrial plantations (MRU, 2011).

• Critical Biodiversity

At least three of the transboundary river basins habour High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF). On the Liberia – Cote d’Ivoire border, we have the Cavally – Tai – Grebo forests sitting on the Sassandra and Cavally river basins; on the Liberia – Guinea border, we have the Wologizi, Wonegizi and Ziama forests sitting on the Lofa river basin; and on the Liberia – Sierra Leone border we have the Gola Forest systems seating on the Moa, Mano and Lofa river basins. Some of the most threatened dry/wetland fauna species in the sub region include; the Pygmy Hippo, the Western Chimpanzee, the African forest Elephant, the Manatee, Sea Turtles and Dwarf crocodile; threatened flora include Pterocarpus, while threatened avian specie of note is the Africa grey parrot. The WA BiCC program is observing habitat loss and, degradation, especially water stress in drier parts, and land use/fragmentation in the high forests to be a major driver of species vulnerabilities. For these reasons, the long-term conservation interests of at least three (03) Big International Non-Governmental Organizations (BINGOs); Fauna and Flora International in the Wologizi, Wonegizi and Ziama; and Sapo: Royal Society for the Protection Birds, in the Gola Forests; and Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, in the Cavally – Tai – Grebo – Sapo forests, are tied to managing forest connectivity of these remaining transboundary river basin forests. Being a part of the architecture, health and characteristics of these forests, river basins, the biodiversity and other abiotic resources (e.g. water), are critical to the overall Mano River Ecosystem.

• Socio-economic drivers of land use change

With an annual population growth range of 2.2 – 2.6 % p.a., the combined population of the Mano River Union countries is estimated at 50 million (CIA Factbook, 2018). In the recent past, conflicts and health epidemics, have accelerated transboundary displacement of populations. These populations are mainly agrarian, although many are, artisanal miners, occupying upstream areas of watersheds. Strong agrarian pressures are also exerted through people migration, sometimes as far as from Burkina Faso , into Cote d’Ivoire and southwards into Liberia. The major land use activities across the river basins of the MRU countries include small-scale agriculture, small and large-scale mining (in Guinea Conakry, Liberia and Sierra Leone), Timber extraction (in Liberia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire); extensive Tree-crop agriculture (All countries, including industrial plantations, in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire); with Cote d’Ivoire leading the world in Cocoa and Cashew. In addition to livestock grazing in the tree savannahs, natural and man-made bush fires are also major drivers of land use change in northern Cote d’Ivoire and parts of Guinea Conakry. These land uses individually and together, continue to exert significant impacts on wildlife habitats, landscapes connectivity and in some cases, compound the effects of climate change and negatively affects land productivity (Cote d’Ivoire ROAM, IUCN, 2016).

• Migration in the MRU and effect on land use change
The events of the recent past – such as armed conflicts and health epidemics, have influenced significant transboundary movements and displacement of populations. These have resulted in new farms, expanded settlements and many sedentary populations becoming destabilized, especially affecting the Sierra Leone Liberia; Liberia – Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire Liberia borders. Short term settlements also favoured short – medium cycle cropping, (slash and burn food crops, and other expedient land use practices) often closely associated with forest degradation. There is also a significant reported movement from Burkina Faso through Cote d’Ivoire and into the South Eastern forests of Liberia. Largely agrarian communities from Burkina Faso are already having significant impact on forest cover loss in parts of Cote d’Ivoire such as the Cavally – Tai river basins. Migrant workers from Burkina Faso are also active western Cote d’Ivoire such as in Soubre.
Developing better understanding of landscape degradation; its drivers, factors and consequences, is an important first step, in the landscape restoration processes – i.e., how to develop a holistic approach and strategies to mitigate, reduce and roll back degradation; and thereafter, manage and build overall resilience across sensitive habitats like river basin, watersheds and peripheries of HCVFs.
• Institutional differences in Forest Management approaches
Of the four MRU states, two (Sierra Leone and Liberia) have remnants of “Anglophone” heritage and the other two (Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Conakry), “Francophone. There can be noticeable differences in how forests and other natural resources are managed; and how partnerships between non-State and State authorities are governed within these two systems. Whereas the Francophone systems has strong underlying Jacobine traditions; tending to be very hierarchical, centralized, and based on; “all, natural forests belonging to the State” principle; the Anglophone system tends to be loosely Anglo-Saxon, more open, and apparently less hierarchical. With the changes in the forestry laws in Liberia, communities can manage up to 50,000 ha of forests. The discernible differences between the institutional arrangements makes for good lessons and does not make one system better than the other. The impact of these subtle differences can be seen during consultations, discussions and engagements on issues like co-Management and or say development of Wildlife corridors. Co-management and negotiating Wildlife corridors require enormous flexibilities, transparency and participation that tends to be more complex and difficult to achieve within a rigid than within a flexible system. However, once agreements are reached enforcement can be easier under the Francophone system.
Nevertheless, memorandums of Understanding on Transboundary cooperation, such as that between the Ministry of Forestry (Guinea) and the Forest Development Authority (Liberia) to manage the Transboundary forests; Ziama – Wologizi – Wonegizi represents important steps in formalizing Transboundary forest management. Long-term management approaches like landscape restoration, law enforcement, etc. can then be built and formalized on such processes; although long-term management would depend on collaborative management with all stakeholders.

Status quo for landscape restoration in the Mano River Union basin

Over the next five years, the MRU, her Technical and Financial partners will promote Landscape Restoration, rolled up into various environmental strategies; to regenerate and conserve terrestrial and other ecosystems, strengthen the institutions in-charge, and work to ensure economic and social development of local populations. This is according to the MRU recently approved 2020 – 2025 five-years strategic Plan. An important status quo which provides opportunities for landscape restoration in the river basins of the MRU is the degree to which restoration pledges have been made in the Union.
So far, a total of 9 million ha of degraded landscapes have been pledged by the MRU States to be brought under restoration. Given that only Cote d’Ivoire applied a national level Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology, the pledges can be considered as “proxy-representations” of the extent of perceived landscape degradation. The official Pledges by the MRU countries comprise; 5 million ha (Cote d’Ivoire), 2 million ha (Guinea Conakry), 1 million ha (Liberia) and 1 million ha in Sierra Leone. These proposals are typically sent in writing by relevant Ministries of these countries, to both the Bonn Challenge and or to the AFR100/NEPAD Secretariats.
Such mobilization for Landscape Restoration backed by a strategic plan is an excellent entry-point for the MRU Sates. Given the peculiarities of the river basins of the MRU as staging ground for landscape restoration we raise below a number theoretical and practical issues drawn from recent experiences with landscape restoration in the sub region and its environs. We hypothesis that irrespective of the conceptual robustness of a Technology or Approach, only through practice and rigorous learning can that technology or concept be made more effective as a practice.

Objectives of the analyses

The prime objective of these analyses is to help practitioners of landscape restoration in west Africa and the Mano River Union (MRU) transition from a traditional understanding of land use and natural resources management, to a dynamic one, of landscape restoration under complex, competing circumstances of conservation, production and livelihoods. Subsequently, it is expected that these analyses will help convince landscape managers in West Africa and the MRU to adopt landscape restoration, and its associated tools, not as a one-off methodology, but as a learning framework for landscape management effectiveness.

And so, we hypothesize that, “the learning process of Landscape Restoration, from theories to practice, always occur within a context of complexities. They comprise past, ongoing and planned restoration-type activities; and multiple land use projects implemented by numerous actors. They overlay various stakeholder interests, different time frames and impact diverse ecosystem goods and services. The learning process is thus facilitated by the presentation and analyses of existing knowledge, in a way that demonstrates; the proof of key concepts, a willingness to unlearn, and a readiness to manage expectations and outcomes in new contexts (with, Eugene Cole, KML Specialist, WA BiCC, 2019)”
A learning framework inspired by these considerations is outlined below;

Demonstrations of proof of concept: Appraisal of how and where the approach has been used is organized as follows;
a. Understanding Landscape restoration
b. ROAM: methodology, some outputs and outcomes
a. Ghana
b. Burkina Faso
c. The MRU countries
Willingness to un-learn: Challenging some set notions; exploring alternative, complementary understanding and making rational adjustments to the approach:
a. ROAM: a methodology versus a framework;
b. The significance and dimensions of scale
c. Synergies between ongoing Project activities and landscape restoration, including providing answers to some questions like;
• What has happened, what’s going on and what are the synergies?
• What needs to be improved and how?
• When and how is a ROAM relevant, or not; why; and
• How can stakeholders be identified, engaged?
Managing expectations and change: Committing to manage the challenges, expectations and change which have been brought about by development and use of approaches; e.g.;
a. ROAM as framework for effective landscape management practice?
b. Dealing with Drylands – case of Burkina Faso
c. Supporting wildlife corridors and multiple use landscapes
d. Addressing the peculiarities of coastal landscape complexes
e. Financing options for landscape restoration, e.g. PPPs,
Conclusions: synthesis of knowledge, lessons and concrete next steps to take restoration opportunities and interventions to the required next level within the MRU.