Conclusions & next steps for restoration opportunities in the MRU Watershed
Landscape restoration provides practitioners in the Mano River Union (MRU) and West Africa, with a robust tool, with which to manage complex landscapes, effectively. By creatively applying peer-reviewed tools for landscape restoration such as the ROAM and the LMF, landscape managers can effectively coordinate and evaluate outcomes across four key aspects of landscapes; conservation, livelihoods, institutions and production.
Population is growing in the Mano River Union area; and in the recent past, socio-economic, security and health emergencies have influenced migrations, resettlement and land use change, some of which continue to this day. Given these dynamics, a solid grip is required on the ecology; its architecture, functioning, and the status of frontier forests and ecosystems of the region. Such a grip is required to roll-back past damage where opportunities present themselves; and subsequently, their negative socio-economic and ecological impacts. A close eye must be kept on land use change occurring on the nine (9) transboundary river basins and their high conservation value forests. By working with communities in need of resilient livelihoods strategies, similar attention should be paid to the fragile coastlines, mangrove forests and biodiversity under threat.
For all its apparent complexity, landscape restoration is about “sustaining ecological functions and improving livelihoods at scale”. By analyzing past and ongoing applications in different countries, including in the MRU, its accompanying tool, the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology or ROAM is proving to be an effective tool for the praxis; Action – Monitoring – Evaluation – Learning – Knowledge, and more action.
In this diagnostic report, a wide-range of issues have been subjected to critical analyses, targeting; concepts, and a need to un-learn as we prepare for change. Among the key issues subjected to analyses here we include; policy processes, restoration assessments, landscape and livelihoods activities. Many of these activities have been achieved through the WA BiCC/TetraTech Project partnerships; own aspirations, plans and investments.
The results of the analyses show that; the restoration opportunities concept, largely proven, is well underway in different parts of west Africa. In this analysis, we demonstrated how associated notions can also be adapted; complementary understanding explored, and entertained; while, rational adjustments to approaches are being considered. However, these products of innovation can only be beneficial, once practitioners across the region continue to master and grow in the concept which is now largely proven in the region.
For instance, over seven countries in west Africa have pledged to the Bonn Challenge with the MRU countries alone pledging to restore 9 million hectares of degraded landscapes. The results of the Ghana ROAM, one of the first (completed in 2011) have endured and are directly contributing to the high-profiled public – private partnership to restore close to 26,000 hectares of degraded lands in Ghana. Transboundary ROAM is underway in at least four landscapes; and Burkina Faso is undertaking a sub national ROAM at Commune level.
Beyond this proof of concept, there is opportunity also for “unlearning” in our understanding of restoration and assessing opportunities. Unlearning here does not signify that prior notions were incorrect – not at all! It means dimensions of understanding are getting broader, requiring us to loosen our grip on some prior-held notions, even agendas. For instance, in West Africa where the transition from Sahel to high forest is starker, “landscape restoration” tends to have more appeal than “forest landscape restoration”.
As unlearning evolves, ROAM is finding effectiveness not just as a “methodology”, but as a “framework” for providing structure, direction and measurability to ongoing land use and livelihoods processes.
Furthermore, in contexts where actors have longstanding working relationships with people and ecosystems under degradation, innovations such as using prior knowledge from secondary sources, in handling stakeholder analyses (a ROAM requirement), are coming handy, thus avoiding beneficiary or client fatigue. Similarly, the elusiveness of the central, restoration notion of “opportunity” is opening-up a learning window on landscape management. It is for instance, helping us understand why the concept of “trade-off” is losing significance in landscape management. Trade-offs can presuppose a zero-sum game based on a quid pro quo – with no room for innovation. In a corrective way “opportunity” for restoration helps us open up the notion of “trade-offs” to accept different scenarios or “new opportunities” for achieving harmony in a landscape.
Rationalizing “unlearning” is like defending innovation, and the controversy that, if a concept is broadened it will become diluted and lost is not true in all cases. Such may happen if the concept lacks defining core principles. Three defining core principles of “restoration” are opportunity, scale and that, it is a nature-based solution. All three together help distinguish landscape restoration from other disciplines and exhibit their usefulness in all circumstances where dimensions of degradation are well defined.
So, as demand for the concept and practice grows; there is need to harmonize understanding such as; dimensions of degradation; inclusive of degradation of seascapes and waterscape (e.g., water hyacinth in lakes; heavy metals, debris and plastics in coastal waters and lagoons, etc.); in a similar way as soil, land and forest degradation are covered under landscape and forest degradation; and ageing tree-crop systems, as degraded agroforestry mosaics, etc.
Like opportunity before it, Scale is particularly important, because it is at scale that functional diversity is best expressed; or that, ecological connectivity is enhanced by strengthening wildlife corridors.
And to illustrate some of the diagnostics, this analysis posits that, beyond the concept and unlearning we must also prepare for change.
The four instances of likely change in practice with availability of new knowledge are drawn from our experience with ROAM in drylands (ex: Burkina Faso), dealing with Transboundary landscapes (ex: MRU), supporting options for ecological corridors in multiple use landscapes, and priorities for restoration in coastal landscapes (ex: Sierra Leone and Fresco).
Our findings show that, amongst other considerations, the drylands and coastal landscapes are particularly susceptible to climate change effects. For instances, cases of landscape degradation have made flash-flooding more frequent and powerful in certain locations that meet a certain threshold of degradation. The burden is now on us, information holders to use that new knowledge in restoration assessment. On the other hand, the dynamics of tides, coastlines, water currents, movements of mudflats and the relationships with sedimentation, inland land use and mangrove survival, all combine to create new short-term/medium- and long-term data layers. Applying understanding of these dynamics to restoration opportunities or lack thereof, in coastal complexes is now urgent. And under a changing climate and land use, unless near real-time information systems are implemented, the uncertainty and risk of more catastrophic occurrences are likely to grow, not diminish.
The other two cases of change involving transboundary restoration, and opportunities for ecological corridors, fall within the remit of landscape management effectiveness (refer to LMF). However, the transboundary case raises a serious question about landscape restoration as a nature-based solution, and thus should transcend political boundary consideration. Meanwhile the ecological corridor example raises two questions; landscape management effectiveness and “best use of a methodology”. The case of a corridor is one which may benefit first from State-sanctioned land use planning, and then an assessment, afterwards, not before.
Landscape Restoration cannot advance and be consolidated without appropriate funding. However, there are differences between available funding and appropriate funding. While the former tends to be more available, there is need that, given the ecosystems, livelihoods and climate significance of restoration, more appropriate funding mechanisms be identified and developed. Restoration will benefit from, secure, long-term, sufficient, but incremental funding. Scale and a performance-based system are requirements, as they provide opportunities for aggregation and motivation for participation by the private sector. Some performance-based systems already exist in Projects / west Africa scene; with some, experimenting resource mobilization tactics based on marketing of their performance. These are all excellent circumstances that bode well for private – public – partnerships as funding or a resource mobilization strategy. However, for this to be meaningful it must be tied to specific landscape features being sustainably managed. It must also be linked to the business model of the partners, or at the very least, the bases for the partnership must be connected or linked to the natural resources under consideration in the landscape.
Finally, this diagnostic proposes a Theory of Change (TOC) for landscape restoration. In a context of competing demands on land use, and a departure from the limiting notion of ‘trade-offs’ a TOC that obliges structured learning, such as by linking it to a proven concept like ROAM is feasible and ready for testing within the MRU and across the wider west Africa.
Next Steps for restoration opportunities in the MRU
Recommended next steps for ROAM and landscape restoration in the Manor River Union and in parts of west Africa should involve Projects or like programs working with strategic partners spanning the 3 benchmark ecosystems of West Africa; Savannah, Forests and Coastal Areas.
These sub ecosystems comprise; Sudano-Sahel tree savannah; inland forests and Maritime zones, initially covering seven countries; Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The goal will be to complete ongoing tasks and mandates, by rendering interventions more methodical and coordinated, with stronger learning and scaling-up value. Th e next steps should essentially involve at least two main pillars:
1. Further deepen development and implementation comprehensive ROAM /landscape restoration prototypes for the three (3) benchmark ecosystems (x two replicates) backed by strong, coordinated capacity building and training for nationals and other participating experts.
2. Engaging with appropriate, strategic partners to conceive and apply appropriate tools, technologies (ROAM, LMF, GIS, RS and PRM) to develop a livelihoods and landscape management information system. Such a system should comprise and serve as;
• A repertoire for high-end ROAM and other map products; finished, costed restoration interventions, per hectare, for different benchmark sites; including links to the stories behind their outcomes pathways to appeal to potential investors and donors
• A near-real time, information management system , on geo-referenced land use activities, threats to biodiversity ; with capability for crowd-sourcing of information; and interacting with users.