Feature Story

In Benin, investing in mangroves for climate resilience

January 12, 2021

Mangroves in Benin
A FAO project funded by the GEF and its Least Developed Countries Fund will protect and restore Benin's mangroves. Photo: Joachim Huber/Flickr

The latest work programs of the Global Environment Facility and GEF-managed Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) include a series of projects designed to help countries protect and regenerate nature amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of these projects. For details on the Council proceedings, please click here.

The coastal West African country of Benin relies on fishing, farming, and forestry for its economic growth and exports. Reduced access to international markets for its agricultural products during the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to exacerbate poverty and food insecurity in the country in a lasting way – added stressors in a population already vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

To counteract this, the Global Environment Facility and Least Developed Countries Fund are jointly supporting a new project led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that will enable communities along Benin’s southern coast to restore and sustainably manage the endangered mangrove forests they inhabit by helping them to find more resilient and less environmentally damaging livelihoods.

Mangroves – coastal tree and shrub formations that are sources of food, fuel, and income for many communities – are also vital for Benin’s biodiversity. They help protect coasts from wave and wind erosion and storm damage, are home to a rich array of flora and fauna, reduce pollutant levels, act as a nutrient sink and, by trapping upland runoff sediment, safeguard near-shore reefs.

All of these benefits are at risk of being lost to a host of threats, both human and natural.

In the project area, which is home to nearly 30 percent of Benin’s population, forests, lagoons, lakes, and wetlands have shrunk drastically over the past decade, while urban areas, farmland and fallows, and coconut plantations have grown. Wind and wave erosion, worsened by climate change, are taking a toll, as are human pressures.

For instance, local people who earn income from salt production often remove soil and timber from mangrove forests. They use the latter as fuel to boil salt down to crystalline form, since the dry season is too short to rely on the drying power of the sun. Coconut oil production, livestock farming, sand quarries, and industrial activity in coastal areas are also growing issues to the environment.

Benin will work to address these changes with GEF and LDCF support through the new project aimed at improving institutional and legal frameworks, coordination, and planning related to sustainable management, with campaigns and demonstration sites set up to raise awareness of improved methods and their benefits. Critically, it will also help vulnerable communities that depend on these fragile ecosystems find alternative, biodiversity-friendly livelihoods.

Its goal is to protect and restore 120,000 hectares of Benin’s mangrove ecosystems while providing the means for 250,000 men and women in the area to survive and earn money, making them more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change and better-able to manage the delicate ecosystems in which they live over the long term.

Some 20 percent of flora species in the project area are endangered, while another 27 percent are vulnerable. Nine varieties of fish are set to be added to the IUCN Red List. Of the resident animal species of global importance, three are vulnerable (the African manatee, the olive ridley and leatherback turtles), two endangered (the green turtle, the Ukami reed frog), and two critically so (the slender-snouted crocodile and the hawksbill turtle).

Like the ecosystems they inhabit, communities along Benin’s coasts are at risk from the effects of climate change, such as climbing sea levels and increasing incidents of extreme weather that can damage both agriculture and forestry. Ultimately, the GEF- and LDCF-supported FAO project will seek to improve the food security and well-being of at-risk communities so they are able to withstand climate and other crises to come while managing the ecosystems around them more sustainably.