Mine action operators could help to address the climate and biodiversity crises as part of releasing land back to local communities.
Africa’s Great Green Wall initiative began in 2007 and aims to restore degraded land across Africa’s Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It seeks to tackle the impacts of climate change, build local resilience and improve the lives of millions of people affected by persistent droughts, food shortages and resource degradation. In this blog, Linsey Cottrell considers how nature-based solutions like this could provide opportunities and help inspire climate and biodiversity sensitive land release policies following the clearance of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.
The Great Green Wall – regional re-greening
More than 20 African countries are already partners in the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative, which was launched by the African Union. Many of these countries are also dealing with the legacy of contamination by anti-personnel mines and other explosive remnants of war, and have on-going clearance programmes. International mine action organisations operate in several GGW partner countries, including Chad (FSD, HI and MAG), Ethiopia (ICRC), Libya (DCA, DDG, GCS, the HALO Trust and HI), Nigeria (DDG and MAG) and Somalia (the HALO Trust and NPA). And in many of these countries, the presence of contamination, and the constraints this places on livelihoods and development, increases the vulnerability of communities to environmental change.
The GGW is a nature-based solution – re-greening at the landscape level to enhance climate resilience and for biodiversity recovery. Working with local communities is central to delivering the GGW across the Sahel region, with biodiversity, the selection of native plants and restoration of farming and pastoral landscapes at the heart of the initiative. The targets are ambitious, with the aim to restore 100m hectares of land by 2030, and to secure around 10m ‘green’ jobs. Progress is being made but challenges and hurdles remain.
Progress to date
So far, more than $8bn in funding has been pledged but as the UN reported in September 2019, although projects have been initiated, opportunities are being missed ‘to exploit synergies that could scale up and speed up that progress, simply because we are not yet coordinating our efforts effectively enough to maximize the return on any financial and political investment.’
There is a need to strengthen collaboration and partnerships. Could mine action programmes be an extra route to achieve this for the GGW and other similar initiatives? There are already strong synergies between the GGW initiative and mine action programmes, with both working to empower local communities and help improve and secure sustainable livelihoods.
Guidance and an International Mine Action Standard (IMAS 07.13) has been developed for environmental management of mine action field activities. But there also needs to be greater focus on post-clearance land use, with the long-term benefits for the local community aligning closely with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This means taking steps to ensure that following clearance and land release, any changes in land use and economic development are sustainable, and, where possible:
- Increase the ecological value of released land;
- support sustainable land management;
- provide climate gains through nature-based solutions; and
- support sustainable livelihoods.
The Sahel region is not only extremely vulnerable to climate change, it is also affected by chronic insecurity, with non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabab active in the region. Instability hampers and present risks to the GGW initiative. But in the long-term, the GGW could contribute to reducing insecurity by helping to build sustainable livelihoods that reduce disputes and inequalities.
In spite of the challenges, re-greening initiatives have made an impact. Senegal was the first country to begin work on the initiative and progress has been good. Around 12m drought resistant trees have been planted, benefiting the fertility of 25,000 hectares of land. In Ethiopia, 15m hectares of degraded land is reported to have been restored and, in Nigeria, around 5m hectares of degraded land has been restored, creating 20,000 green jobs.
Importantly, lessons have been learned as time has gone on. The simplistic early idea of tree planting has evolved into a far more complex mosaic of re-greening policies, informed by traditional techniques and the needs of local communities.
The GGW project has not been without its critics, and many criticisms have been valid. The wrong trees in the wrong places, monocultures instead of diversity and settings where interventions have contributed to further degradation. Nevertheless, regreening projects have moved on considerably and there is an increasing body of knowledge on how to ensure that they are both ecologically sensitive, and avoid contributing to the problem they seek to address.
Routes to re-greening
The estimates of areas confirmed or suspected as being contaminated by anti-personnel mines may be relatively small in comparison to the ambitions of these regional re-greening initiatives. Somalia, for example, has around 7,220 hectares contaminated with anti-personnel mines, although this is a government estimate and the actual area may be much lower. The introduction of re-greening initiatives in cleared areas could however be a catalyst for their wider adoption beyond them.
While the geographic focus of the GGW does not fully mirror areas contaminated by anti-personnel mines, collaboration, building links and learning lessons from such initiatives is important. Mine action operators and national mine action authorities could play a key role, even though it falls outside their core activities and expertise. Many of the tools are already in place, such as community engagement through mine risk education programmes, prioritisation planning and preparatory baseline surveys. Partnerships with organisations and local groups experienced in participatory natural resource management is critical. The mine action community could be an important bridge for linking communities to the right organisations, integrating mine action response with re-greening and wider development initiatives.
Other regional initiatives include Regreening Africa, which is a programme across eight countries (including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Somalia), funded by the European Union and managed by World Agroforestry. This also aims to improve livelihoods, food security and resilience to climate change through the restoration of degraded ecosystems. The Grand African Savannah Green Up will also contribute to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). This is a country-led effort to complement the GGW initiative, scaling up adoption of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) and other re-greening practices.
In FMNR, farmers protect and manage the growth of trees and shrubs that regenerate naturally in their fields. FMNR relies on trees and shrubs sprouting from tree stumps, root stock and seeds already present or dispersed through animal manure. Planting or natural regeneration of trees on other degraded or deforested land can restore to natural forests, enrich biodiversity and provide a carbon sink. FMNR is easy and low-cost, and has advantages over tree planting schemes, which often have higher failure rates.
The GGW’s ambition for landscape level re-greening is unusual. However, integrating climate and biodiversity sensitive nature-based solutions into land release should not just be restricted to mine action programmes in Africa. The practice could provide opportunities for aligning clearance activities more closely with the SDGs globally.
As a first step, there is a need to map other re-greening initiatives, programmes to enhance biodiversity or increase carbon sinks and to reference these against regions with ongoing mine clearance programmes. From this, partnerships between mine action operators, national authorities and re-greening stakeholders could be developed, with donors made aware of the importance of incorporating the principles of sustainable development into post-clearance land use.
Another priority is to create a baseline of data on what has happened to land previously released back to communities. Documenting this would help us understand land use pressures in different countries and so help identify different opportunities for a range of nature-based solutions.
The climate and biodiversity crises affect every country on Earth and no sector should be exempt from reviewing the actions it can take to mitigate them. Adjusting land release policies would allow the mine action sector to contribute to this objective, while reducing the vulnerability of the communities that it serves.
Linsey Cottrell is CEOBS’ Environmental Policy Officer. Thanks to Dr Sarah Njeri, Research Associate at King’s College London for her inputs.