Trees in the mist: domesticating local forest trees to restore the Comoros archipelago


Originally published by the Darwin Institute 

Endangered Livingstone bats roosting on ‘Mwaha’ (Nuxia pseudodentatata), Photo: Dahari

Forming a part of the Madagascar and Indian Ocean biodiversity hotspot is the island of Anjouan. Anjouan has experienced one of the most alarming deforestation rates in the world, having lost 80% of its forest cover in recent decades. This has caused severe soil erosion, habitat degradation and loss of water resources, making life even more difficult for local farming communities. This Bangor University-led project working in collaboration with scientific, development and government institutions is using a transdisciplinary approach to restore landscapes and enhance livelihood resilience around the Moya forest in the south of Anjouan.

“Our trees like Mpori (Khaya comorensis) and Mkindri kindri (Weinmania comorensis), with their large and dense crowns, are the ones that help trap the clouds in the mountains and bring the rain”, explains Nabouhane Abdallah, a farmer in his early 70s and President of the water committee in Adda, a village in the uplands of the Moya forest.

The occasion was a series of participatory workshops that brought together groups of women and men from the Anteniju catchment. As they drew maps of land cover changes over the last 20 years, they discussed the linkages between the loss of forest trees and land degradation, drawing on their sophisticated knowledge of their local environment. They spoke of what they once knew as permanent rivers, which have now been reduced to ephemeral streams. They spoke of their problems with water scarcity.

But they are neither hopeless nor despairing. For them there are solutions, starting with a list of native trees that their own experience tells them can help bring the rains or retain water in the soil. In the dry season, they explain that if you dig around Mvuvu (Ficus, or fig) trees or around Mkora dzia (Rheedia anjouanensis), you can always find water around their roots. For Misbahou Mohamed, Technical Director of the Comorian NGO Dahari and implementing project partner, protecting native trees and promoting sustainable land-use planning around spring and headwaters is the key to restoring degraded ecosystems.

ICRAF domestication specialist demonstrating vegetative propogation for forest species. Photo: Dahari

Some of the species are endemic to the island, and each provides important services or products. Mwaha (Nuxia pseudodentatata) and Ficus esperata, for example are roosting sites for the endangered Livingstone bats. Other tree species provide fodder, timber or medicine.

With the support of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the project has helped build local capacity for the domestication of native and endemic species and for the improvement of tree management.

During the project’s 2018-2019 reforestation campaign, over 3,800 native trees from five species including two endemic tree species, were planted in the uplands, either as wildlings or seedlings.

In the coming months, an agroforestry manual as well as tools for tree selection and management integrating local and scientific knowledge, will be launched as part of a series of training workshops.

“We still have large knowledge gaps about trees and their ecological functions at the landscape scale in the Comoros,” says Dr Emilie Smith Dumont, the project research coordinator from Bangor University. For this reason, she adds, “it is very important that scientists, technicians and farmers work closely together to co-design and monitor options that are most locally relevant.”

The project team has already developed a new approach to participatory watershed management to promote social learning and collective action around restoration and agroecological intensification. In the next two years of the project, the aim is to scale out this approach to five other micro-catchments, to promote the planting and protection of native tree species with ecological and livelihood benefits. Concurrent work will drive the protection of key areas of forest important for biodiversity conservation.

For more information on project 24-009 click here.



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