Collective stewardship: reconnecting sustainability values to restoring coastal landscapes

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Compelling evidence reveal that the interaction between humanity and coastscapes is increasingly fragile, unhealthy, and far from sustainable. The overdose of carbons in the atmosphere is powerfully dictating land use choices and how land properties (re)connect to human life. Human diets are inversely shifting in relation to the carbon impacts. Meat is substituted with insects. Most ecological jobs are less green, and are more in deficits for the teeming youth. There is plenty of water in rivers, dams and streams but you cannot drink because it is either polluted or seeped to beneath bedrocks hidden from many people. Coastal resources are particularly being mined, fetched or recycled for tangible reasons such as housing, food, energy and pleasures. In this write up, I succinctly recount two initiatives from coastal savannas to highlight the relevance of collective stewardship, and what it can do to transform landscapes into prosperity for all. The first initiative concerns mangroves. The mangrove trees were previously cut for firewood, livelihood or cash purposes without planned replanting. Nowadays, changing landscapes motivated the integration of sustainability values, thus acknowledging the need to balance economic, social and environmental ethics into everyday consumption of the mangrove ecosystem resources. One such recognition happened during a bright morning when 15 mangrove growers overwhelmingly decided to restore their landscapes. Their noble decision led to the protection and increase of mangrove trees from 12,200 to as high as 2.4 million, thus 0.16 million trees per an individual in less than 720 days. With this, almost 90% of the solution came from within the community, which entailed harnessing human values and fair recognition of socio-cultural norms, skills and interests of the people living nearer to the mangroves. Recognising the values helped to facilitate human cooperation. At the centre of the cooperation is trust, which strengthens relationships among the people. In areas where land is genuinely limited, trust helps to defeat gender inequality by offering women a chance to negotiate for shares in the mangrove assets for the first time. Gender breakthrough has emerged because trust aids bonding of the people to appreciate the rationale that goes with collective management of land resources. Indeed, the existing goodwill, belongingness and practical leadership served as enormous ingredients in turning the mangrove landscapes into productive assets. The second initiative relates to oysters. Globally, scientists are discovering evidences from Maryland in the US through the New Zealand to the west coast of Africa to demonstrate that oysters and their ecosystems are not sustainable. The oyster ecosystems are severely threatened by climate change. There are fears that oysters are going extinct. Through our own field engagements at the grassroots, we have heard and seen similar proofs that oysters are rapidly declining. The oysters have completely disappeared from some coastal communities and, in other locations, migrated from shallow waters to deeper hydrospheres. Meanwhile, processing 0.82 tonnes of fresh oysters and 2.10 tonnes of oyster shells requires a processer to burn 120kg of charcoal to obtain 1,134.8kwh of energy. A typical processer earns a net profit of US$ 0.64 per day instead of generating US$ 5.2 a day. High consumption of charcoal encourages wood-cutting. This allows deforestation and degraded biomes to set in. And, in the process, deforestation kills soil microbes, forces birds to migrate, and speeds undesirable rise of the atmospheric temperature towards the 20C. Can the people at the grassroots restore oyster ecosystems alone? Your guess is as good as others. Adequate incentives in the form of capital and enabling policy are essential for empowering people to keep coastal landscapes in sustainable conditions. As a result, we together with some partners, for example, are piloting a project called the Green Oyster Initiative through the Switch-Africa Green Programme to conserve and restore oyster ecosystems in the estuary of the Volta River – a basin responsible for nourishing approximately 120 million people in West Africa. Initially, our imaginations clearly tell us it was not possible. Soon after, we confidently moved our idea from a prototyping table into a practical action. Since then the preliminary outcomes have been incredibly impressive, considering what our meagre finances could afford and impact. We witnessed big solutions from a small budget. We learned that one oyster producer could potentially restore 12 million oysters within 5 years. With a total of 1,500 producers, they could co-restore 22.5 billion oysters. This translates into substantial benefits beyond organically enriching the oyster ecosystems. The restoration would improve incomes and add 30% decent jobs to expand green economic growth locally. Hundreds of children would be gradually pedaled out of hazardous labour and poverty. Investment capital amounting to over US$28 million could be attracted by 2035 as against US$5,000.00 presently. The repaired ecosystem also provides huge soft solutions such as generational hopes and heritage treasures, which must not be undervalued. Achieving all these results favour the 2030 Agenda. Moreover, oysters are zero-emitters of carbons. Thus, they are vital for realising the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. So, in the end, the restoration does not just benefit oysters but also the people, climate and water systems. These benefits and more necessitate the notion to reconnect sustainability values to the ways people use and manage coastal resources. Human values often resonate from how people behave or interact among themselves and their environments. Conversely, sustainability values are bigger than human values in terms of conceptual and behavioural scope and signify how markets, environments and humans interact to build a sustainable society in which landscapes are flourishing and furnishing sufficient needs. The meaning of reconnecting sustainability values to landscapes is simply encapsulated in this: adopt ecologically sound approaches to maximise profit, sustain the source of the profit, and let people equitably benefit from the profit. In all, individual efforts must be encouraged in safeguarding the landscapes. However, with a growing demand to wisely utilise coastal resources to expand development opportunities to overcome urbanisation and carbon threats, I emphasise that collective stewardship from everyone is increasingly important in matters of landscape restoration.

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