10 years- 10 lessons we learned
from the Livelihoods-Senegal mangrove restoration program

Launched in 2009, the Livelihoods-Senegal project, supported by the Livelihoods Carbon Fund and the NGO Océanium, has mobilized more than 100,000 volunteers to replant 80 million mangroves. 10 years later, here are the lessons we learned from this large-scale project.

The Livelihoods-Senegal project in pictures

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1. The villagers have the primary role

Without the mobilization of 100,000 volunteers from 450 villages in Casamance and Siné Saloum, this project would not exist. The entire social engineering of the project consisted in raising awareness among the inhabitants of the importance of mangroves for biodiversity and climate change, but also for their daily lives. Thus, the villagers themselves have become the agents of change.

2. Improving the daily lives of residents as a driving force for restoring natural capital

Environmental degradation is often a corollary of poverty. The villagers of Casamance and Siné Saloum are themselves the first victims of the disappearance of their mangrove. They have mobilized for the benefits it represents: more fish, oysters, rice fields protected from salt water. And they are now the best guardians of the restored mangroves.

3. Anchoring in the local culture

A project is all the more likely to succeed if it resonates with local culture. The Mangrove is part of the ecosystem of the inhabitants of Casamance and Siné Saloum, their daily lives, and their imagination. Even when it disappeared, the elders remembered their fathers’ and grandfathers’ fisheries. The NGO Oceanium has been able to build on this cultural background and express its desire to revive the mangrove swamp. While fighting against preconceived ideas (in particular the belief that mangroves do not replenish themselves) and creating a dynamic of change.

4. Keeping it simple

It is easy to make things complicated, but more difficult to make them simple. The strength of the project is that it has almost “industrialized” the planting process in order to have a model that can be easily reproduced by each village: community mobilization, identification of areas to be planted, collection of propagules, transportation, planting method, etc. Very simple methods and tools developed by the NGO have enabled thousands of villagers to get involved using tools and methods that are easy to implement. This simplification combined with very well organised logistics by the NGO is a factor for the success of the project.

5. Seeing big

After successfully testing the model on a few hundred hectares, we quickly set ourselves an ambitious objective: to replant more than 8,000 hectares, almost the equivalent of the surface area of Paris. This desire to carry out a very large restoration project has been an extraordinary factor in mobilization, with each village trying to do better than its neighbour, young people, women’s groups, elders, and a whole population has been set in motion and planted by hand 80 million mangroves in 3 years 

6. Investing in the long term

The Livelihoods Carbon Funds will invest over 20 years in reforestation projects.  Funding such projects over 2-3 years makes no sense. Beyond the planting phase, support for communities, training, project monitoring, carbon measurement and other impacts require long-term support.

7. Pre-financing

To enable local organisations without significant financial resources to carry out large-scale projects, it is necessary to pre-finance projects. Livelihoods Funds do not buy carbon credits. They take the risk of investing in projects by providing the necessary financing for the various implementation phases. Subsequently, when the project has sequestered carbon, the fund receives the carbon credits corresponding to its investment.

8. Carbon finance well used can be a powerful lever

Carbon finance, which is sometimes criticised, can contribute to high-impact projects if environmental and social objectives are clearly integrated into the carbon project. Companies that have invested in Livelihoods carbon funds are strongly committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by transforming their production models. In addition, they offset emissions that they have not yet been able to reduce through projects such as Senegal’s that have an impact on climate and poverty. Carbon finance makes it possible to establish this positive link between the necessary transformation of large companies and the sustainable development of poor rural communities. 

9. Measurement and evaluation are much more than a constraint

Extremely precise project monitoring is very useful for overseeing and correcting problems if necessary.  All replanted plots identified by their GPS coordinates, tree growth or mortality rates are monitored in the Senegal project. The carbon stored in the mangrove is measured by methodologies recognized by international organizations and audited according to international carbon standard procedures.     

10. Restoring is not enough

Mangrove restoration has made it possible to rebuild the foundations of a vast ecosystem. We must go further and implement ambitious programmes to restore thousands of hectares of rice fields that have been abandoned since the mangroves disappeared, train young farmers and enable them to equip themselves. There must be investments in smoking and fish processing stations that do not destroy Casamance’s forest resources. And many other things where governments, international agencies in cooperation with the private sector could invest.

Photos: Hellio-Vaningen/ Livelihoods Funds.