Our latest Darwin blog series aims to bring awareness to the multitude of uses and resources that plants provide. Plants play an important part in everyone’s lives by providing oxygen, medicines and nutrients. This series will feature projects working to conserve plant biodiversity and aims to raise awareness of the importance of plants by combatting plant blindness.
This first blog shares the story of a small community on the island of Anjouan, Comoros, and how they are securing their future and livelihoods through the domestication of native tree species.
Trees in the mist: domesticating local forest trees to restore the Comoros archipelago
Forming a part of the Madagascar and Indian Ocean biodiversity hotspot is the island of Anjouan. In recent decades Anjouan has lost 80% of its forest cover, resulting in severe soil erosion, habitat degradation and loss of water resources, making life even more difficult for local farming communities. This Bangor University-led project 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. During the workshop maps of land cover changes were created and discussions focused on the linkages between the loss of forest trees and land degradation, drawing on the attendees’ 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, as their knowledge of the local trees may be able to provide a solution. They explained that certain species of native trees are known for their ability to retain water around their roots like the Mvuvu (Ficus or fig) trees and Mkora dzia (Rheedia anjouanesis). 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. 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.
The project has built local capacity for the domestication of native and endemic tree species with support from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Between 2018 and 2019, over 3,800 native wildlings and seedlings from five species including two endemic tree species were planted in the uplands. The project has plans to produce an agroforestry manual as well as tools for tree selection and management, which integrates both scientific and local knowledge.
“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.” Over the next two years, the project aims to promote the planting and protection of ecologically important native tree in five additional micro-catchments. Concurrent work will drive the protection of key areas of forest important for biodiversity conservation.
For more information on project 24-009 led by Bangor University in the Comoros archipelago please click here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the May 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.