Issiaka NGuessan | October 26, 2023
Alphonse Akadié watches over the first mangrove seedlings he planted a few days ago, as storms and strong waves could damage them. His co-operative, Scoop-Hozalem, organizes the local communities of Lahou Pkanda, Côte d'Ivoire, to plant mangroves in order to restore the coastal ecosystem, which is deteriorating due to climate change, deforestation, and poor farming practices. He says, "If we don't get organized to restore the mangrove forests, the waters are going to swallow us up one day.” Through its efforts to raise public awareness and lobby local authorities, the co-op has obtained a ban on mangrove cutting in the 30 villages and camps attached to Lahou Kpanda. Focus groups happen at formal meetings or after fieldwork to raise awareness. The co-operative also organizes visits to villages that have already adopted good practices.
On an early morning in September, the dark sky signals imminent rain in Lahou Pkanda, a commune in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire. Lahou Pkanda is on a peninsula along the Gulf of Guinea, about 20 kilometres from Grand-Lahou in the Lagunes region. Dressed in an orange knit sweater and faded jeans, Alphonse Akadié watches over the first mangrove seedlings he planted a few days ago, as storms and strong waves could damage them.
Mr. Akadié has been president of the Scoop-Hozalem co-operative since 2000. Scoop-Hozalem organizes the local communities of Lahou Pkanda to plant mangroves in order to restore the coastal ecosystem, which is deteriorating due to climate change, deforestation, and poor farming practices.
Mr. Akadié says that he initially opposed the idea of restoring mangroves because, like others in the community, he did not understand their importance. However, today, he and others are becoming more aware and are now planting mangroves. He adds, “If we don’t get organized to restore the mangrove forests, the waters are going to swallow us one day.”
Mr. Akadié says that his initiative began with a simple observation. For several years, coastal erosion has been threatening the villages of Lahou Kpanda. Ocean waters have been rising and fish supplies becoming scarce due to the destruction of the mangroves. So he started the co-operative to raise people’s awareness of the importance of planting and preserving mangroves. Mr. Akadié says, “Today, they know that mangroves have a link with fish reproduction, for example, so we decided to monitor the body of water and strengthen the mangroves.”
Through its efforts to raise public awareness and lobby local authorities, the co-op has obtained a ban on mangrove cutting in the 30 villages and camps attached to Lahou Kpanda, in order to preserve the ecosystem. Focus groups happen at formal meetings or after field work to raise awareness. The co-operative also organizes visits to villages that have already adopted good practices. Mr. Akadié believes that minds have increasingly begun to change, thanks to the involvement of community leaders. He explains, “We made the people understand the link between mangroves and fish production, and persuaded them to plant and protect mangroves.”
The Scoop-Hozalem campaign has convinced fishers, who are helping to raise awareness of the need to save the mangroves in Lahou Kpanda. Michel Segui is president of the Walè co-operative society of artisan fishers. Walè means “Together, we will overcome the difficulties” in the Avikam language. Today, the co-operative has 75 members who are raising community awareness of the need to preserve mangroves. Mr. Segui explains, “If someone is found with mangrove wood, he pays a fine of 100,000 FCFA [about $160 US] and his [boat] is confiscated.”
Community members have observed a resurgence of fish populations in the villages of Brafèdon, Groguida, and Likpilassié, which benefited from mangrove planting. These changes have persuaded villagers.
Serges Sougohi is president of the NGO Green Africa, which is also raising awareness of the importance of mangroves. Mr. Sougohi says that human factors play a role in the destruction of mangroves, with serious consequences for humans and the ecosystem. He adds, “The destruction of mangrove forests for firewood, for smoking fish, and for agriculture exposes water reservoirs to increased pressure.” To combat the degradation of the coastal ecosystem, the commune has signed an order banning the cutting of mangroves. But Mr. Sougohi believes that, despite this decree, individuals continue to destroy mangroves. Continued cutting has resulted in the loss of more than 500 hectares of mangroves in the area.Despite these difficulties, Mr. Akadié says local initiatives to protect and restore the mangrove have achieved positive results. Scoop-Hozalem has restored 12 of the 15 hectares envisaged in its program. He concludes, “If we don’t want to vanish, we have to restore the ecosystem.”