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Finding solutions in Nature to meet global challenges  

Semi-opencast coal mining using heavy machineries at Borjan, Mon District, Nagaland. PHOTO:

By restoring degraded ecosystems and sustainably managing landscapes utilizing Nature-based solutions, the pathway to sustainability can be achieved meaningfully.

By Salam Rajesh

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) describes Nature-based solutions as ‘interventions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges, such as climate change, food security, land degradation, and biodiversity loss’. The catch is that nature-based solutions can help restore ecosystems, feed humanity, sustain livelihoods, provide energy, and safeguard the future of planet Earth.

The focus is that by restoring degraded ecosystems and sustainably managing landscapes utilizing Nature-based solutions, the pathway to sustainability can be achieved meaningfully. IUCN pioneers in the area of nature-based solutions to achieve healthy ecosystems for food, water, fuel and protection. This in its totality seeks to face the planetary emergency from the loss of biodiversity, ecosystem degradation, and climate change escalation amongst many ills currently.

A recent IUCN report details few instances of nature-based solutions in achieving goals set for 2030. Citing a good case study, in Rwanda the Government there along with IUCN supported thousands of farmers across the country with seedlings and technical knowhow, helping them to restore more than 700,000 hectares of degraded land since 2011 and in the process sequestering an estimated 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and supporting 22,325 jobs for the locals.

Many farmers had integrated fruiting trees among the crops on their farmland, conserving the stability and fertility of the soil. So, in addition to growing food, the local farmers sustainably grow enough extra firewood to earn additional income to renovate their houses and send their children to school with some ease.

Citing another case study, in Vietnam, IUCN and Dutch NGO SNV turned to nature as a solution to halt the decline of mangroves and help shrimp farmers improve their situation. The Mangroves and Markets project was launched in Cà Mau and through this project more than 5,000 farmers were trained in sustainable production methods and committed to conserving at least 50% mangrove cover on their land. Many obtained organic certification under the Naturland or EU Organic label and have seen both their yields and their income grow by 10% or more.

IUCN reported that through this initiative about 15,000 hectares of mangrove forest are being sustainably managed, providing habitat to dozens of species and protecting local communities from flooding and other natural hazards.

A third case study showcases how farmers  in Mozambique, hit hard by climate change, adopted conservation agriculture practices to increase their food security. Mozambique, the report says, is among the world’s most exposed countries to risks from climate change-related hazards such as cyclic floods, cyclones and droughts, and its coastal regions are particularly vulnerable.

The IUCN in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy in Maputo and the Mozambique Government teamed up to train women in sustainable agriculture practices such as implementing natural pest control, using mulch to prevent water from evaporating, and promoting soil biodiversity to increase yields in a bid to help local Inhassoro community cope and be more resilient to impacts of climate change. This, IUCN says, has bolstered local food security during periods of inadequate rainfall and improved the health of the landscape.

The fourth case study cited is rather interesting and innovative in the form of a popular local radio program on forest landscape restoration and its potential to transform farms into highly productive and healthy landscapes. IUCN reached out to remote farming communities in the Machinga and Mangochi districts of Malawi for the project.

The study says that two thirds of the listeners were women who directly gained knowledge and tools to sustainably manage their land. Coordinating with local agricultural agencies, a group of local experts were trained to facilitate discussions among community members on the best interventions for productive and biologically healthier landscapes, ranging from irrigation systems and building seed nurseries to rainwater harvesting and use of efficient cook-stoves.

In the follow-up to the project, a sample survey was carried out where it was revealed that two thirds of the listeners had planted trees on their land, and half of them had greatly reduced their families’ wood fuel consumption. The impact was meaningful, says IUCN.

The fifth case study goes back to Nepal where the humble broom grass paved the path to safer roads. The study reflected that in Nepal, haphazardly built rural roads had destabilized numerous mountain slopes, causing severe erosion. As rainfall in the country intensified due to climate change, landslides became more frequent, leading to loss of lives and the destruction of property and agricultural land. Even if the roads survived the monsoon onslaught, most of these required costly and labour-intense clearing efforts, slowing down the movement of people and goods.

The study says that a simple nature-based solution with planting grasses and plants such as broom grass or bamboo on the slopes had helped stabilize the terrain, securing the roads and reducing the risk posed by landslides.

The study revealed that in Tilahar village alone the initiative helped reduce the average soil losses from 30m3 in 2014 to less than 2m3 in 2016, and the grass used in this feat of green engineering also helped generate income for the local villagers by creating an extra supply for the local broom makers.

A sixth case study involves reviving rangelands through traditional practices. For more than 1,400 years, communities in the Middle East and North Africa would manage common pastureland jointly and sustainably under the Hima system, an Arabic word meaning ‘protection’. In the 20th century, as many countries installed top-down agricultural policies, the Hima system gradually disappeared. Soon, overgrazing became common, water and grass vanished as desertification spread, and herders were forced to give up their traditional way of life.

Beginning 2012, the IUCN in collaboration with the European Union and the Jordanian Government started working with the remaining herders of Bani Hashem in Jordan to bring the ancient Hima system back. The community formed an association and decided that livestock would only be grazed in autumn, while in spring medicinal herbs could be harvested from the rangelands. Under the Hima system, the once-degraded drylands in Bani Hashem sprang back to life.

The results of the return to this traditional practice has been encouraging, the IUCN says, wherein just two years after initiating the project, the rangeland showed clear signs of regeneration and wildlife returned to the landscape. The herders now needed to buy less fodder externally, allowing them to save money.

These illustrative case studies are few ground-rooted examples where degraded ecosystems can be harnessed back to life with minimum intervention through innovative nature-based solutions that do not require much effort or financial involvement.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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