NAIROBI (Landscape News) — Traveling between remote islands by dugout canoe, and trudging through muddy mangrove forests in 40-degree Celsius heat coaching fisherfolk on monitoring techniques is all in a day’s work for Malagasy marine conservationist Lalao Aigrette.
Aigrette is passionate about finding ways to keep these valuable “blue forests” standing, and she has been named an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “natural-born hero” for her contributions. She works for marine conservation non-governmental organization (NGO) Blue Ventures, where she oversees the development of Tahiry Honko, the first Plan Vivo carbon initiative in the country, and the second mangrove carbon project in the world.
Aigrette shared her views with Landscape News in the lead-up to the Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi later this month, to find out more about her ground-breaking community-based restoration work, and her hopes for the forum.
Q: What are you focusing on in your work at the moment?
A: We are working on a range of different things, because there are mangroves across the whole western coast of Madagascar, and their use varies between regions. In the north, people exploit mangroves very intensively, and the rate of mangrove deforestation is extremely high compared to in the south. The main problem is the production of charcoal, for cooking fuel. People also export mangrove wood for building materials.
Also, some people are using the wood to burn shells to produce lime to build houses. But now they are starting to build house from stone, rather than lime, because we have extensively consulted with communities about the importance of mangroves… and also because the stone houses look really nice, and other people want to copy it!
In the south, we are developing a mangrove carbon project, which will provide long-term sustainable financing through the sale of carbon credits from mangrove conservation to the global carbon market. The money will be used to incentivize local communities to protect the mangroves. Activities for the project include delineating strict conservation zones, limiting the amount of timber that they can extract from other zones and monitoring and enforcing regulations on mangrove use designed by the communities themselves.
There is also restoration work to do on the degraded mangrove forests. We are not paying these local communities to restore mangroves, but we do provide a big meal after the replanting events. However, the idea is that when they receive money from the sale of carbon credits, some of it will be used to support and to finance mangrove restoration.
Q: What are some of the challenges you encounter in this work?
A: In Madagascar, the challenges are mainly funding. Most of the reforestation is done by NGOs: the local, regional and national governments are not doing a lot to support the restoration efforts. Our national goal is to restore 4 million hectares of degraded landscape by 2030, and we will not be able to reach that without greater financial support. We can do more, and we can do better, if there are funds available to support that effort.
Q: What’s important about forums like the GLF for reforestation?
A: I think it’s a really, really good opportunity for us to share, and to gain experience from different countries about their approaches to restoring degraded areas – not just mangroves, but also different types of forest, because they are linked. It’s also great opportunity for us to create networks, and to share challenges and solutions in our work.
Q: What’s your take-home message for readers about restoration?
A: I would like to highlight the importance of local communities in restoration efforts. I think that if we plan, if we mobilize local communities, and if they understand the importance of the restoration, I’m 100 percent sure that they will make a big effort to restore it. I think that their involvement is the key for successful restoration.
To hear more from Lalao Aigrette and other mangrove experts from across the African continent, tune in to the African Blue Carbon Forum at the Global Landscapes Forum at 9:00 a.m. Nairobi time (GMT+3) on Wed. Aug. 29.