Realising the potential of plants as nature-based solutions in African biodiversity hotspots: Supporting climate resilient, sustainable development (Kew TIPAs project)
High biodiversity developing countries face numerous competing pressures surrounding poverty and food insecurity. Conservation can support sustainable development while improving lives and livelihoods. Kew’s research and conservation activities in Ethiopia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone focus on identifying and evidencing the value of high plant biodiversity landscapes to communities and their governments. This project supported capacity building on Red List conservation assessments, herbarium skills, and conservation research through a 2-month internship programme at Kew for 11 early-career scientists and a 1-week Ethiopian Red List training workshop for 16 participants.
Community outreach programmes, such as the Guinean Schools programme that reached 100 children from 10 schools and the Guinean Community Awareness training programme that involved over 500 villagers, raised awareness of the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The establishment of 5 plant nurseries involved 88 members of 4 local communities adjacent to two newly established Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAS) sites in Guinea, helping to incentivise locals to manage and maintain reforestation projects adjacent to the TIPAs sites. The unifying purpose of these activities was to build in-country capacity to lead future plant conservation strategy, planning, and practice particularly in the context of Kew’s TIPAs programme and the new Global Biodiversity Framework targets.
The capacity building activities focused on training mainly women and girls (17 out of 27) on a wide range of skills that are expected to have a positive impact on their careers. Following completion of the first project phase, newly trained assessors in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone will lead the assessment of parts of the remaining unassessed endemic species in the current project phase. . There has been a high level of engagement with the installation of nurseries and seed collection for forest trees. School teachers and students also benefited from the awareness training. Posters of threatened tree species have been produced and translated into local languages.
There are plans to establish school clubs with gardens to increase awareness of threatened trees and improve the surrounding environments. Lastly, one of the nurseries has grown c. 2,500 saplings of threatened and useful plant species for community livelihoods and reforestation in the buffer zones of two TIPAs sites. Communities have formed and signed a one-year agreements with the forestry service to produce and maintain the nurseries which are expected to produce a minimum of 1,000 plants for use in assisted regeneration of the forest in these areas with long-term benefits to the local communities.
Generally, the lack of continued funding and adequate resources makes it difficult to provide the long-term support and partnership for true capacity building activities. However, the project benefited from Kew’s >30-year track record in countries such as Ethiopia and the strong, trusted relationships developed over that time. There were also issues related to securing visas for early career developing country researchers. During the awareness training in Guinea the main challenge encountered was access to the villages during the rainy season and the low level of education. This was overcome by significantly modifying the material to be more accessible. For the nurseries, the main challenges arose from aquiring enough seed of threatened species and propagating them successfully since few of these species have been propagated before. To overcome this, data is being collected on the techniques used for future propagation protocols.
Lessons learnt and next steps
Key to successful implementation is long-term partnership with host countries beyond the activity of a single grant. Attendance of the training workshop followed by participation in the internship programme was a very successful combination that allowed project interns to refine their skills and start contributing to project assessment outputs and deliverables with almost immediate effect.
Awareness training in both communities and schools can easily be replicated and will be continued at communities in the TIPAs sites of Mt Béro and Diécké. The use of visual materials, translation into local languages, and participatory approaches are essential for good understanding by the communities. The approach followed to establish the nurseries is a simple and effective intervention but necessitates community involvement. Continued awareness training on the importance and benefits of biodiversity and the wider environment is necessary to ensure successful implementation.