In Mozambique, a joint fight against climate change and forest loss

From a distance, the Gile National Reserve in northern Mozambique is a vast, dense ocean of green that reaches as far as the horizon.

Bigger than Luxembourg, the 2 800-square-kilometre forest seems to be reassuringly preserved, its hardwood treasure placed by Mozambique under legal protection.

Close up though, the forest bears deep scars from bouts of rampant logging and relentless population growth — a testimony to the real-life challenge of how to shield this jewel.

Logs line the path leading into the reserve, while further along, trucks piled high with wood shavings, seized by the authorities, stand idle, rusting in the weeds.

“Illegal logging was a huge problem between 2014 and 2016,” said reserve manager Jose Mohamede Dias.

“The other challenge is the bushfires used in hunting and agriculture which feed local people.”

Such blazes are the main reason for the forest’s shrinkage in recent years, he explained.

Local people burn down swathes of forest to open up arable land. Once the fields become exhausted, the farmers burn down more trees, and so on.

The reserve’s population, currently more than 10 000, has shot up in recent years, putting immense pressure on the ecosystem.

Some seven million hectares of tropical forests go up in smoke every year worldwide, according to a UN estimate.

Decompose and fertilise

In a bid to stop the ravaging of the forest, French environmental group Nitidae is offering practical, low-tech help to small farmers on how to use the land more sustainably.

One beneficiary is Alexandre Soares, who enrolled a year ago in a training scheme on how to cope with drought and retain soil fertility.

“They explained that I should leave certain trees in place to balance the ecosystem. Their leaves decompose and fertilise the soil for the next season,” he said, wearing a white hat as he tended his plot under the baking sun.

Nitidae specialist Dinis Augusto looked at Soares’ mix of crops, which include corn, cassava and beans.

“Mixing these plants allows us to guarantee the viability of the soil so the farmers can spend more time on the plot and won’t need to find new land,” he said.

The advice from the pilot project has slowly spread through surrounding communities and improved crop yields — a powerful inducement for others to follow the tips.

Better charcoal ovens

As well as logging and man-made bushfires, the reserve has also been targeted for the manufacture of charcoal — the main heat source in many homes in the region.

Luis Aghostino set up a basic charcoal oven, digging at the ground barefoot and wearing blue overalls beside several tightly stacked logs, covered in straw and earth.

With simple modifications like improved ventilation, the oven is capable of making more charcoal of higher quality and requiring less wood.

“It doesn’t cost any more, the materials are exactly the same and it doesn’t take any more time,” said Nitidae’s Alexandre Tregoures.

“With this amount of wood, we can produce seven bags of charcoal whereas we were only able to produce two or three before,” added Aghostino.

READ MORE: Mozambique will be stripped of its forests ‘in just a few years’

Between 10 and 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come through deforestation, which releases carbon, locked in the soil for millennia, into the atmosphere.

Forests, on the other hand, are carbon “sinks” — in growing, they take carbon dioxide out of the air and sequestrate it.

The Gile reserve is hoping to cash in on its conservation efforts by offering carbon credits under a UN-supported programme called REDD+, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, which seeks to tackle forest loss and combat global warming at the same time.

The local scheme is financed by the French Fund for the World Environment (FFEM) in collaboration with the Mozambican government.

Satellite imaging and forest inventories mean it is possible to monitor the rate at which the forest is shrinking.

“Between 2010 and 2016, we witnessed a decrease in deforestation in the reserve’s buffer zone — greenhouse gas emissions were avoided,” said Nitidae’s country manager, Jean-Baptiste Roelens.

The scheme has reduced carbon emissions by 300 000 tonnes over five years, with each tonne saved credited at a rate of between $5 and $8 a tonne on the international market for carbon dioxide (CO2).

The credits will net the reserve between $2 million and $3 million — the windfall will be reinvested locally, “to finance sustainable development and support environmental projects,” said Roelens.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Mozambique needs an intervention – but SADC must not rush in blindly

Military intervention in Cabo Delgado must be aimed at protecting people first

The SADC will regret its approach to Mozambique’s insurgence

The SADC has been lackadaisical in its response to the insurgency in Mozambique and in so doing, is putting several other southern African countries at risk

The pandemic has shifted patterns of conflict in Africa

Although the overall rate of conflict has remained steady in Africa during the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, the nature of this is changing in subtle but significant ways

Sex workers abandoned as Covid-19 crackdowns undo Africa’s HIV efforts

Controlling Covid-19 may worsen Africa’s HIV epidemic by stopping state and civil society health services built up over 35 years

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

Making sense of Mozambique’s brutal insurgency

The violence in Cabo Delgado province by al-Shabaab (the youth) can be linked to jihadist influence, the continued marginalisation of Muslim people, and the lure of income from trafficking natural resources

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

Tito needs the IMF, South Africa doesn’t

The IMF loan is given with false motivation — to provide political cover for entrenched neoliberalism and deep cuts in the public service

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday