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Global conference to accelerate nature-based solutions: Q&A with Self Help Africa’s Patricia Wall

Agroforestry practices in action in Zambia.

Agroforestry practices in action in Zambia. Image by Matthew Boucher for Makhulu Media/GIZ via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

  • This week, more than 150 conservation and community organizations, experts and policymakers are gathering in Zambia for the Accelerating Nature-based Solutions conference.
  • Discussions will dive deep into critical issues and concerns regarding nature-based solutions and the roles of agroforestry, farmer-managed natural regeneration and wildlife conservation in NbS.
  • The conference will also address the issue of carbon offsetting and greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to safeguard the rights of local communities or Indigenous communities when implementing nature-based solutions.

This week, more than 150 conservation and community organizations, experts and policymakers are gathering in Zambia for the Accelerating Nature-based Solutions conference. Billed as the largest land restoration programming conference in the world, it is hosted by the Global EverGreening Alliance, the government of Zambia, and partners, and is taking place from March 11-15.

Mongabay corresponded via email with Patricia Wall, program operations lead with Self Help Africa and a member of the Global EverGreening Alliance’s strategic advisory committee, to learn more about the conference and the work that Self Help Africa (SHA) is doing. Her answers have been edited for length and style.

Mongabay: What is the goal of the conference? Why is it needed now?

Patricia Wall: The conference is going to be a space for dialogue and shared learning and is structured to include as wide a group of stakeholders as possible. The current list of organizations attending is on the website and the events on each day are now being posted. The opening plenary on day one will set the scene, following days will include deep dives into critical issues and concerns and, by the end of the week, we will regroup to adopt key messages from the conference. It is urgently needed as no one organization or institution can solve the impact of the climate crisis.

An agroforestry nursery in Ethiopia.
An agroforestry nursery in Ethiopia. Wall says that community-managed agroforestry programs have been successful in a variety of locations. Image by Trees ForTheFuture via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Mongabay: In what context will agroforestry and farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR) be discussed? What role do these play in nature-based solutions?

Patricia Wall: Both of these are critical to nature-based solutions and I think their real value is that they promote working with people to manage resources in their community rather than isolating people from environment. Community-managed agroforestry programs have been successful in a variety of locations, like southern Senegal.

At Self Help Africa we have promoted the Functional Landscape Approach (FLA), and Zambia, where the conference will be held, is where it has been piloted and documented.

In earlier work, SHA supported research that was undertaken into the long-term ecological sustainability of dambo cultivation [a dambo is a seasonally waterlogged area] in Southern Africa, with 10-year case studies from Zambia and Malawi captured by our partners — the Society of Wetlands Scientists.

We are mindful that the host country for the conference, Zambia, has recently declared a drought- and climate change-induced national disaster in a significant part of the country.

Mongabay: How will the role of wildlife conservation in nature-based solutions be addressed?

Patricia Wall: There are four main thematic streams and there is a strong emphasis on the need for nature-based solutions to support people, livelihoods and also wildlife, especially in those African countries endowed with wildlife parks. This conference will contribute to the ongoing dialogue on how best to support communities bordering conservation areas, recognizing that it is not an easy task.

SHA currently works with communities in the Kafue Basin in Zambia, in the game reserves bordering Kafue National Park, and [in] community conservancies in northern Kenya. SHA believes that effective long-term management of natural resources is only possible if communities can earn a viable livelihood from the sustainable use of the resources and the ecological services provided by protected areas, an approach based on the Functional Landscape Approach. At this conference, we are expecting to share learning from a wide range of partners on how this can be achieved in practice.

Mongabay: What aspects of the conference are you particularly excited about? What outcomes would you most like to see?

Patricia Wall: I am very excited about the conference as I think it is addressing one of the key challenges of our times with a diversity of voices in the room, including representatives of community groups. It is a space that will involve actors who may not normally get to interact and so the outcome I am most keen to see is progress in understanding the importance of listening to each other. SHA has recently produced a policy document on community-led development, a core value for our organization.

Malampaya Sound mangroves.
Local fishers by mangrove trees in Palawan, Philippines. Recognizing the importance of mangrove forests as carbon sinks and bulwarks against storms, the Philippine government has made efforts to restore the country’s degraded mangroves. Image by Keith Fabro for Mongabay.

Mongabay: Nature-based solutions (NbS) have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years, and the term has become a bit of a buzzword. Some experts feel the potential of NbS to mitigate climate or other environmental impacts has been overstated, that some projects have become an offsetting tool that isn’t always rigorously evaluated, and can be a distraction from efforts to reduce emissions. Will the conference address some of these areas of controversy and debate, and how? 

Patricia Wall: Yes, the conference will address these issues. NbS in and of themselves can contribute to better development outcomes for communities and regions. However, they also need rigorous review and oversight — we have seen well-documented successes but also failures and we need to get better at learning from previous experience. Layered over this is the issue of carbon offsetting. There is quite a bit in the public domain on this and the conference offers the space to bring some of the investors in offsetting together with others, such as national governments and NGOs who are delivering NbS programmers with communities — in that sense a unique opportunity to clarify the current situation and agree on good practice approaches.

SHA is now working closely with the Global EverGreening Alliance’s Restore Africa on the implementation of programs that support farmer-based solutions to global warming, and our promotion of climate-smart agricultural practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming, and of agroforestry to sequester carbon are all ways that we can contribute positively to reducing emissions and assisting communities to adapt to changing climate.

Mongabay: Will the conference address the need to safeguard the rights of local communities or Indigenous communities when implementing nature-based solutions?

Patricia Wall: Yes, some tools are already in place (free, prior and informed consent FPIC) and we need consistency in their use — an advocacy pitch from [international] NGOs such as SHA is to ensure that enough time and resources are built into planning any NbS initiative to consult with communities and inform them of their rights.

Banner image: Agroforestry in action in Zambia. Image by Matthew Boucher for Makhulu Media/GIZ via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: A discussion of the pros and cons of nature-based solutions, listen here:

See related reading:

Let it grow: Q&A with reforestation and land restoration visionary Tony Rinaudo

What principles should define natural climate solutions? A new study has some answers

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