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Develop EbA project budgets that take into account the complexity and time-consuming nature of constructing ecological infrastructure.

Aug 8, 2019 | Climate, Community, Conservation

Anthony Mills

When the EbA South project was designed, it was assumed that government staff would have the time available and technical capacity to manage, over a period of five years, the implementation of relatively small areas of land – tens of hectares of degraded mangroves in the case of the Seychelles and hundreds of hectares of drylands and forests in the case of Mauritania and Nepal, respectively. As a result, full time project managers were not hired by the project, and government staff members were assigned the responsibility of managing the project on top of their normal duties. In retrospect, this was an error in project design because, irrespective of the size of the EbA intervention, there are invariably considerable socio-economic and biophysical complexities that need to be fully analysed before any on-the-ground interventions can commence. The experience of the project is that these analyses and the subsequent decision-making required, necessitate the full-time attention of an experienced project manager[1]. Government staff who have other responsibilities are, invariably, not in a position to provide this attention; and if they are tasked with managing the implementation of EbA interventions, there are likely to be considerable delays in activities on the ground. Several examples from the EbA South project, presented below, demonstrate the time-consuming nature of planning for and implementing EbA interventions.

In Nepal, it was difficult to identify appropriate land for planting multi-use forests despite there being thousands of hectares of degraded land in the project sites and despite local communities having indicated their support for having such forests on their land. The project’s nurseries were generating hundreds of thousands of seedlings as planned, yet when it came to planting the seedling, the communities reignited debates as to where it would be appropriate to plant the seedlings. There were invariably some community members who raised the potential trade-off of having more trees for products such as fruit, medicine and timber versus less grass in the degraded lands for grazing their cattle. Taking decisions on these complex economic trade-offs and managing the social dynamics required a lot of skilled management interventions by the local project manager.

Degraded forest landscapes in Nepal are frequently used for grazing livestock. Communities restoring the land consequently need to weigh up the benefits of using the land for livestock husbandry versus having a restored forest of beneficial indigenous tree species.

Also in Nepal, the management of project funds, particularly their flow across government departments, proved to be considerably more time-consuming than anyone in the project had anticipated. This was as a result of changes in government structures and policies during of the project. In some cases, the changes in policies resulted in delays in payments for many months because government staff were unsure of how to manage the new protocols involved with fund transfers. Managing these blockages required considerable unanticipated time to educate government staff on the new protocols and to leverage personal relationships across government departments to speed up the processes[2].

In Mauritania, the harsh climatic conditions, including strong winds and temperatures above 45 ⁰C, often prevented staff from implementing the EbA interventions and also resulted in the death of seedlings. As a result of these effects, the project manager had to invest considerable amounts of time in rearranging implementation plans. The delays caused by the strong winds and heat waves created additional unanticipated knock-on effects. For example, postponing planting resulted in tree seedlings being planted towards the end, rather than the start, of the wet season. This necessitated recruiting labourers to be stationed on site permanently to water the seedlings for several months into the dry season.

EbA interventions in Mauritania were technically challenging, requiring regular irrigation of seedlings in the desert sands (left), and professional nursery operations propagating large numbers of seedlings (right).

A further problem experienced by the Mauritanian project team was that the quality of work done by private sub-contractors was often sub-standard. Fences were not erected effectively, and seedlings were not planted carefully. Rectifying these problems required a lot of dedicated management time. Ultimately it was decided that government teams, rather than private sub-contractors, were better placed to implement the EbA interventions, and as a result new implementation plans had to be developed.

In the Seychelles, decisions on the appropriateness of particular EbA interventions proved to be considerably more complex than initially anticipated. For example, stakeholders with an engineering background were focussing on the benefits of hard infrastructure (such as seawalls) for protecting the coastline ecosystem from storm surges, whilst stakeholders with an ecological background focussed more on the role of plants in stabilising dunes, riverbanks and mudflats. This resulted in much facilitation being required by the project manager to manage extended debates across government departments, amongst university staff and between technical experts on the project team[3]. Once sites had been selected for riverine forest and mangrove restoration, teams of contractors had to be procured to remove alien vegetation first, including the removal of large Casuarina trees. The contracting process proved to be extremely time-consuming for the project manager because of changes in government procurement policy during project implementation that required numerous quotes and sign-off from various government committees.

Once exotic trees had been removed in the Seychelles (left), mangrove seedlings (middle), propagated in nurseries (right), were planted in their place. Plastic tubes were needed to protect the plants from damage by red clawed crabs.

[1] Including ecological knowledge and an in-depth understanding of EbA principles, planning, design and implementation.
[2] Other unanticipated events that resulted in considerable delays to the implementation of EbA interventions in Nepal included the disastrous earthquake of 25 April 2015 and the blockage of fuel imports in September 2015.
[3] A particular challenge faced by the project was that local stakeholders did not have an in-depth understanding of what would qualify as an EbA intervention. As a result, stakeholders such as engineers gravitated towards their comfort zones of hard engineering structures as opposed to nature-based solutions. Compromises between the hard solutions and nature-based solutions needed to be forged throughout the first few years of the project’s implementation. In retrospect, additional training of the engineers at the outset of the project on the principles of EbA would have been beneficial in terms of increasing the focus on nature-based solutions.

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