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Indeed, the applause for Emel is highly deserved. Fighting poverty is an important step to dealing with the devastating impacts that climate change can bring, and approaches like those undertaken by Mauritians are highly needed at address the immediate vagaries of poverty which is exacerbated by the changing climate.

Collecting data on what proportion of GDP was regained (for example as a result of the pastoralists retaining their livestock herds) and indeed the net effect of the program is imperative. However, would be exceedingly difficult to estimate (particularly when trying to account for malnutrition, deaths from hunger, and the like). To ensure both short term and long term planning there is an urgent need for long-term approaches, which focus on investment with viable returns.

What if 9% or even just 3% of 2012, 2013 and the coming 2014 national expenditures were put towards activities that fought both poverty and climate change? What if investments in were made in ecosystems that could provide food, lasting green jobs and income, and at the same time could truly insulate communities from future climate change impacts? Ecosystem-based Adaptation approaches have proven to be tried and true investments, and will become ever more valuable as climatic changes take effect.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation is a newly-defined activity in the quest to respond to climate change, but its techniques and theory are as old as man. Ecosystem-based adaptation is simply the category of activities that use biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people and communities adapt to the negative effects of climate change at local, national, regional and global levels. The comprehensive approach has many associated benefits including poverty reduction, resource-use diversification, and green jobs. EbA takes a whole ecosystem approach to building climate resilience by investing in management, rehabilitation, and diversification of natural resources so that the community can benefit from the ecosystem services now and in the future.

For example, an Ecosystem project in Nigeria used agroforestry to provide multiple, and lasting benefits to a large portion of Nigeria. The semi-arid areas of Nigeria are characterised by low rainfall, low environmental productivity, and sparse vegetation. Since a severe drought hit in the early 1970’s, desertification has remained one of the pressing environmental problems faced in the Sahel region. Ecosystem degradation resulting from environmental changes and human activities has culminated in formation of highly unproductive and detrimental mobile sand dunes. A total population of over 5000 men, women and children from Tohsua community risked being displaced by the moving sand dunes, water scarcity and the risk of food insecurity in the area as farm lands were being made unproductive by the effects of the encroaching sand dunes.

The agroforestry project involved the planting of 15,000 seedlings of the early colonizing and fast growing Prosopis juliflora on the lee side of the sand dunes to serve as barrier to movement of dunes and later to restore the fertility of the soil. The plant used was an ecosystem-enhancing species which will carry the added benefit of providing food for livestock and fuel wood for the people. The project also dug shallow wells in the oases to conserve water for household uses, watering of livestock and irrigation purposes.

This area with a population of 5,000 now has better access to water, has secured their land from dune encroachment, has increased availability of livestock feed and therefore their own food security, has more available fuel resources, and has succeeded in securing the community against climate change impacts such as desertification, encroachment, and water scarcity. These effects have reduced poverty by providing many costly inputs at zero monetary cost to the community simply from improving ecosystem services. If we properly asses the value of the ecosystem services now provided, the project has made even larger gains.

Healthy ecosystems can prove to be a win-win for poverty and for climate change resilience, while investing in ecosystems now can mean greater benefits and less spent on aid later. Africa boast vast reserves of natural resources and even in places where natural resources are limited, ecosystem resources still have immense potential to aid communities in emerging from poverty and food insecurity. We should invest in this potential before the costs are too much to bear.

*Thoughts expressed are my own and not those of UNEP.
Twitter: @M.Tingem