Sao Tome and Principe latest achievements on forest and landscape restoration
Addressing challenge of seedling production in a large-scale forest and landscape restoration plan.
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The TRI project marked a milestone by introducing the first large-scale FLR programme in STP in 2019. Before this, reforestation and restoration work had been carried out in a scattered fashion under the leadership of the Directorate of Forests and Biodiversity (DFB). When STP joined the TRI network, the ambitious FLR goals set by the project presented new challenges, not only in terms of large-scale planning and high-quality technical information needed to design and implement such a restoration programme, but also how to supply the number of seeds and seedlings required to carry out the work in four priority landscapes across the country (North Sao Tome, Central Sao Tome, South Sao Tome and Principe).
The first step to fill this gap and ensure a steady and timely supply of seedlings was to design a seedling production plan. The DFB, supported by the TRI team and international experts made available by FAO, released in 2021 a detailed plan that included an assessment of the actual capacity for seedling production and nursery management; an analysis of gaps and needs in terms of materials, knowledge and capacity; and a cost estimation. As the plan revealed in 2020, STP could produce approximately 19 000 seedlings of ten different tree species per production cycle, mainly in the four nurseries managed by the Ministry of Agriculture in both islands. With the assessment phase completed, the programmatic goals were set: raise the number of species to be produced to at least 22 – including endemic, ecologically valuable, fast-growing and agronomically interesting trees – and quantify the total number of approximately 342 000 seedlings needed to meet the short- and medium-term FLR objectives.
As a second step of the process, the TRI team focused on building partnerships to translate plans into concrete actions: agreements were negotiated and signed with CECAB, CECAQ11 and CECAFEB, the three national cooperatives engaged in the production of organic cocoa and coffee and whose plantations under increasingly degraded shadow forests are one of the targets of the TRI FLR programme. Meanwhile, the TRI team launched a challenging procurement plan to acquire the materials needed for seedling production – most of which are unavailable on the domestic market. Given the exceptional challenge that seedling production represents, a lively debate emerged among TRI partners: would it be better to produce the new plants in nurseries owned and managed by the national authorities or to outsource production to the private sector? Both options had pros and cons, thus it was decided to try both pathways to test long-term strategies for seedling production in the country.
The “outsourcing option” was entrusted to CECAB, one of the most solid TRI partners in the country. CECAB is the largest cooperative in STP, currently producing 650 tonnes of organic cocoa annually, which are mainly exported to European countries. TRI and CECAB agreed on a workplan to restore 6 000 ha of shadow forest managed by the cooperative with approximately 18 500 seedlings. The first batch of seedlings was commissioned by CECAB to a network of 13 private nurseries spread all over Sao Tome island, which were produced and planted in the spring of 2022. Each of the 1 500 farmers involved planted 6–7 trees per hectare and was provided with a kit of materials. The seedlings were monitored for 12 months, after which all the farmers who achieved a survival rate of no more than one dead seedling per plot would receive another kit of equipment. CECAB is satisfied with the outcome of the first year of operations and the adopted approach. Another component of the work is awareness raising for the cooperative members, who are often reluctant to plant shadow trees in their plots, owing to the long-term nature of the investment. For this reason, the awareness raising focuses on the importance of maintaining productive cocoa plantations for the children of the actual farmers.
As the first field restoration campaign of TRI-STP reached its end, the balance was satisfactory. The FLR operations on the ground started in January 2022, led by DFB and involving the cocoa and coffee cooperatives and the NGOs “Monte Pico” and the Association of Friends of the Principe Biosphere Reserve. A total of 44 107 plants of 48 species were produced, partly in the four nurseries managed by DFB and other TRI partners, and partly procured from 13 private nurseries. The production cost per seedling is very similar for both options. In the first year, 3 168 ha of forests were restored in the four priority landscapes on both islands, comprising the planting of new seedlings (1 758 ha) and assisted natural regeneration in the buffer zone of the country’s two protected areas (1 410 ha). So far, 1 500 beneficiaries have been involved in the planning and implementation of the FLR efforts in the four target landscapes, approximately 40 percent of whom are women.
The TRI restoration work will continue with two more campaigns in 2023 and 2024, with a final goal to restore approximately 12 000 ha of forest and agroforestry land. Technical assistance, including on seedling production and planting, and the design and management of nurseries, is ensured by an international specialist who guarantees direct and remote assistance through a WhatsApp group to the staff and workers of the nurseries. Several challenges remain along the way towards the consolidation of a sound and sustainable seedling production plan that can meet the long-term restoration goals in STP. These include the improvement of state nurseries, the introduction of protocols to produce seedlings that are better adapted to the new conditions brought about by climate change, and the acquisition of specific know-how to restore the highly endangered mangrove stands of the islands. Regarding the latter, the regional Principe branch of DFB is experimenting with a protocol of its own design for the production and plantation of seedlings of Rhizophora mangle (mangue vermelho or red mangrove). The work was successfully implemented in the pilot Abade mangrove forest in 2022 with strong involvement of the local community, and it will be replicated in other mangrove forests of the islands in the coming years.