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VIVIA MIEL: Restoring sacred forests in Benin with Planète Urgence

15 June 2023 • NEWS

Thanks to the amazing team of VIVIA MIEL, a game-changer non-profit organisation in Benin, people and nature can live in harmony again. By running the beautiful GAPADOU project in partnership with Planète Urgence, Groupe SOS’ environmental NGO, VIVIA MIEL makes a positive and lasting impact in the Bassila and Djougou cities, in Benin. We talked to VIVIA MIEL Managing Director, Emmanuel Traore, and GAPADOU Project Manager, Ridwane Bio Oure, about their work on the ground.

What is GAPADOU?

Let’s start with some context. In Benin, over 3,000 forests are sacred and protected areas. Such forests are extraordinary places with a wonderful biodiversity, and are devoted to ceremonial and religious practices for local communities. Traditional knowledge, religious customs, taboos, totems, tales and the legends that passed down through generations have ensured these forests’ preservation from human activity.

But now, demographic pressure is increasing the demand for energy, wood and agricultural lands. As a result, sacred forests are endangered.

To preserve and restore these unique forests, Planète Urgence launched the GAPADOU project with VIVIA MIEL, a non-profit organisation committed to making forests’ restoration and local communities’ resilience a priority in Benin. « GAPADOU » means « sacred » in the Anii language.

The project’s goal is to plant 150,000 trees between 2023 and 2024. But more than that, the project aims to build local communities’ social and economic resilience, while raising awareness on environmental challenges among the youth.

What are some of your missions as an implementing partner?

Every day, we run various actions so we can contribute to sacred forests’ preservation. For example, we restore areas by planting trees and plant species inside the forests. To do so, we need to identify the local species and study them, so we can plant them in degraded areas – where trees have been cut down for energy wood.

Local species are not only essential for the forests’ health, but are also profitable for people as they create revenue generating activities and are beneficial to children’s health. In fact, the African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa) is used – mostly by women – to produce mustard: the mustard is both cooked and sold, making the plant an additional income source for vulnerable people. In addition,, the Baobab fruit is very nutrient-rich and is cooked as a nutritional supplement for children.

We also provide local communities with training so they learn reforestation techniques.

 

Do you have specific goals to achieve?

Yes, of course! We have four main goals.

  • First, we focus on running restoring activities within the forests. Then, we plan to expand our activities to private properties, so people can benefit from their own lands’ resources without degrading the sacred forests. For these private lands, we intend to give priority to fast growing plants, such as eucalyptus trees or beechwood trees (Gmelina arborea). The goal is to restore 290 hectares with 150,000 plants (sacred forests represent about 109 hectares).
  • Our second goal is to build local communities’ social and economic resilience, by implementing efficient agroforestry systems. We have selected the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) so the farmers can make profit from selling cashew. To build capacity in our community, we also plan to provide 6 beekeepers with 10 hives each, but also with training on the management of hives. We will keep track on their activities, so we know if we can scale up the process.
  • Another goal we have is to improve sacred forests’ governance, by providing training on the forests’ management and other technical aspects.
  • Finally, we want to raise environmental awareness among the young generation and the general public: to do so, we identified schools where we would go to talk with children, and plan to reach people through the radio and events.

Overall, we aim to promote sustainable preservation and management of natural resources that are essential for local communities, while developing sustainable social and economic solutions for vulnerable people. We also want to encourage quality education, a better access to maternal and child healthcare for all, and prevent the spread of water-related diseases among children by ensuring sanitary protocols.

 

What is the project’s current and expected impact on the forests and local community?

We can already see a change in the beekeepers’ activities who benefited from the hives, as their revenues increased. And it’s only the beginning of the project’s pilot phase: we are implementing various activities. This is why we are very optimistic about GAPADOU and expect the project to have a lasting and very positive impact on both the forests and the communities. We will make sure to keep track of the project’s results!

How do you work with Planète Urgence?

First, we’d like to warmly thank Planète Urgence for this amazing partnership!

It all started when we signed a partnership agreement with them. Everything was very clear from the start: everyone knew their responsibilities and what they were expected to do, and we have developed a mutual trust relationship. Thanks to two committees made of VIVIA MIEL and Planète Urgence’s representatives, we meet with them monthly to keep track on the project’s progression, define next steps and talk about the project’s challenges. The project is monitored by both Planète Urgence’s delegation in Benin and the Forests’ Department of Planète Urgence in Paris.

We think they are a beautiful team and are willing to make this partnership flourish even more in the future. Thanks to their support, the GAPADOU project makes our communities resilient and our forests restored.

 

The project’s stakeholders are :

  • Local management committees for sacred forests;
  • Local tree nurseries in the villages benefiting from the project;
  • Local beekeepers in the villages;
  • Local communities surrounding the Sérou sacred forest;
  • Local communities surrounding the Igbo-Dogni sacred forest;
  • Schoolchildren and their teachers from the schools benefiting from the project.
  • Town councils
  • Water, Forestry and Hunting Departments

 

A big thank you to Emmanuel Traore and Ridwane Bio Oure for sharing with us such an interesting project, and for their precious work in implementing the GAPADOU project!

 

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