Building urban resilience through working with nature and biodiversity? Feedback from the ground

The Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) implemented a project entitled “Building Resilience of Informal Settlements through Nature-Based Solutions and Biodiversity Actions in Lilongwe City, Malawi” from March to June 2022. The project funded by Sida, through the United Nations Human Settlements programme (UN-Habitat), demonstrated solutions that will significantly reduce flooding, pollution of water sources, preserve biodiversity and consequently, mitigate general human suffering and reduce degradation of the environment along the river banks of Mchesi and Lilongwe Rivers. The main outputs of the project were a community led vegetative cover restoration campaign which led to planting of approx. 5,300 trees and vetiver grass, as well as the institutionalization of community by-laws on issues of waste disposal and management, cultivating along riverbanks and drainage management.

A year after project inception, to understand the perspectives of the beneficiary communities (Kawale 1, Kawale 2 and Kayileka informal settlements in Lilongwe), CCODE organised a dedicated Focus Group Discussion with 19 community representatives engaged in the project, jointly with a visiting doctoral researcher from Utrecht University.

What became clear from this discussion is that tree planting in informal settlements is a very complex endeavour. The following important takeaways emerged that future NBS/biodiversity projects in African informal settlements can learn from:

Throughout urban Africa, there is a growth of tree planting initiatives promoted by international, national and subnational actors, which is much needed to counter the deforestation rates and increase urban resilience and enhance biodiversity. Yet, what may be perceived as a quick and easy `green fix`, can lead to contestation at local level and decrease prospects of long-term sustainability, if not building on what people want and need. For communities engaged in the project, job creation is a key priority. They recommend that donors should explore options of working with nature in informal settlements that include encouraging urban gardening, orchards and waste entrepreneurship to generate income, especially for the youth. Realizing such vision of enhancing livelihoods in harmony with nature could be beneficial for both society and biodiversity at large.

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