Sufficient resources to ensure sustainable operations

Benin, Ouémé river valley (c) Alexia Guebels

Benin – One of the primary dilemmas surrounding ecosystems revolves around determining the source of funding for their protection and restoration. Water-related ecosystems, in particular, offer a diverse range of services, including flood prevention, irrigation water for agriculture, fishing opportunities, and facilitating transportation. If properly maintained and protected, those services present a valuable opportunity for local communities to generate additional income which gives them incentive to preserve it and/or reinvest money for its maintenance. Join For Water has implemented several financial mechanisms aimed at bringing adequate revenue that subsequently contribute to sustain its protection and conservation efforts. While some mechanisms have proven successful, others remain in experimental phases. We are implementing 2 types of financial mechanism models in Benin, that is locally-reinvested funds model and external source of funds model.

Better harvests encourage farmers to invest

The Ouémé alluvial plain around the municipalities of Dangbo and Aguégués is characterized by a network of canals and agricultural drains. This abundant ecosystem is under pressure due to climate change, the presence of water hyacinth and the overexploitation of the natural resources by local communities. The water hyacinths, coupled with accumulation of sediments, obstruct the canals and agricultural drains, hindering navigation of people and goods, and agricultural productivity. Indeed, during rainy season, the Ouémé alluvial plain is completely flooded. Farmers in the area are directly impacted as their lands are flooded, making it unavailable for farming, and delaying the crop seeding.

Additionally, during the dry season, local communities and farmers are unable to navigate on the canals to reach Porto Novo due to accumulation of sediments brought by the flood and the water hyacinth. This situation is worsened due to climate change with the increase in the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts. In addition to climate change pressure, the canals are vulnerable due to inadequate municipal budget and lack of community-based maintenance initiatives.

Through activities such as advocacy and training, Join For Water’s partner CREDEL is raising awareness to the local authorities and the communities on the importance of ecosystems protection. Join For Water empowers communities to actively engage in protecting those valuable ecosystems. Additionally, Join For Water and its partner CREDEL carried out canals and drains cleaning work with the help of the communities. To ensure the long-term durability of its interventions in the field, Join For Water is experimenting two types of financial mechanisms for ecosystems protection in Dangbo, that is income-generating activities and government budget line at three different ownership levels (i.e., community-owned canals, farmer-owned drains and municipality-owned canals). Unlike agricultural drains, large canals cannot be maintained by one farmer on its own due to lack of human and financial resources. Hence, to be durable, a financial mechanism should be adapted to the working scale.

Financial mechanisms

Locally-reinvested funds

In 2023, Join For Water with its partner CREDEL cleaned a total of 4.2 km of agricultural drains, covering an area of 2.5 ha directly affected by the cleaning. Indeed, the sediments, rich with nutrients, removed from the drains are placed on the parcel, consequently increasing yields. Moreover, by removing the hyacinth and the sediments from the drains, floodwater withdrawn faster from the farmlands to the drains, allowing the farmers to seed crops earlier in the season. Larger volume of water can be stored inside the emptied drains, which can be used for irrigation during the dry season.

Following this intervention, the farmers understood the importance of maintaining the agricultural drains. Some of them proactively took the initiative to maintain themselves the drains around their lands with their own financial means. The enhanced crop yields subsequently lead to increased profits, enabling these farmers to allocate funds towards drain cleaning and maintenance. A financial analysis is required to estimate the revenue growth attributed to drain cleaning compared to the associated costs. This evaluation will facilitate the determination of the appropriate percentage of revenue to save per harvest cycle.

External source of funds

The villages of Mitro and Hêtin, located in the municipality of Dangbo, are connected to each other via a community-owned canal. In 2023, Join For Water, together with its partner and the villagers,  removed the sediments and the water hyacinth from this canal. This work is very demanding in terms of financial and human resources. Hence, the community does not have sufficient resources to conduct the cleaning work every year. To overcome this challenge, Join For Water implemented the production forestation. Eucalyptus trees were planted in 2023 on a land owned by both Mitro and Hêtin. The money collected from the Eucalyptus production will be used to finance the cleaning of the canal linking Mitro and Hêtin. A committee has been created, composed of villagers from both villages. They are responsible for the financial management of the production forestation and for the maintenance of both the canal and the trees. Join For Water and its partner made a financial analysis to confirm that the production forestation will be cost-efficient. It is foreseen to be profitable within 4 years after the plantation.

Join For Water is currently thinking to implement production forestation on municipality-owned land to apply the same financial approach as in Mitro and Hêtin. However, the revenue from the Eucalyptus production may not be sufficient to maintain extensive canals. This initiative could be coupled with an additional funding source, that is government budget line. This financial mechanism, advocated in both Dangbo and Aguégués municipalities, involves the creation of a budget line at municipality level. Indeed, municipality-owned canals maintenance is under the responsibility of the municipality. However, due to insufficient government funding, municipality-owned canals lack cleaning. These large canals serve for transport, connecting villages and facilitating trade with larger cities like Porto Novo. They enable villagers and farmers to transport and sell their harvested goods in local markets. An adequate budget should be allocated to their maintenance, in the same way as for road maintenance, and would complement the revenue from the production forestation.

Way forward

Join For Water considers these two financial mechanisms tested in Benin to be innovative. Currently, all our projects are in the pilot phase, and their long-term effectiveness remains to be seen. A financial analysis is pending to confirm their cost-effectiveness. If successful, they could be replicated and adapted in other countries where Join For Water is active.