A call to a coordinated and integrated response to managing invasive Prosopis species in the Horn of Africa

Workshop on Prosopis juliflora, Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti, August 25 to 28 2017

Academics, leading research institutions on food security and environmental governance, CSOs, community members and key representatives of government institutions from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somaliland, South Sudan and the Sudan convened in the Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti, from August 25 to 28, 2017 to discuss and agree on a coordinated response to the devastating impacts of invasive Prosopis species in the Horn of Africa (HoA).

The workshop was organised by the Horn of Africa Climate Change programme (HoA-CCP) funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), the Netherlands, and coordinated by the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC&N). The implementing organizations are the civil society organisations and academic institutions from the six countries in the HoA. The programme focuses on promoting landscape restoration, food security and reducing green house gas emissions by promoting renewable energy and green infrastructure development.

Figure 1: Prosopis species in Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti
Figure 1: Prosopis species in Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti

Prosopis plant and other invasive alien species were introduced in the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere, during the last century. Some international organisations promoted the establishment of plantations, especially Prosopis species across the continent to combat desertification. Since then they invaded large areas to the detriment of biodiversity, wildlife, water resources, rangelands, and livelihoods. In the Horn of Africa, there has been an exponential increase in the distribution of invasive alien plants over the last 20 years, contributing to the abandonment of land, driving conflicts and mass migration to other countries including the west.  In addition, some invasive alien plant species may actually be contributing to an increase in the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, rift valley fever and leishmaniasis.

It is estimated that about one-third of the HoA is already invaded and that potentially two-third of the region could be invaded to the detriment of farmlands, rangelands and water catchments with huge implications on food security and livelihoods if management interventions are not developed and implemented as a matter of urgency. The workshop participants agreed that an integrated management is required, including bio-control, and that utilization as management strategy on its own is ineffective and may in fact contribute to the spread of the species. The call for a coordinated approach to address this issue in the Horn Africa is more urgent than ever.

Speaking on the occasion of the workshop Dr. Arne Witt from Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) remarked, “Invasive Alien Species pose the biggest threat to livelihoods and unless action is taken now, we will see a dramatic decline in biodiversity, land abandonment and conflict in the region”. Witt further stated, a coordinated and integrated strategy is critical in order to address the transboundary nature of biological

Figure 2: Participants of the Prosopis workshop
Figure 2: Participants of the Prosopis workshop

invasions”.

According to a representative from HoA-REC&N, “Regional collaboration is critical in addressing this very serious issue. National governments need to implement the recently signed IGAD Invasive Alien Species Management Strategy”

The Chief of Tadjoura community was categorical about the urgency of the situation, which is pressing for all the Horn countries:  “Djibouti is a small country and we can no longer accept the continued spread of this killer weed. This problem touches me directly and I would want Prosopis eradicated during my lifetime.” A young community member has also expressed a worrying sentiment when he noted, “the local indigenous species represents their identity [as emblem on the Djibouti passport]. The Prosopis species is killing the acacia species, their identity.”

According to the Regional Programme Coordinator for the Climate Change Programme addressing the issue of invasive species is a matter of urgency: “food security in the Horn of Africa is fundamental. The livelihoods of the people are dependent on their land. The quality of the land has dwindled over the decades due to the invasion of Prosopis species and other introduced invasive species. It is high time a concerted efforts is exerted at regional, national and local scale to address this challenge.”

As noted by Dr. Arne Witt “there is a solution to every problem if the policy makers are willing to listen to the voices of the community who are at the forefront facing the brunt of invasive species that are rendering community land into wastelands and depriving them of their basic livelihood asset, the land.” In view of the the gravity of the challenge at hand, experts from Water and Land Resources Centre (WLRC), Woody Weeds Project and Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute, and participants of the workshop made the following invasive species management recommendations:

  • Improve coordination at national and regional levels
  • Increase financial and logistic support from governments and concerned donor agencies for invasive species management
  • Continue capacity development and awareness creation on different management options
  • Establish and maintain action research sites to demonstrate best integrated management practices
  • Support local efforts, as an immediate measure, to start removing isolated species of Prosopis species across landscapes to minimize further widespread spatial infestations.
Figure 3: Community leaders in Gulf of Tadoura, Djibouti with Prof. George Owiti from the academia (University of Nairobi) (second from Left)
Figure 3: Community leaders in Gulf of Tadoura, Djibouti with Prof. George Owiti from the academia (University of Nairobi) (second from Left)

The Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC&N) was formed in 2006 with the aim of uniting academia and endogenous organisations from the Horn of Africa countries to promote environmental conservation and natural resource management across the Horn of Africa. HoA-REC&N facilitates, strengthens and advocates for sustainable development and better environmental governance across the Horn of Africa.