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Locals change fortunes with mangroves

Part of the team managing the Mikoko Pamoja project.

A group of farmers in South Coast, Kwale County has changed their fortunes and environment through the growing and protection of mangroves.

The group is managing 290 acres of mangrove forests in Gazi and earning something modest every year through the sale of carbon credits.

This is under the Mikoko Pamoja, an award-winning environment conservation project started in Kwale County in 2013.

Mikoko Pamoja is a community mangrove restoration and protection project in Gazi Bay, South Coast, 50km south of Mombasa.

The project’s main objective is the conservation of mangroves and the sale of carbon credits. It is managed by a team of 13 committee members who are elected after every two years to represent the two villages of Gazi and Makongeni. The two villages have a total population of about 7,000 people.

The project protects 265 acres of natural mangrove forest and 25 acres of plantation and the local community plants an additional 4,000 trees annually. This is supposed to go on for a period of 20 years. 

One acre of mangroves will clean 6,070 tonnes of carbon from the air or 15,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare

Of the 60,000 acres of mangroves on Coast, 42,000 acres (70 per cent) are in Lamu County while  8,800 acres (24 per cent) are in Kwale County, most in Vanga and Gazi areas.

The project’s chairman Abdillahi Mohamed Changu says of the expected income of Sh3 million in 2022, about Sh2.2 million will support community projects in education, water, health, environmental conservation, and social welfare needs.

Selling carbon credits

How do they share the investment?

“The locals make spending decisions democratically and investments include the building of new school classrooms, renovation of infrastructure in schools, purchase of school books, games kits, support football teams, furniture, health care, and provision of fresh water to the communities.

At least 73 per cent of the 7,000-resident population in Gazi and Makongeni villages rely on water provided by Mikoko Pamoja,” says Changu.

The project has also enhanced ecotourism through the creation of mangrove boardwalks.

Besides, the project has created employment for residents of Gazi and Makongeni who have taken up positions of forest scouts (guards), monitors, data collectors, analysts, and coordinators. 

Dr James Kairo, Principal Research Scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and a team of research scientists and interns support the project technically through the KMFRI Gazi station. He says approximately Sh34 million was used for the project development.

“The project is verified by the Plan Vivo Systems and Standards to sell 3,000 tonnes of carbon credits (3,000tCO2) per annum for the next 20 years,” says Dr Kairo.

And how are carbon credits calculated?

According to project chairman Mr Changu, the calculations start with mangrove trees monitoring exercise where project officials and scouts go to the forest to collect specific data.

The monitors divide the forest into blocks of 10x10m from where they verify each mangrove tree according to stem thickness, height, and regeneration status (number of young trees sprouting from the mother tree).

With these calculations, analysts will then determine how much carbon the block of trees can suck from the air to mitigate the emission of green gases.

Changu says, “One acre of mangroves will clean 6,070 tonnes of carbon from the air or 15,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare.”

This means the project’s 290 acres will clear 1,760,300 tonnes of carbon thus making the earth pollution-free. 

Part of the team managing the Mikoko Pamoja project.

What is a carbon credit?

Kassim Noor Wanyama, a graduate of Marine Resources Management, explains a carbon credit is a kind of permit that represents one tonne of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. They are calculated by identifying polluting activities, the number of resources used, emissions from pollutants, and then the price of carbon credits.

Mr Wanyama is an intern at Kenya Forest Service (KFS) where he is involved in surveys and data analysis.

Ms Mwanaidi Juma Bakari, Mikoko Pamoja’s treasurer, says the project can earn more carbon credits than it is fetching at present.

“What we earn is less than 10 per cent of what 1,760,300 tonnes of carbon should earn for the project,” she notes. She suggested that KMFRI could help them identify more buyers to get maximum income.

According to Mr Hezekiel Gikambi, Assistant Director for Strategic Communication at KMFRI, mangrove forests protect coastal communities from storms and tsunamis and are efficient natural carbon sinks, locking and storing carbon dioxide at up to five times the rate of tropical rainforests. They also form an important habitat for fish and wildlife.

“However, mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen and triggering the release of toxic greenhouse gases,” notes the KMFRI official.

Wanyama points out that human activities exert direct pressure by increased land-derived pollutants from agricultural runoffs, untreated sewage, litter, and oil spills due to the substantial increase in maritime activity.

“Poor land-use practices in the hinterland have increased sediment loads into mangroves leading to siltation of breathing roots of the trees and eventual death of the ecosystem. The situation was worsened during the 1997/98 El Nino rains that hit the country causing massive death of mangroves in many areas along the Coast, most of which have experienced no recovery up to date,” he adds.

 The project has also received international recognition.

In September 2017, Mikoko Pamoja was chosen as one of 15 winners of the prestigious Equator Prize following a review of 806 nominated projects from 120 countries. Mikoko Pamoja also received a cash prize of Sh1,000,000.

Judges from the UN Development Programme hailed the mangrove initiative as an “outstanding example of nature-based local solutions to sustainable development”. The award was presented at a high-profile ceremony in New York.

Like other community-led initiatives, the project has also faced challenges. First is the illegal cutting and harvesting of mangrove poles for the building of houses and fences. Mangroves produce hardwood timber.

Mangrove wood poaching

The government has banned the harvesting of mangrove trees unless done under very special circumstances for community benefit as is the case in Lamu where according to Dr Kairo, selected cases get limited licensing to harvest mangroves.

In the open market, a mangrove pole will fetch between Sh500 and Sh800 a piece. The thin mangrove branches for holding together mud houses cost around Sh40 a piece.

To curb mangrove wood poaching, the project has employed scouts who carry out surveillance with strong backing from Kenya Forest Service (KFS) wardens.

The mangrove conservation project is now being replicated in other shorelines of Kwale County, particularly in Vanga where 1,100 acres are earning double the amount the Mikoko Pamoja earns.

The new project in Vanga is an innovative carbon offset project being supported by UNEP/Global Environment Facility, Blue Forest, Blue Action Fund of Germany, and the Blue Natural Carbon Financing Facility that is coordinated through the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Embassy of Norway recently visited South Coast to assess areas of cooperation with stakeholders in the blue economy. 

Dr Kairo says there is a huge interest by other communities to start similar projects in their mangrove areas and similarly, the government is taking a keen interest to tap into the mangrove and other blue carbon ecosystems as ocean climate actions in meeting her emission commitment from the Paris Climate Agreement.  

The UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration declaration of 2021 is to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems both on land and ocean.

The Mikoko Pamoja project has also involved Edinburgh Napier University staff and students working with KMFRI to explore the ecological value of mangroves and methods of helping the ecosystem recover.

The university raises money through the sale of the carbon credits to people and organisations anxious to reduce their carbon footprint, through the Scottish charity ACES.

This supports the planting and conservation of mangrove trees, as well as a community fund that is spent on building classrooms and buying textbooks for learners.