Hope as communities make a living from reforestation projects

Sections of restored mangrove areas in Kipini, Tana River County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Several community-led initiatives have been launched to restore mangrove forests.

Just as Kipini’s story is documented by the ruins and new-found hope tied to a restored mangrove plantation close by, Mida Creek’s mangrove tale is told on a storyboard.

On the storyboard is a narration titled The Mangrove Story-Coping with Change. The story narrates the changing habitat complete with illustrations of Mida Creek’s famous species that include a variety of shore birds as well as marine life. This includes varieties of seagrasses and seaweeds, and several species of fish.

The creek, together with the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, form a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. This means they are jointly recognised internationally as areas of terrestrial and coastal marine ecosystems.

Mida Creek Conservation and Fishing Awareness Group, with close to 90 members, is restoring degraded areas and engaging in clean-up activities.

The members practice beekeeping to increase surveillance within the forests. They use the money paid by those visiting the creek as well as what they earn from providing tour guide services and bee-keeping to run their activities.

“Having beehives in the mangroves calls for constant checks. This means it is easier for us to spot illegal activities within the mangroves while we also benefit from selling honey,” says Khamis Omar.

A degraded mangrove forest in Kipini, Tana River County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Honey from the mangroves, Omar says, differs in taste from the honey from terrestrial forests. It has a tinge of saltiness and is loved by local communities.

Conservation activities include The Restoration Initiative (TRI) funded by Global Environment Facility through Unep.

TRI’s project in the Tana Delta is a five-year project being implemented by Nature Kenya and covers the Tana River and parts of Lamu County. It integrates natural resource management and restoration of degraded landscapes within the country’s largest delta.

The initiative seeks to restore mangrove forests that fall under the 130,000-hectare delta. Already, plans for restoring four mangrove forests covering 4,000 hectares within the two counties have been drafted.

“Participatory forest management plans that will guide the conservation, as well as benefit sharing strategies between the communities and the Kenya Forest Service have already been drafted,” says George Odera, Tana Delta Restoration Initiative project manager.

Under the initiative, community forest associations will be engaging in replanting and can also make money from activities such as bee keeping.

Other community-led activities are the carbon offset projects in Gazi and Makongeni villages on South Coast. The project started in 2013 and is now being replicated on other shorelines in Vanga, Kwale.

Under the projects, communities plant mangrove forests and sell carbon credits to international emitters of carbon dioxide to offset the huge amount of carbon they release into the atmosphere.

The Mikoko Pamoja has a 117-acre mangrove forest plantation that captures 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide annually, earning the community about Sh3 million through the sale of carbon credits.

Khamis Omar shows some of the beehives in Mida Creek, Kilifi County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

The Vanga Blue Forest Project offsets about 5,023 tonnes of carbon per year, which earn more than Sh6 million.

Statistics from the Ministry of Environment show that 4,041.6 hectares of mangrove forest was restored in 2021/2022 financial year; 307.9 hectares in Lamu and 1,223.2 hectares in Kilifi. The ministry, however, did not break down the acreage which communities, conservation organisations and the State restored.

In the same year, 57.5 hectares were restored in Kwale, 1,800 hectares in Mombasa and 653 in Tana River.

According to Mr Odera, with communities being aware of the changing ecosystems, their involvement in building coastal resilience is critical.

Besides the KFS stepping up monitoring within forests, communities also have their own voluntary scouts who carry out patrols. Conservation organisations work with the scouts, who are sometimes employed.

“This means that these communities are able to bounce back and work towards reversing the negative impacts brought about by the changing ecosystems. Coastal communities have witnessed these changes and what matters is that they are part of a journey of building resilience and sustainably doing so,” says Mr Odera.