Mikoko Pamoja = "mangroves together"
Mangroves store 50 times more carbon in their soils by surface area compared to tropical forests, and ten times more than temperate forests. This phenomenon makes the conservation of these coastal trees imperative in the bid to combat global warming and climate change. The science of carbon sequestration seems complex to many, but for a community in the two remote villages of Gazi and Makongeni in Kwale County in Kenya’s South Coast, ‘kaa hewa’ as carbon credit is usually referred to in their local Swahili dialect is slowly and steadily transforming their livelihoods, and it is one approach to carbon accounting in mangrove forests.
Since its inception in 2014, Mikoko Pamoja Community Based Organisation has been able to ensure conservation of 117 ha of mangroves in the Gazi bay. In addition, the group, through the technical support from Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and WWF-Kenya, has established new mangrove forests covering 10 ha. In return, the community has received a total of Ksh. 2.6 million shillings over the past two years, proceeds whose impact has breathed life into the two villages and put it back on a positive trajectory, rekindling hopes of a better tomorrow for future generations.
Tough times for residents
Gazi is a typical fishing community, living a subsistence lifestyle with limited agricultural activities to sustain them. There is a high poverty level according to the National Population Census of 2009 by the Kenya Bureau of statistics, which stems from a vicious cycle of low access to formal education.
For a long time, wanton extraction of mangrove trees negatively impacted not only on their livelihoods but also the environment in Gazi Bay. The area remains the main target for illegal loggers of the mangrove trees because the poles formed from mangroves in this specific area are suitable for construction, as they are straight and more usable than other timber. They are also widely extracted for wood fuel.
For a community whose utilization of the mangroves is a trade handed down through several generations, their wake up call came when their livelihood was threatened due to destruction of the mangroves.
It started off with marked reduction of fish caught. This was directly attributed to the excessive illegal logging, since mangrove forests are home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk species. The forests also serve as nurseries for many fish species, including coral reef fish.
Diminishing timber products and other essential plant products that the community relied on, like medicines, accentuated their concern and need to protect the mangroves. The absence of the dense, sediment-trapping mangrove root systems destabilized the coastline and increased erosion, which was a direct threat to the community’s health. And though many hadn’t appreciated the mangroves’ aesthetic value before, the steady loss of the thick greenery reminded the community that in a bid to survive, action had to be taken.
The key to unlocking an intervention that would reverse the loss of mangroves and resuscitate the livelihoods of the Gazi Bay Community was the villagers’ realization that the mangrove forest do not belong to the government and that they couldn’t wait for someone else to save the mangroves. This important realization initiated the need for community involvement in the conservation of their mangroves, and the quest to improve their livelihoods through natural solutions.
The key interventions included awareness-raising within the community of how cutting down of mangrove trees destroys fish nests and other marine life that in turn affects their livelihoods. Introduction of fast-growing terrestrial casuarina tree plantations as an alternative source of wood fuel and construction posts eased the pressure on the mangrove forests. One of the major milestones was the formation of the Community Forest Association (CFA) through which the community protected and established new mangrove forests for carbon trade with the technical assistance from KMFRI and WWF-Kenya. They are now reaping benefits through the annual income they earn that come directly to them. The community members have since been able to seek alternative sources of income, like Mama Hafsa Muhamed Zuga, who now runs a shop and sells confectionery.
The interventions have brought tangible outcomes that according to Mama Hafsa have put the communities of Gazi and Makongeni village on an unprecedented growth path.
“Since we started conserving the mangroves and established new plantations, our husbands have been able to return home with bigger fish of different kinds for they now have a secure and habitable place to nest and enough food.’’
In addition, through the deliberate steps spearheaded by the community to conserve mangroves, Mama Hafsa says, “As a community, we are now so well educated about mangroves. After the first year, we received a total of Ksh.1.3M, we used our share to install water in the entire village.”
“We also bought iron sheets for Gazi primary school for two classrooms as well as the support we offered Waizata Football club to proceed with a local tournament.’’
The children of Gazi have equally benefited, after they received textbooks from the earning of the second proceeds of the carbon trade worth Ksh. 150,000. Across in Makongeni, the first installment was used to buy textbooks worth Ksh.150,000 for Makongeni primary school, while the second earning connected at Ksh 500 to every home with a monthly fee of Ksh. 250 every month.
The Science of Carbon Credit
Josphat Mwamba Mtwana leads the Mikoko Pamoja Project as its coordinator. He explains what it takes to get into the business of carbon Credit:
“After successful identification of a project, the first step is to get a Project Design Document (PDD), a project idea note, and a certificate of approval from Plan Vivo. Plan Vivo is the international body that regulates carbon credits.”
Within the PDD there are some important requirements that have to be met for a carbon project. The two main ones are evidence of forest protection and restoration, as well as ensuring that there are zero stumps, which means there is no forest destruction.
To determine whether the forest is protected, the key determinant is the growth of forest in terms of stocking density i.e number of stems per ha/ number of trees per ha.
Restoration is determined by the recorded amount of regeneration represented by the number of seedlings per ha. After the two have been determined, a project idea note is developed, followed by the acquisition of a certificate of approval from Plan Bivo. This final certificate gives the organization the legitimacy to roll out the carbon trading business subject to annual evaluation and payment.
Read more from WWF-Kenya and follow them on Twitter @mikoko_pamoja