As the world discusses global warming in Egypt to adopt joint plans to tackle its existential threats, a different kind of conversation is taking place thousands of miles away on the outskirts of Isiolo town.
The landscapes are as parched as far as the naked eye can see. The roads twist, turn and tumble from one rocky scrap to the other, and vehicles raise thick dust under the scorching sun.
Heaps of elephant dung form scattered mounds along the winding roads, a little evidence of nature and humanity in an unmarried union.
Here, the communities in conservancies are talking about how to enhance their gains from their novel environmental conservation project called carbon farming.
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The Northern Kenya Rangelands Carbon Project which involves 14 conservancies, cuts across 4.7 million acres of land is the largest of its kind in the world.
The conservancies are home to four species of endangered wild animals- the Reticulated giraffe, the Grevy’s Zebra, the Beisa Oryx, and the Eastern Black Rhino.
According to the Carbon Cycle Institute, “carbon farming is a whole farm approach to optimising carbon capture on working landscapes by implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in plant material and or soil.
In the case of the Northern Kenya Rangelands conservancies, these practices involve working with pastoralists to combine modern and traditional methods of grazing livestock to restore the grasslands in the region to capture more atmospheric carbon.
The carbon is then sold to the global carbon market through credits, earning revenues that trickle back to the communities, helping sustain livelihoods while addressing climate change.
Priscilla Kushi, a member of the local Samburu community has been a Carbon Project officer for the last six years.
She works with communities providing them with technical guidance on the implementation of grazing plans within the conservancies.
“The grazing plan involves splitting the conservancies into blocks and zones,” she summarises outside a school partly supported by funds from the carbon project.
“The zones are where people live. We have a grazing committee made of members who form part of the conservancies and coordinate the plan of movement.
The zones are split into wet and dry season grazing areas. Wet season areas are closer to home and the drier ones are farther away.
"The communities restrict access to each area depending on the season. For example, during the wet season, the communities graze in the designated regions which are closer to home.
They move further away from home depending on how the seasons turn out,” she says.
By controlling the land use this way, Ms Kushi each area is allowed enough time to form.
“This kind of carbon farming relies on shifting across blocks while grazing, allowing for regeneration of vegetation which in the long-term ensures that the soil is well conditioned to store more carbon.
The more carbon the communities store in the soil, the more credits they earn. These credits locally referred to as ‘grazing bonga points’ are verified and awarded by organisations certified by Verra, a global nonprofit organisation.
The Northern Kenya Rangelands Carbon Project started in 2012 and got its first credit the following year. Data provided by the Project shows that to date Sh1.8 billion ($14.6 million) has been generated from the credits that are traded in the global carbon market.
In February 2022, each of the participating 14 conservancies received Sh41.6 million ($324,000), the first of three annual.
“The funds generated from the sale are then reverted back to the communities and conservancies to help sustain their livelihoods and also to encourage them to be more proactive in environmental conservation,” explains Ms Kushi.
Though the workings of the carbon trade remain very technical to the ordinary resident, there was a sense of ownership about the project.
Loibuk Lenkara, a pastoralist living in one of the conservancies says that the communities remain motivated in ensuring that the grazing plan is adhered to.
Sitting in one of the grazing committees, he says that elders monitor boundaries to ensure that no one transgresses.
“Transgressors end up paying fines in form of livestock to the community,” he says adding that during the fruiting season everyone is required to wait for the fruits to fully mature otherwise they will end up donating a goat for the community to feed on for any act that borders on wastage or environmental degradation.
The money from the carbon market is used to build roads and provide water, to educate children through bursaries and is currently funding the construction of an eco-lodge targeting conservation tourists.
As this interview ends, Samburu pastoralists cluster around an acacia tree, their herds of goats kept into a controlled movement by their dogs. It is just an ordinary day, on the largest carbon farm.