Two small fishing villages along the Kenyan coast have earned their place on the global map for an ingenious community-led carbon offset initiative that is also helping to conserve the region's rapidly disappearing mangrove forest cover.
Gazi and Makongeni villages, which are located in south Coast, are the site of the project that has earned its residents global acclaim for revolutionising the protection of mangrove trees.
Project Mikoko Pamoja, as it is officially known, is the first community-owned initiative of its kind in the world to use proceeds from sale of carbon credits to fund conservation of mangrove cover.
The funds are also channelled into the community's development in areas such as education and fishing, the community's main livelihood.
It all began in 2013 with help from Kenya Marine Research Institute (Kemfri), and has since attracted international visitors eager to learn how reduction in carbon emissions can be leveraged to improve people’s living standards.
The project involves the community trying to conserve the area's 117 hectares of mangroves forests, with 10 hectares having being restored so far.
The community does this by coming together annually to plant 4,000 mangrove trees in a bid to replace those felled legally or lost to illegal tree harvesters.
This is important in managing climate change at the coast as mangrove forests capture carbon dioxide from the environment five times faster than other forests.
A million annually
Speaking to the Business Daily at the site, project coordinator Josphat Mwamba said the initiative has been recognised by the United Nations among other international agencies and has earned Sh1 million for its contributions towards saving the environment.
“Mikoko Pamoja being a unique project to sell carbon credits from mangroves will in September send representatives to UN headquarters in New York to receive the cash and an award,” he said, adding that the community is reaping big from the fruits of hard labour to conserve the environment.
Carbon credit, also sometimes referred to as a carbon offset, is a credit obtained for emissions reduced or taken out of the atmosphere through some kind of concerted effort.
The credits, an idea initially created in a deal by signatories of the Kyoto protocol, can then be traded by an individual, community or government to stakeholders emitting greenhouse gases to compensate what they generate.
Mr Mwamba says the project earns the community Sh1.3 million annually through harvesting at least 3000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and sale of credits to international buyers, who purchase them to offset their own emissions.
The buyers of Mikoko Pamoja’s carbon credits include Earthwatch, the Nico Koedem research group, and MSc students from Imperial College London.
The Association of Coastal Ecosystem Services connects the buyers to Mikoko Pamoja.
Mr Mwamba said that the community, together with the Kenya Forest Services (KFS) and kemfri, divided the mangrove forest into 10m by 10m plots for easy monitoring and to calculate the carbon credits.
“To come up with an annual figure for carbon storage capacity and to generate carbon credits, we measure the size of the mangrove trees in each plot and calculate their rate of growth,” he explained.
He says says the project has brought fortunes to the village; it has hosted global leaders and international communities seeking to replicate the project in their respective areas.
Developed the villages
As a result of this project, the lives of villagers in Gazi and Makongeni is changing as benefit sharing from selling mangroves carbon credits is invested in community projects.
“We have connected water to Gazi and Makongeni villages courtesy of Mikoko Pamoja Project,” said Mr Mwamba, adding that the project also renovated Gazi and Makongeni schools and donated textbooks for the pupils.
Rehema Mohammed, a resident from Makongeni who runs a water kiosk, says the initiative has helped them to easily access clean water.
“We are now able to fetch water at subsidised prices and we don’t travel long distances in search of water as we used to do previously,” she said, adding that 20 litres of water goes for Sh3 from Sh15.
Mr Mwamba says the project has also provided employment opportunities to some members of the community.
“The project has employed two community forest scouts and a guard who takes care of the project’s assets as well as the project coordinator. We at times hire locals to assist us in other project activities and they are able to earn some money,” he said.
Mr Mwamba attributes its success to the devotion of community members owning the project.
“We have other partners through (kemfri) who are always working to make the project a success by giving us technical assistance to enable reach our targets,” he added.
The Gazi model has impressed many leading scientists as the local community takes a leading role in conserving their ecological resources.
Although it has brought positive changes to the community, there are still challenges.
Mr Mwamba says illegal harvesting of the trees remains a problem that the community is trying to tackle.
However, he hopes that with gradual spread of awareness of benefits of conservation as well as deleterious effects of cutting them, this will result in more controlled harvesting of the trees.