BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Enlist the help of hundreds of community volunteers, hire one project coordinator and two security guards, then sell carbon credits.
The result: 117 hectares of protected mangrove forest on the south coast of Kenya, which provides a natural barrier against flooding from the Indian Ocean, creates both a nursery habitat for fish and water purification, and generates annual income for two villages to make vital improvements to infrastructure and social programs.
Mangroves are among the most threatened of all ecosystems, with global rates of destruction exceeding those of terrestrial tropical forests They are also among the most efficient of all natural carbon sinks and provide a wide range of other ecosystem benefits.
But mangroves have been declining in quality and area throughout Kenya; their total extent decreased by 0.7 percent per year between 1985 and 2000.
Mangrove cover in Kenya is currently estimated at 50,000-60,000 hectares, according to a report published in 2016 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO says this represents a decline of almost one-fifth since 1985.
Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kenya has committed to reducing emissions of climate-changing gases by 30 percent by 2030.
That goal will be easier to achieve if conservation and preservation of mangroves is integrated into efforts to curb emissions, says James Kairo, a principal scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).
The mangrove forest of Kenya’s Gazi Bay had been exploited by locals for many years, especially to build houses, furniture, boats and for fuel-wood.
The Kenyan government owns the forest and legal extraction is limited to individuals and groups with a Kenya Forest Service licence (although illegal extraction is common).
In 2011, residents of Makongeni and Gazi villages – home to about 6,000 people – began working with the Kenya Forest Service and KMFRI to protect 117 hectares (290 acres) of mangroves, or about 20 percent of the mangrove forest in Gazi Bay. The villagers formed Mikoko Pamoja (Mangroves Together in Swahili), the first community-led organization of its kind.
Besides protecting the trees themselves, the effort aims to improve local fisheries, as many species of fish breed and raise their young in shoreline mangroves, and to build resilience to worsening storm surges and coastal erosion, which can be slowed by mangroves.
Mangrove forests can also help regulate coastal rainfall, ensuring supplies of fresh water.
But mangrove forests are particularly effective at absorbing carbon dioxide, one of the major drivers of climate change. Kairo says that mangrove ecosystems can capture five times as much carbon as similar land ecosystems.
In 2013, Mikoko Pamoja signed an agreement with the Kenya Forest Service to sell carbon credits from the project for 20 years and to plant 4,000 mangrove trees annually to replace those harvested legally or lost to illegal harvesting.
Working with the forest service and KMFRI staff, community members divided the mangrove forest into 10m by 10m plots, measured the size of the trees in each plot and calculated their rate of growth, to come up with a figure for their carbon storage capacity and to generate carbon credits, explains Salim Mwarima, Mikoko Pamoja’s project officer in charge of the carbon offset scheme.
The credits — nearly 8,000 to date — are issued by the Plan Vivo Foundation, an international, Edinburgh-based charity that has created a set of requirements for smallholders and communities wishing to manage their land and natural resources more sustainably.
Mikoko Pamoja has been verified to sell 3,000 tonnes of CO2 per year over 20 years for about $5 to $6 a tonne, which generates about $15,000 annually. The buyers of Mikoko Pamoja’s carbon credits include Earthwatch, the Nico Koedem research group, and graduate students from Britain’s Imperial College London. The Association of Coastal Ecosystem Services, a Scottish registered charity, connects the buyers to Mikoko Pamoja.
The carbon credit proceeds go into financing more forest protection and restoration, and to community-chosen projects.
“In 2014, we renovated classrooms, and in 2015 we used the proceeds to pipe clean water into the villages from a borehole in a neighboring village,” says Mwarima.
“Restoration of the mangroves was essential, not only to secure sustainable livelihoods for the community, but to mitigate the effects of climate change,” adds Michael Njoroge, a researcher for KMFRI.
Today, Mikoko Pamoja even has its own ecotourism unit, featuring 450m of boardwalk among the trees where six of the nine mangroves species in Kenya can be seen. The community also runs a restaurant serving Swahili food to tourists.
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