Carbon credits may seem like an esoteric idea far removed from the life of small and isolated communities. But far away from financial centres, small and isolated communities are using them to achieve what they call a ‘triple win’ – supporting their livelihoods and meeting their own community needs while protecting the environment for themselves and everyone else.
I had just learned about how carbon credits were financing traditional fire management in northern Australia, when I learned about the world’s first ‘blue’ forestry project – a community-led mangrove conservation and restoration project in Kenya, which has lost one fifth of its mangroves over the last 30 years.
Mangroves, often called ‘blue forests’, are one of the world’s most important carbon sinks but also one of the most endangered. They protect coasts from erosion, provide nursery habitat for fish, purify the water, improve biodiversity, and sequester large amounts of carbon – mangroves store more than eight times per hectare than terrestrial forests. Most mangrove forests are located in only 15 countries, and less than seven per cent of them are protected. While they are critical climate change mitigation resources, they also provide vital resources for villagers, such as firewood, building poles, and construction materials.
Located in Gazi Bay of southern Kenya, which is one of the major fish landing sites in Kenya and on the East African coast as a whole, Mikoko Pamoja (which means Mangroves Together in Swahili) is the first community-based project in the world to successfully sell carbon credits from mangrove conservation and restoration. Credits are bought by businesses, NGOs, universities, and individuals.
It is no longer alone, however. In 2019, seeing Mikoko Pamoja’s success over the previous six years, a nearby village began its own project on a much larger area – three times the size. The Vanga Blue Forest will protect 460 hectares of mangroves and improve livelihoods for 9,000 people living in the villages of Vanga, Jimbo and Kiwegu.
Started in 2013, after two decades of research and community engagement by two researchers, Mikoko Pamoja brings together two communities in Gazi Bay in Southern Kenya which will, over 20 years, conserve about 16% of the local ecosystem. That includes protecting 107 ha of natural forest, conserving 10 ha of plantations created in the 1990s to replace denuded areas, and restoring part of the beach where apple mangroves were cut for firewood. Wild apple mangrove seedlings are collected from other parts of the bay and raised in a mangrove nursery that is washed by tides daily before being planted in the reforestation area when they are eight months old. More than 10,000 seedlings have been planted.
These activities “cumulatively sequester approximately 3,000 metric tons CO2-equivalent per year” and earn the communities at least $12,000 USD per year which is, among other things, used to build schools, provide school books, and support physical education and football teams. For the first time, local students are now attending high school. Two pumps provide clean drinking water to the 5,400 residents. Plans for using the carbon credit monies are developed collaboratively through village barazas – community consultative meetings to which all community members are invited. After staff payments, the remaining funds are allocated to community projects and mangrove activities overseen by village leaders.
While community residents earn money from beekeeping and ecotourism, 90% of the community depends on the fishery, and thus the health of the mangroves are vital. The protected area has been clearly marked, and illegal mangrove cutting has been reduced through community scout patrols and a surveillance tower. Fast-growing Casuarina plantations have been cultivated as alternative wood sources, and Mikoko Pamoja has partnered with the WWF to look into how energy saving stoves and solar lights could further reduce community needs for firewood.
The project also promotes blue carbon widely. More than 1,500 students, from primary school to university, visit each year to learn about mangroves, ecology, payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes, and climate change mitigation. Twelve teachers from the region serve as environmental champions to educate students about mangroves.
Earth Optimism Nairobi. Mikoko Pamoja – Together for Mangroves. Cambridge Conservation Initiative.
Mikoko Pamoja. Equator Initiative, UNDP.
Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya. Equator Initiative Case Study.
MIKOKO PAMOJA – KENYA. Plan Vivo.
VANGA BLUE FOREST. Association for Coastal Ecosystems Services.
How mangrove forests helped stall environmental crime. BBC Future Planet, Apr. 28, 2021