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planting mangroves Kenya
A group of villagers of Gasi bay planting mangroves during the international day for mangrove conservation. Photo: Cece Siago.

This Kenyan village halted deforestation by selling carbon credits

If he was working a few years ago, 36-year-old Bomani Mohammed would be cutting Kenya’s mangroves and selling them for charcoal or for timber. Instead, he earns a living by growing them.

This resident of Gasi Bay, located on Kenya’s eastern African coast, is optimistic about the future. He and more than 3.000 neighbors have stopped logging mangroves, in a moment where their village is at risk of being submerged due to rising seawater levels.

Since the inception of a community-led project known as “Mikoko Pamoja” (a Swahili word for “Mangroves together”) Mohammed has benefited through various initiatives of reforestation, making him change his perception about mangrove trees.

He is one of the people in Kenya benefitting from the rising market of “carbon credits”. This means international clients —often companies— can pay to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions. They pay to restore mangrove forests, which are known to store a lot of carbon, and then count it as a “compensation” for their emissions. 

Every month, Mohammed and members of his community voluntarily take part in mangrove planting activities. Just recently as the world marked international day for conservation of mangroves, they planted over 5,000 mangroves seedlings at Gasi Bay together with various other Kenyan government officials.

“Previously, we would cut the mangroves. But a lot of soil used to be washed into the water affecting our fishing activities. These affected their breeding areas and fish stock for fishermen, who are the majority in my community,” he said.

kenya community forest
Mohammed Bomani, a resident of Gasi Village handling a boat engine. He abandoned cutting mangroves for charcoal to earn from the Mikoko Pamoja project. Majority of the villagers are fishermen and use motorboats for fishing. Photo: Cece Siago.

Carbon markets are essential for reducing emissions, as well as providing sustainable jobs in developing countries like Kenya. In fact, half of the world’s countries (accounting for 38% of emissions) included markets in their national climate plans.

But if they are not strictly regulated, they can lead to more harm than good: they would allow a double counting of emissions, both for the country where the mangroves were planted and for the country who paid for them.

Because of this, it’s one of the most controversial issues pending in the UN’s climate negotiations, which are yet to produce a rulebook for the Paris Agreement. This rulebook would also regulate carbon markets.

Restoring mangroves for money

Mohamed said due to limited job opportunities as a result of low education levels, most of the residents of Gasi Bay rely on fishing as the main economic activity, and they used to complement it with the sale of charcoal and logging.

According to him, interventions by Mikoko Pamoja, a now community-led organization in Kenya has helped the community to instead focus on conservation of the mangroves. They have also been educated on the importance of conserving the environment.

“All the children can go to school because, through the proceeds of the trade, we have been funded to repair the roofs of schools where classes were worn out. All villagers now have access to piped water and the children are provided with balls to play with,” he said.

mangrove seedlings kenya
Mangrove seedlings ready for the Mmikoko Pamoja project to plant and use as a restoration method to gain and trade carbon credits. Photo: Cece Siago.

According to Rahma Rashid Kivugo, the project coordinator in the community, the initiative came up in 2012 as an intervention to a high rate of mangrove exploitation that used to happen in the area.

This is a community run project and a public initiative, which other communities have also replicated. A similar project, Vanga Blue Forest Project is also trading carbon credits from mangrove conservation and restoration in Vanga, an area on the Kenyan Coast in Vanga Village, 72 km from Gazi. Communities here are benefiting from the trade of carbon credits.

“At that time, the impacts of climate change were already being felt globally. In this community, they had started getting reduced fish stock as the waters had risen and these mangroves would no longer offer breeding and protective grounds for fish,” she explained.

The trade is not only to help the community economically but also to shield them from the harsh effects of climate change.

By working under a Voluntary Carbon Market, the trade is not limited to countries, and its prices too are not fixed. This has also allowed the carbon to be sold through individuals, companies, across the globe, with the majority of the countries being in the global north. 

“A few businesses from Kenya have started engaging us and I think this is a good sign in National efforts to offset carbon as well as support local community efforts,” she said.

Despite the project being a success, they are still faced with challenges such as continued deforestation, according to Ms Rashid, which she said was due to the absence of a boundary along the area where the mangrove is planted. 

But the volatility of the carbon market has posed a major challenge, because the carbon prices keep fluctuating depending on the aspect of demand and supply. In short, when the demand is low, the prices are also low.

It has also proven grim to meet the technical requirements such as ecosystem restoration, because of unavailability of required seedlings. Rashid said that every year, they are required to plant at least 4,000 seedlings in a 0.4 ha of land, but the seedlings are not always available. 

A fisherman hawking fish in the village. The majority of those living in Gazi practice fishing and have adapted to planting mangroves, which act as breeding grounds for their catch. Photo: Cece Siago.

Climate change has also posed a major challenge and this has made the project miss some of the percentage of revenue targeted. 

Despite the challenges, Rashid said the project has earned a good income for local communities, which is currently being invested in different minor projects in the small community. This amount has been increasing for the past three years.

By the end of 2020, they registered Sh 2,6 million ($25,000 USD) in carbon credits sold, an amount that has been used to ensure that most of the basic needs of the locals are met through the various sponsored initiatives.

This includes buying textbooks for school children, repairing worn out iron sheets, setting up clean water points after digging wells close to people’s houses and buying playing kits and balls for children.

How do they get the money?

According to Ms Rashid, the generated credits are sold in the following year after approval reports. The time to approve and sell the credits varies can take weeks depending on how the reports are made. 

They are then marketed by the Association of Coastal Ecosystem Services, a Scotland based charity organization that also handles the trade of credits. Afterwards, buyers are issued with certificates once the trade is complete to acknowledge receipt.

Dr James Kairu, a senior Kenyan scientist working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), who is also the brains behind the Mikoko Pamoja project, said that Kenya —as a developing country— contributes little to global emissions but was one of the most affected by climate change.

Residents of Gasi Bay, in East Africa's Kenya, abandoned tree cutting activities because they could make more money by planting them.
Mangrove forests in Gasi Bay, where residents have abandoned deforestation and have chosen to plant mangroves and earn from community projects. Photo: Cece Siago.

Dr Kairu said it was important to have mitigations such as planting mangroves and restoring the forests to protect Kenya against the harsh effects of climate change that it is facing due to carbon emissions.

He will be among Kenyans representing the country in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this November. There, country’s will try to agree on the fate of the carbon markets and their regulations.

For Mohamed, he believes his two-month-old child will have a better future, not only in access to books and water in the area, but also in a clean environment as he aims towards planting more mangroves in Gasi.