Mangrove carbon credits to help Kenyan communities
3 October 2013, by Tom Marshall
A new initiative launched today will raise money for community projects in Kenya by protecting and restoring the country's dwindling mangrove forests.
The plan is to sell carbon credits earned by preserving the mangrove swamps to companies and individuals aiming to offset their carbon emissions and improve their green credentials.
The scientists behind the scheme hope it will bring in some $12,000 a year, around a third of which will fund projects in areas like education and clean water. The rest will cover the cost of protecting the mangroves, as well as planting new seedlings to replace lost trees.
'Mangrove forests are one of the world's most threatened natural ecosystems, with 20 per cent lost in Kenya over the last quarter-century,' says Professor Mark Huxham of Edinburgh Napier University, one of the project's leaders. 'When mangroves are destroyed, the carbon that has been stored in the forest soil and in biomass, built up over thousands of years, is released to the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.'
Mikoko Pamoja ('Mangroves Together') focuses on Gazi Bay, a mangrove-rich coastal area south of Mombasa that's home to around 3000 people. Initially it'll cover 117 hectares of mangrove, but Huxham and his colleagues hope this will expand over time, and that other communities in Kenya and beyond will be inspired to set up similar initiatives when they see the benefits here.
It's the brainchild of Huxham and Dr James Kairo from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, with backing from international NGOs including the Earthwatch Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, from UK insurer Aviva and from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme, which is partly funded by NERC.
'Thanks to the work of Earthwatch volunteers and local people we've built up an excellent relationship with nearby communities,' explains Huxham. 'Mangrove trees are a really important part of everyday life in Gazi Bay and also have spiritual importance to local people.'
In much of the world mangroves are usually cleared to make space for shrimp farming and other kinds of aquaculture, but in Kenya the main threat is logging for firewood and timber. Demand for wood has soared with population growth and urbanisation.
By working with local people and making sure they see immediate benefits from leaving the forests intact, the scientists behind the scheme hope to encourage them to take more care of their mangroves, and in particular to be more vigilant about reporting illegal logging. Most of the focus is on protecting the mangroves that remain, but about 10 per cent of the area is set for planting with new seedlings - Huxham says it's often better to let mangroves regenerate naturally, if conditions permit.
Keeping carbon safely locked up is just one of several goals. The locals are more interested in the more immediate benefits the forests give them; they protect the coastline from erosion and provide a home for crabs, shrimp and young fish which then move offshore as adults and support local fishermen.
A council of local people will decide how to spend the profits from selling carbon credits. They are also responsible for communicating the project's aims to the community, which should increase locals' sense of being involved with and benefiting from it.
Huxham and Kairo have spent the last decade working with communities in the south of Kenya to protect mangrove forests, working with colleagues from Bangor, Birmingham and Edinburgh universities. The project's carbon benefits are being independently verified by Plan Vivo, an organisation that specialises in setting up small-scale carbon offsetting schemes to help communities in the developing world.
NERC has supported Huxham's work in the area for many years. Before ESPA became involved, it funded his earlier work on how young fish shelter in the mangroves of Gazi Bay. He now hopes that if Mikoko Pamoja succeeds in providing a significant and sustainable boost to local incomes, similar projects will follow it elsewhere. ESPA recently awarded a new grant to fund a new initiative in Tanzania, and other East African nations like Mozambique, Madagascar and Zanzibar also have extensive mangrove forests that should be suitable.
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