How Kenyan villagers are using carbon credits and indigenous knowledge to fight climate change impacts

A member of Mikoko Pamoja mangrove restoration project in Gazi Bay, Kwale County at work. PHOTO/UNEP

By PATRICK MAYOYO

newsdesk@reporter254.com

While driving through the sleepy and idyllic fishing village of Gazi in Diani, Kwale County, at the Kenyan coast, one thing that will catch your attention is women either frying or selling fish by the roadside.

Then as you approach the Gazi Bay beach, you will start gazing at canoes and speed boats either under construction or repairs and spot others dancing through the bay on fishing missions or taking tourists on a tour.

This is the home of the Mikoko Pamoja a pioneer community-based Payments-for-Environmental-Service  (PES)  mangroves restoration project in the region.

Payments for environmental services (PES) are incentives offered to landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide certain environmental services.

Mikoko Pamoja, an initiative of the local community and the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute  (KMFRI)  has been changing lives through restoration of the degraded sections of the mangrove forest in Gazi Bay.

The project has been hailed as a pioneer community-based project of its kind to use sale of carbon credits to fund mangrove conservation activities and community development.

Although efforts of members of  Mikoko Pamoja  go unnoticed within their locality, they are the unsung heroes and heroines involved in a highly complex and sophisticated undertaking of mitigating against effects of climate change.

According to, Ms Rahma Kivugo, the project coordinator of the Mikoko Pamoja project, the members responsibilities include, protecting and conserving the mangroves, regularly monitoring and identifying degraded areas for restoration, attending and sharing opinions in meetings and workshops and actively participating in the project activities.

Ms Kivugo said the project has been able to restore 10 hectares of degraded mangrove forests in Gazi Bay in two separate plots in each village, with the oldest being over 26 years old.

“We have also been able to restore three hectares of a different mangrove specie in one village, an area that was once heavily degraded. This we will continue to do every year,” she added.

Ms Kivugo said the local community has also greatly benefited from the project through initiatives that support education, health, water and sanitation and increased awareness on the value of the mangrove ecosystem as well as the importance of conservation leading to improved livelihoods.

IMAGE/UNEP

Mikoko Pamoja concept was one of the highlights during the 2015 Conference of Parties  (COP 21)  in Paris France where it was presented as one of the blue solutions to climate change problems raising the  profile  of Gazi Bay in the world.

The project is among Payments-for-Environmental-Service (PES) projects aimed at addressing the problem of deforestation and forest degradation around the world.

Deforestation is the process of converting forest land to another use, while forest degradation is the process of losing carbon stocks from land even when the land use remain forest, but the amount of carbon stock in the forest is reduced through human activities or immediate actions that directly impact forest cover and lead to the loss of forest carbon.

According to United Nations  (UN)  research, such activities include subsistence and commercial farming, surface mining, infrastructure development, urban expansion, legal and illegal timber extraction (logging), forest fires, livestock grazing, firewood collection and charcoal burning. Some of the issues that led to the formation of Mikoko Pamoja initiative.

These developments requires substantial reductions in greenhouse gas  (GHG ) emissions to be achieved through the introduction and implementation of policies, laws, regulations, practices and incentive systems, collectively known as policies according to UN.

Mikoko Pamoja mangrove restoration initiative is part of the global efforts spearheaded by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC)  under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries  (REDD+)  in line with the  Cancun Agreements  .

REDD+ is a forest-based climate change mitigation approach that provides incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainably manage their forests and help conserve and enhance carbon stocks.

Dr Jared Bosire, Programme Manager, UNEP ~ Nairobi Convention, says Mikoko Pamoja is a globally pioneering carbon financed mangrove project exemplifying community engagement in conservation to restore degraded habitats and also bring in incomes to support critical community services like education and water supply.

Dr Bosire adds that carbon financed projects like the Mikoko Pamoja are some of the special efforts being employed by developing countries to ease the consequences of climate change caused by unsustainable production and consumption.

“Carbon financed projects like the Mikoko Pamoja are some of the initiatives that fit within the REDD+ armpit,” he said.

It is against this background that mangrove forests play a key role in efforts being made to fight the impacts of climate change given that humans influence has been the dominant cause of global warming.

Mangrove dieback due to increased sedimentation caused by shoreline change at Gazi Bay, Kenya. PHOTO/UNEP

Mikoko Pamoja has been on a journey of not only conserving the environment but also spreading environmental awareness among the young and the elderly by involving both school children and their parents in their activities.

Unknown to many, their mangrove restoration initiatives are helping in mitigating against rising sea levels, landslides, providing buffer zones against floods and helping in absorbing excessive carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, major challenges linked to climate change.

The Mikoko Pamoja which won the  2017 UN Equator Prize  is also among initiatives that compliment President Uhuru Kenyatta’s commitment to plant two million trees by 2022 and also help the government reach the 10 percent trees cover by 2022.

It has to be noted that human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests, have greatly intensified the natural greenhouse effect, causing global warming.

According to studies by different UN agencies, the forestry sector therefore offers significant potential for the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHS) emissions.

This is a role being effectively played by organisations like Mikoko Pamoja mangrove restoration initiatives through their carbon credits project in Gazi Bay.

According to, Dr Kipkorir Sigi Langat, a principal scientist and marine ecologist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), the Mikoko Pamoja project has 117 hectares of mangroves under carbon offset programme, with Gazi Bay having 700 hectares of mangroves.

“117 hectares of mangroves under the Mikoko Pamoja project have been set aside for sell of carbon credits,” he observed.

Dr Langat said the 117 hectares of mangroves captures (removes) 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year which is then sold in the carbon credit market.

“The price of one tonne of carbon is US$ 13,” he added.

Through the carbon credits programme and the utilizing of their indigenous knowledge in environmental conservation, Mikoko Pamoja is leading the way in how local communities can play a pro-active role in fighting the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.

Communities in Kenya and other parts of Africa have played a crucial role in conserving the environment over the years by applying their indigenous knowledge that has been passed over from one generation to another.

According to the  Global Environment Facility (GEF),  traditional knowledge – the collective understanding of traditions and practices used by indigenous groups to sustain and adapt themselves to their environment – is critical to global efforts to protect and renew nature.

The GEF says indigenous peoples have spiritual and customary bonds with their traditional territories that span millennia, and their preservation of sacred lands is arguably the earliest form of conservation.

It adds the insights passed down through generations are valuable for research and ecosystem management, while traditional medical wisdom has the potential to lead to new medical breakthroughs.

recent analysis  in the journal  Nature Sustainability  showed indigenous groups have rights to or manage nearly 4 billion hectares of land in the Americas, the Arctic, South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and in Oceania.

Ms Kivugo says projects similar to Mikoko Pamoja mangrove restoration initiative are now on the rise not only in different parts of the Coast region but also in other parts of the world.

“Mikoko Pamoja is serving as a successful pioneer project in the conservation of mangrove ecosystems through the sale of mangrove carbon credits,” she noted.

Ms Kivugo said other countries such as Madagascar assimilated the project and more similar projects are still in the implementation stages in Tanzania, Mozambique and other parts of Kenya.

Mangroves throughout the world connect land and its people with the sea, providing millions with a wide range of goods and services at both local, national and global levels.

According to a new report by UNEP titled  Guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration for the Western Indian Ocean region   communities along the coast depend on mangrove wood for fuel, construction, fish traps, boat building and non-wood products such as traditional medicine.

The UNEP report says at least 35 percent of mangrove forest area was lost worldwide during the 1980 to 1990s period, with loses of 50-80 percent in some regions. In the WIO region, 8 percent of mangrove cover was lost between 1975 and 2000, translating to a decline of about 3,000 hectares per year.

The UNEP report says mangroves function as habitat and nursery grounds for fish and other wildlife. 

Their broad and towering canopies provide nesting and resting grounds for migratory and sea birds and other wildlife and the resilient mangrove ecosystem support the associated ecosystems such as sea grass beds and coral reefs thus maintaining their health, functioning and integrity.

Mangrove forests also act as buffer zones between land and the sea where the fringing coastline and bays surrounded by mangroves play a significant role in sediment stabilization, shoreline and coastal protection as well as water purification. They also stabilize shorelines, prevent coastal erosion and protect coastlines.

In our next story read about the role of Payments-for-Environmental-Service (PES) projects in the implementation of SDGs

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