By Wanjohi Kabukuru
[Gazi Bay, Kenya] Gazi Bay is a quiet sleepy village which lies some 55 kilometres south of Kenya’s coastal resort capital of Mombasa. It does not feature on the tourism circuit as the south-coast’s hotspots of Diani, Ukunda, Nyali, Kisite and even its direct neighbour Chale Island. And it fades into oblivion when one mentions Watamu, Malindi and Lamu.
Even with its idyllic coastal settings complete with hundreds of coconut tree fronds, fresh sea breeze and white sandy beaches Gazi Bay and its neighbour Makongeni Village appear nowhere in tourist pamphlets.
But when it comes to biodiversity conservation, Gazi Bay sheltered peacefully in azure blue waters off the Chale Peninsula with a thrust of the coastal mangroves greenery, shines like no other coastal community in the entire Africa.
Mangroves: The “forgotten” trees changing livelihoods along the western Indian Ocean [Image: IOO Archives]
Indeed Gazi is well respected globally for its mangroves more than its fisheries, even though it is a major fish landing site in the eastern seaboard of Africa. In fact it is considered a global conservation hotspot hoisting mangroves protection as flagship species.
Ideally Gazi Bay is a fishing village with the ecosystem and monsoons tides favouring rich marine life, and the main cause for this wealth in biodiversity is the reason it is known globally. Gazi leads the world due to its pioneering community-led role in mangroves conservation in the western Indian Ocean seaboard.
“When you talk about mangroves conservation in Africa, Gazi Bay stands out.” Josphat Mwamba the Mikoko Pamoja (Swahili for “mangroves together”) programme manager says.
Josphat Mwamba, the Mikoko Pamoja project coordinator in Gazi Bay, Kenya points out at the mangroves restoration site [Image: IOO Archives]
Envisaged in the Mikoko Pamoja project is an all encompassing ideal being made into reality as the community conserves 107 ha of mangroves forests and is seeking to plant a further 10 ha in the degraded parts of the Chale peninsula. In addition to this the community has set a high bar of replanting some 0.4ha annually with mangroves for the next 20 years. Alongside these is a mangrove forest boardwalk run by the women of Gazi as an ecotourism venture for nature trail adventures, bird and mollusk watchers, scientists and those who want a quiet time in a mangrove forest.
Through these simple yet demanding goals the Makongeni and Gazi communities with a population estimate of 10,000 are on course to use their mangrove forest in capturing some 3000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year translating into 50,000 tonnes of carbon in the project’s two decades lifespan. This carbon capture ideal has seen the community being registered under Plan Vivo certification and is now generating and selling carbon credits to corporations seeking to enhance their green credentials.
Gazi women boardwalk project. An ecotourism project facilitated by mangroves carbon offset initiative [Image: IOO Archives]
“When it comes to climate change, mangroves are sequestering 3000 tonnes of carbon which has considerably changed our lifestyles. Mangroves are indeed a lifeline of our community.” Mwamba says. “Marine ecosystems can absorb ten times what terrestrial ecosystems can absorb in terms of carbon sequestration. Mangroves alone can absorb five times than any terrestrial forest.”
Gazi is fully recognized under the UN reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+). Indeed the Gazi project is unique as it is among the leading REDD+ projects in Africa. This is because a majority of projects in Africa are land-based. Gazi is therefore a breath of fresh air as it is a new discussion point elevating the the carbon sequestration conversation by bringing in a new dimension. The REDD+ carbon capture initiative seeks to give developing countries a financial incentive to protect their forests and lower their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Previously mangroves did not feature in the REDD+ discussions as there was a general lack of knowledge output on what was described as a “lack of carbon accounting methodologies.”
Gazi’s village is changing as benefit sharing from mangroves carbon offset project trickles down to the community
The Gazi Project qualified for the Plan Vivo certification as it concurs with the ideals that Plan Vivo Foundation which is a charity that certifies the veracity of carbon offsets and the delivery targets. This includes long term sequestration of carbon (simply put as carbon capture). Under Plan Vivo projects need to adhere to the best practices of forest conservation, afforestation, and avoided deforestation. All these are the lifeline under which Gazi has based its pillars. The carbon cash has helped propel the Gazi community to newer heights.
Ideally all forests in Kenya including mangroves forests are under the Kenya Forests Service (KFS), however through the Forests Act, communities bordering forests can co-manage forests with the KFS. To this end Mwamba reveals that there is an arrangement whereby the Mikoko Pamoja Community maintains a special user agreement with the KFS granting the community tenure over a portion of the entire Gazi Forest which covers some 615ha.
“We have relooked at mangroves in new light that is both innovative and beneficial to the entire community.” Ali Shufa who chairs the Gazi Mikoko Pamoja project says. “Since 2013 and for the next 20 years we have committed ourselves as a community to set up a major carbon sink which we will achieve through new planting, curbing deforestation and preventing mangrove forest degradation.”
Shuffa is the current chair of the 13-member community committee that oversees the daily operations of mangroves conservation. The community-led initiative has a steering committee that revolves among community members every two years with the chairmanship rotating within the two villages.
To achieve these goals the community has set itself a high target seeking to enhance the nine mangroves species found in Kenya and which also happen to thrive in Gazi Bay. To attain these targets the community has committed to avoid deforestation and protection. “The community runs the show right from planting all the way to protection.” Mwamba says. “The entire community is involved, this means the whole family is involved. From schools all the way to the homes. There has been a complete mind shift in our community regarding mangroves. We have employed scouts and through carbon credits we are seeking to address extreme problems first. Water and education have been critical. The community knows that it owns the mangroves.”
Village barazas (meetings) decides the priority projects. According to Shufa all key decisions are made with the full participation of the community in mind and for the benefit of the community.
“For the last three years more than 70 per cent of houses in these villages have been connected to water courtesy of Mikoko Pamoja.” Shuffa says. “In Makongeni we have increased water points which are heavily subsidised. We have created job opportunities for most of the villagers and even our fishermen have plentiful fish right here dure to the ecosystem support accorded by mangroves.”
To achieve all these was not easy. Shuffa and Mwamba confirm this. “It took months of consultations to convince community members that the project was for their good.” Shuffa says. “Remember most of the community’s needs are based on mangroves. It is a hardy tree in building anything and the firewood lasts longer, so to convince them to change was not an easy task. That is how we came up with the casuarinas trees as an alternative.”
The casuarinas tree wood lot is already thriving at the local primary school as the mangroves forest increases in size.
“I have piped water in my house due to mangroves.” Shuffa says with a grin. “It is the same thing for all the houses in our village and even in our school.”
Incidentally two similar stories to that of Gazi were to unfold in the deltas of River Zambezi in Mozambique and Rufiji in Tanzania. However they are yet to be rolled out. Similar community led mangrove related carbon sinks were to be established in these three countries. Only Gazi stands up. Mozambican coastal development analyst Bob Gumbe notes that consultations are still on-going with communities even though all formalities have been met. It is the same in the Rufiji Delta. A resident of Rufiji, Richard Mtika concurs that consultations with Rufiji Delta communities is vital as the whole carbon capture is premised on community conservation.
Plans to have the Gazi model in the Rufiji and Zambezi Deltas are still being explored
“The interplay of academia, donors, government and grassroots support is working in Gazi.” Mwamba says.
Involved in the project is the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), EarthWatch, Plan Vivo Foundation World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI), University of Bangor, . “Madagascar visited Gazi to see how we work in the project.”
That the the Gazi community has won hearts and minds across the region is not in doubt. They recently hosted a team comprising of academics, community leaders and environmentalists from Madagascar who visited them to for a hands-on experiential training on mangroves restoration. Gazi’s experience is being sought as a replication model within the western Indian Ocean.
So far Gazi using its inclusive model which calls for the participation of all community members has used its carbon funds to provide piped water to all villagers in Gazi. In the year 2016 Gazi received some $12,000 which is divided to run the project and administer community development initiatives. The audited accounts report is pinned on the notice-board wall in the main road of Gazi for access by community members.
Mikoko Pamoja community chairman Ali Shuffa at the Gazi Coordination office [Image: IOO Archives]
“We receive incentives through carbon credits and though small we are part of the global initiatives on climate change mitigation.” Shuffa says. “Everything has a start and we hope our conservation efforts will increase our earnings and bring more development into our village and improve our lifestyles. We are also keen to share our knowledge with other communities in the world.”
It is also the most studied mangrove ecosystem in all of Africa and one of the best studied in the world. Dr Kairo confirms this.
“Basically this is the first project to use mangroves as a carbon sink.” Mwamba says. “We got $12000 last year. 70 per cent covers project costs and 30 per cent goes to the community. The money that directly goes to the community is what brought piped water to each house in Gazi last year.”
The Gazi model has impressed many leading scientists seeing the local fishing village taking the lead role of their ecological resources.
“MPAs are vital tools for marine conservation but often fall short of their potential and can have negative impacts on local fishing communities.” Environmental scholar Steve Rocliffe, of York’s Environment Department, says. “Against this backdrop, we’re seeing coastal communities across a vast swathe of the Indian Ocean taking more responsibility for their resources by setting up conservation zones known as ‘locally managed marine areas’ which put people at the centre: it’s the fishers themselves who are making the management decisions, based on their needs, their priorities, and their traditional ecological knowledge.”
Article written under the aegis of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Media Fellowships Programme