By Divo Yaa
When they started the group five years ago, no one took them seriously but undeterred, they soldiered on, all in the name of ensuring that their environment is safe. Little did they know that they would one day be counted among the pioneers of the blue economy in the Kenyan Coast and globally.
In Mkangagani village, in Dabaso of Kilifi County on Kenya’ north coast, a group of about 20 people came together to start rehabilitation of the mangroves and smart agriculture to reduce pressure on the environment.
The group under the name Mkangagani Self-Help Group is now reaping from their conservation initiative while ensuring sustainable livelihood through a clean ecosystem.
The group leader Chome Mumba said over the year they have been able to restore the mangrove forest that was depleted by planting mangroves in Mida creek as well as other terrestrial trees and seedlings.
“At first we did not realize that there was a linkage between fish stocks and mangroves until later through information from experts that we were able to learn that the scarcity of fish was directly linked to destruction of the mangroves,” he said.
However, conservation alone without looking at alternative sources of livelihood would have been counterproductive.
Mumba said there was need for people to sustain their lives while protecting the environment and that is why they chose to start a project of propagating seedlings of various fruits for sale.
“As a group, our centre also served as a place of learning for the community, we grew a variety of vegetables to sustain our families instead of going to the mangrove forest to cut down the trees for firewood and also for building poles,” he said.
Mumba said group’s main aim in this conservation efforts is to increase the fish production in the ocean as fish rely most in the mangrove in creating safe breeding places which in turn increases fish stocks and earnings for the fisher folks.
‘Our great effort in conservation is to create awareness on the mangrove eco-systems. We are planning to clear the beach side to make it comfortable for visitors to rest and also planning to involve young people for entertainment activities like beach football, volleyball and also traditional dances. In doing this we shall be safeguarding our mangrove against illegal wood cutters who destroy it by cutting the mangrove trees indiscriminately. In addition we are planning to plant 1000 mangrove trees annually to replace the destroyed ones,” Mumba.
Apart from the mangrove, the group engages in organic farming like growing cassava, amaranth, kales, tomatoes and maize in their homesteads to enhance food security and life sustainability.
Mumba said they also do fishing and also practice beekeeping in the mangrove trees as an income generating activity. By using the mangrove forest as sites for the beehives the group is producing honey that they sell in Malindi, Kilifi, Mombasa as well as stocking at the National Museum of Kenya (NMK) which has been at the forefront in boosting the group’s activities.
“We practice bee keeping at most as this is the easiest way of farming. Unlike maize farming, bee keeping does not require cultivation of land, irrigation, use of fertilizer nor pesticides to maintain it. It particularly comes in handy in our area that is prone to drought.
“In the mangrove bee keeping does better because it’s always cool and quiet making a suitable environment for bees hence enhancing good harvest of honey,” said Jacynta Nyevu, who is an expert in bee keeping.
In a good season, Nyevu said they could harvest and process up to 400 litres of honey. She said they normally harvest after four months and with the income from honey they are able to concentrate on the conservation of mangroves and the marine ecosystem.
However, despite having struggled in this project, they still face some challenges in achieving their goals according to Mama Amina a member of the group. In their project they lack appropriate bags for planting the mangrove seedlings besides they use plastic milk bags that are harmful when consumed by the marine animals hence leading to reduction in fish production.
Market for their products is another challenge to the project that was largely caused by effects of corona virus in Kenya. The group is optimistic that their business will pick up as life gets back to normal.
Mangrove forests are incredible natural that also provides defense against strong sea winds, waves and floods. Studies show that mangrove can give up to 90% protection from tsunamis as well as environmental protection by guarding the soil against erosion and rising sea levels, as falling leaves and other dead matter create new soil and growing tree roots stabilize that soil. Mangrove beautifies nature and also attract rain as well as consume carbon that is produced by several industries, in doing this it purifies the air hence making suitable environment for living creatures. Therefore mangrove are truly remarkable natural resources that needs to be protected.
Ecotourism promotes responsible, nature-conscious travel that conserves the local environment and improves future opportunities for the community. It raises the funds needed to develop local infrastructure while gaining support for biodiversity conservation.
A mangrove forest is home to a myriad of species, making it an ideal tourist attraction. Different kinds of birds for instance, shelter in the dense branches and provide a bird watching opportunity for tourists. By engaging in tourism activities such as tour guiding or food services, the community generates income and reduces the need to exploit mangrove forests.
A good example of proper management and conservation of mangroves is that of Gazi village, a settlement that borders a mangrove forest by the Indian Ocean, the villagers came together to plant mangrove seedlings for three days during the rainy season. Like in most coastal villages, fish trade is a main economic activity here and mangroves play a key role in promoting fish production. Mangrove forests provide nursery grounds for many species of fish that rarely breed in the deep ocean because of strong water currents and predators. Gazi and Makongeni villages have in place a carbon offset project, the first of its kind in the world to successfully trade mangrove carbon credits. Mangroves store three to five times more carbon than tropical forests, which makes them elemental in the fight against carbon emissions and global warming. The carbon offset project is an initiative of Mikoko Pamoja (Mangroves Together) a community group, and the sale of carbon credits is used to fund mangrove conservation alongside development programs within the villages