Kenya: Community project restores forest livelihoods

| June 30, 2014

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Zakaria Lihanda Masheti has lived next to Iloro forest since he was a child. His household is one of an estimated 5,000 that directly depend on the forest for a living. The 70-year old has witnessed the community gradually destroy the 490-hectare forest by burning charcoal, grazing animals, collecting fuelwood and  natural herbs, hunting, and other activities.

But thanks to a 40-year carbon credit project, the forest has started to recover over the last few years. The project, called Msitu tena (Swahili for Forest again) is operated by the Muileshi Community Forest Association. The organization signed an agreement with the Kenya Forest Service to manage the forest, and also with ECO2 Librium, an NGO that helps market carbon credits internationally.

For Mr. Zakaria, the project is more than just a blessing to the community; it’s also a source of income. Along with other community members, he has been planting indigenous trees. Local people raise seedlings and sell them to the project. The project employs them to mark out areas for planting and dig planting holes for the young trees, paying the locals cash for their work.

Mr. Zakaria says, “I have even managed to buy a dairy cow and paid school fees for my child, who has now almost completed secondary education.”

Sylvester Imbwaga is the secretary of the Muileshi Forest Association. He says about 120 community members are employed by the rehabilitation project. Each earns between 3,500 and 8,000 Kenyan shillings ($40-90 US), depending on the number of days worked.

Mr. Imbwaga adds: “We want to reduce the pressure on the forest. Everybody around the forest uses it for survival.”

Meshack Amalemba lives beside the forest. He welcomes the project and says it will bring back the forest’s lost glory. He says that herbs, birds, snakes, bees, and other animals were lost when the forest was cleared in the 1960s. He adds, “We are maintaining this not for ourselves but for our future generations.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is the money that will be generated through the sale of carbon credits. Companies whose activities produce polluting gases such as carbon dioxide can buy carbon credits. These carbon credits are then used to pay communities to plant trees or undertake other activities which reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The trees capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trap carbon in their trunks, branches and roots as they grow.

Carbon credit is a big business internationally, and a source of income for communities to channel into environmentally beneficial actions. The Msitu tena project will raise 200 million Kenyan shillings (close to $23,000 US). The community will split that money with ECO2 Librium and the Kenya Forest Service.

Christopher Amutabi works for ECO2 Librium. He says the project will be required to achieve specific targets. Over the 40-year life of the project, it must improve livelihoods, result in greater biodiversity and improve the conservation of the area.

In order for local people to receive their carbon money, they must plant trees and protect them until they mature. Other activities have already been introduced to help locals protect the forest. Beekeeping, fish farming, dairy cow projects, raising tree saplings, and energy-saving stoves are all proving popular. Future activities include raising snakes and developing tourism.

A total of 182 hectares of the forest have been replanted. It is expected that the whole 490-hectare area will have been rehabilitated in just a few years.

Mr. Imbwaga says there are plans to distribute milk coolers in the community, and to package and sell maize flour. The association has bought juicing machines to produce guava juice. He says, “All these are aimed at creating employment for the community.”