A photo taken on May 20, 2007 shows depleted mangrove habitat in Malindi in the coastal region of Kenya. Photo: AFP
Growing up, Tima Abudhi remembers seeing her neighbors cutting down the mangrove forests around her village on Pate Island on Kenya’s east coast, cutting down coastal trees to build houses or sell timber.
As the mangroves disappeared, the fish that live and reproduce among their roots disappeared – a disaster for the fishing village of Kizingitini, recalls the mother of five, now 55.
“We depended on fish for our food. We also ran out of food and money because we also trade in fish. Our children have suffered the most, ”she said.
Villagers also knew that the mangrove forests acted as a vital barrier against the increasingly violent cyclones caused by global warming.
The threat to their livelihoods and homes motivated Abudhi and other women to start replanting the mangroves, often spending all day at the beach, taking time to care for their families and run their small businesses. .
Protecting mangroves over the past decades took a toll on their income, but they felt it was an urgent matter, said Abudhi.
“Replanting mangroves is not easy. We have to leave early in the morning to collect the plants and then come to the beach and plant them until the evening, just before the tide returns. We haven’t been able to devote enough time to our activities, “she said.
Today, the women of Kizingitini no longer have to struggle to earn a living and conserve the mangroves, thanks to a loan program that helps them keep food on the table so they can afford to continue farming. plant.
“This has led to increased participation of women and youth in conservation and community development, as well as reduced gender inequalities,” said Hassan Yussuf, regional director of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), the Kenyan conservation group implementing the project.
Mangrove forests are considered essential to fight against climate change and protect populations against disasters linked to global warming.
Their complex root systems can slow flooding and weaken storm surges, and trees absorb and store carbon dioxide that heats the planet as well as shelter fish, providing rich fishing grounds.
Since 2018, NRT has been working with a consortium of government agencies and non-government organizations to provide low-interest loans to women and youth involved in the restoration of mangrove forests in Lamu County.
So far, Yussuf said, more than 780 people have received $ 177,000 in revolving fund loans, with the money being used to develop the small businesses that many families depend on.
The money is continually topped up by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), as well as the county and national governments, did he declares.
Among the loan recipients are Abudhi and other members of the Kizingitini Women Fishers Group who have been protecting the mangroves along the Indian Ocean coast on Pate Island for years.
For her work, each woman initially received 25,000 Kenyan shillings ($ 220), said Abudhi. After a two-month grace period, the women have to repay the loan in installments of 3,000 shillings per month for one year, and then they can borrow more money.
These low interest loans can be of great help to women who have no other means to borrow the money they need to support and grow their businesses.
The project also offers training on mangrove restoration, which Nuzla Misbahu, chairman of the group, said has greatly boosted their efforts.
Before the project, their method of simply taking cuttings from mature mangrove forests further inland and planting them along the beach saw many young trees die, she said.
“But after we were taught in workshops the right [varieties] to plant, we are now able to achieve a growth rate of around 80 percent of all the mangroves we plant, ”Misbahu said.
Protect the environment
Lamu County is home to over 60 percent of Kenya’s mangroves, according to a 10-year national management plan released in 2017 by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.
Overall, mangroves make up 3 percent of the country’s forests, which lost about a fifth of its mangroves between 1985 and 2009.
Sumaiya Harunany, founder of the Blue Earth Organization, a community-based conservation group, said the destruction of the country’s mangroves was caused by a combination of factors, including demand for timber, infrastructure development and the spread of the urbanization.
But according to NRT, more than 75,000 mangroves have been planted around Lamu County since the local project began in 2018.
Evans Maneno, who was the KFS ecosystem curator in Lamu during the early years of the project and now works for Kitui County, said the project is primarily aimed at women as they are more dedicated to protection of their environment.
“From what we saw in Lamu, these women have a passion for mangrove conservation because they understand its importance, so we are building on that passion,” he said in an interview. telephone.
“These are people who identify with the mangroves in the region and therefore feel very comfortable doing conservation.”