Whilst visiting our improved cookstove projects near Mombasa on the Coast in Kenya, I took some time out to go and see the good work that Mbuta Mazingira have been doing following a start up fund supplied by Toshiba TEC, in association with co2balance. Mbuta Mazingira trained in 2010 to protect, rear and plant seedlings to replace mangroves that were deforested by people from the network of communities living nearby.
The importance of mangroves was not well understood by these local communities and it is an unfortunate fact that mangrove wood can be harvested and converted into excellent charcoal, which can be sold to a ready market in nearby Mombasa as a way of boosting low incomes.
Mangroves are nature’s barrier against coastal erosion from tides and also act as a buffer against storm surges and hurricanes; owing to the fact that the flow of receding ocean water is slowed by the dense sprawl of mangrove roots, deposition of silt is encouraged. This provides a regular supply of nutrients on which the mangrove trees can flourish, expand and attract other organisms, such as crab, shrimp, oysters and lobster that shelter their young within the rambling roots. These in turn attract various species of commercially important fish to feed on the smaller ocean life teeming within.
It was therefore a bitter irony that many of the local communities that deforested the mangroves were fisherfolk that had turned to charcoal production to supplement their recent poor fish and shellfish catches. In this way, they were unknowingly part of a cycle that led to lower and lower catches and a greater need to find increasingly desperate, unsustainable ways of boosting their incomes.
In addition to a planting campaign that has now seen 250,000 seedlings established, Mbuta Mazingira focused their efforts on educating these fisher communities that protecting mangroves will actually increase and stabilise their long term income. During my visit to the mangroves, it was an uplifting experience to see that those who were originally responsible for the destruction of the mangroves are now the ones who are patrolling day and night to ensure that others do not make the same mistake. It was clear to me that this was the very definition of a sustainable project; when the community you are working with takes the project you have helped start and makes it their own, you know the future is in safe hands.