By Wanjohi Kabukuru | Associated Press
MOMBASA, Kenya — In an effort to protect coastal communities from climate change and encourage investment, African countries are increasingly turning to mangrove restoration projects, with Mozambique the latest addition to the list of developing countries with large-scale mangrove initiatives.
Mozambique follows efforts across the continent — including in Kenya, Madagascar, Gambia, and Senegal — and is billed as the largest coastal or marine ecosystem carbon storage project in the world. Known as blue carbon, the carbon captured by these ecosystems can absorb, or remove, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more rapidly than forests, despite their smaller size.
The Mozambique mangrove restoration project — announced in February with its UAE-based partner Blue Forest — hopes to convert 185,000 hectares (457,100 hectares) in the central and southern Zambezia provinces of Sofala into forests that can capture up to 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to project leaders.
“Blue carbon can be utilized not only to absorb tons of carbon dioxide but also to improve the lives of coastal communities,” Vahid Fotuhi, Chief Executive Officer of Blue Forest, told the Associated Press. “There are about a million hectares of mangroves in Africa. Collectively they are able to absorb more carbon dioxide than the total annual emissions of a country like Croatia or Bolivia.” He added these projects would create green jobs and promote biodiversity.
Africa’s main mangrove forests have been destroyed in recent decades due to logging, fish farming, coastal development, and pollution, leading to increased blue carbon emissions and greater exposure of coastal communities vulnerable to flooding and other threats to livelihoods.
But the continent’s growing interest in mangrove restoration can be attributed in part to the successful Mikoko Pamoja project, started in 2013 in Kenya’s Gazi Bay, which protects 117 hectares (289 hectares) of mangrove forest and replants 4,000 trees annually, prompting other countries to also overcome their damaged coastal lands and recreate their success.
Mikoko Pamoja, Swahili for ‘shared mangroves’, focuses her efforts on protecting small communities in the villages of Gazi and Makongeni from coastal erosion, loss of fish and climate change. It was dubbed “the world’s first blue carbon project” and earned the community just 6,000 global fame, awards, carbon money and a greater standard of living.
“Mikoko Pamoja has led the development of projects in the community, including the installation of water,” said Iddi Bomani, village head of the Gazi community. “Everyone has water available in their homes.”
“This mainly leads to improved livelihoods through job creation when done by the community,” Laitani Suleiman, a member of the Mikoko Pamoja committee, added.
Several other projects have come to fruition since then. In Senegal, the 79 million replanted mangroves are projected to store 500,000 tonnes of carbon over the next 20 years. Neighboring Gambia launched its own reforestation effort in 2017, with Madagascar following suit with its own conservation project two years later. Egypt is planning a mangrove restoration project before hosting a UN climate conference in November this year.
The projects have sparked demands for the sale of carbon credits, a type of permit that allows a certain number of emissions in exchange for forest restoration or other carbon offset projects. Gabon was offered a recent payment package of $17 million through the Central African Forests Initiative for its safeguards, but complaints persist at the low prices offered to African governments.
“Africa remains excluded from much of the financing available under climate change,” Jean Paul Adam, head of the climate division at the Economic Commission for Africa, said, adding that a lack of financing meant the continent’s countries could not build resilience to climate change.
He added that “nature-based solutions and advocacy for the development of a fair carbon price” would boost the African economy.
And the benefits of reforestation can be significant, according to Marissa Stein of the Coral Reef Alliance.
“Restoring and protecting our marine habitats plays a key role in maintaining the health of our planet,” he said, adding that mangroves alone store up to four times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests. The Global Mangrove Alliance also estimates that mangroves reduce damage and flood risk for 15 million people and could prevent more than $65 billion of property damage each year.