African youth are being paid to fight climate change by restoring mangrove ecosystems
KHamis Salim and the other 25 young people in his group had a busy day when I first met him in November at Tudor Creek along the Kenyan coast. Some were busy transplanting mangroves to the mudflats, while others were engaged in finding illegal activities in the mangrove forest. Mangrove survival rates have reached an all-time low, forcing the group to adopt a method of transplanting trees into selected rows spaced 1.5 meters apart to keep them alive longer. The young people’s mission: to reverse years of damage caused by climate change to this vital tropical ecosystem.
Salim, 30, told The Daily Beast how important this mangrove species is to his community. When he was growing up, he witnessed how the illegal extraction of mangroves for construction, medicine and the burning of charcoal ravaged his community, killing much of the marine wildlife that many locals depend on like source of food and income.
“People were cutting mangroves for construction and charcoal, not knowing how much it affected fishing, which was so important to us,” Salim said.
To save his community from utter devastation, Salim founded the community organization Manyunyu, which has been restoring mangroves along the Kenyan coast since 2007. The group has planted over 10,000 mangrove seedlings. It is run entirely by young people, who have been driven to prevent further degradation of mangrove ecosystems while the government remains absent. Each day, group members wade through incredibly muddy thickets to save the remaining fragments of the mangrove ecosystem.
“The young people in this group are all environmental and climate change activists,” Salim said. “We know the vital role mangroves play for our community and the world in reducing carbon emissions, hence our efforts to restore them.”
Rapid Destruction, Rapid Action
UNESCO estimates that mangrove forests are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global deforestation. Current estimates suggest that mangrove cover has declined by 35% over the past 20 years.
This is quite disheartening news, considering the importance of mangroves to the ecological health of many environments around the world. They are teeming with wildlife, including 341 endangered species according to the Global Mangrove Alliance. These forests serve as nurseries for fish and support more than 4.1 million fishermen worldwide. The dense, tangled roots and branches of plant life act as a natural barrier against storm surges, flooding and dangerous winds, preventing more than $65 billion in property damage to coastal communities and protecting more than 15 million people. flood people.
And in the age of climate change, mangroves play an invaluable role in helping limit the impact of greenhouse gases. They are among the most carbon-rich tropical forests, capable of sequestering up to four times more carbon per unit than terrestrial forests.
“We know the vital role mangroves play for our community and the world in reducing carbon emissions, hence our efforts to restore them.”
— Khamis Salim
Few countries understand the critical importance of mangroves better than Kenya, where these forests cover an estimated 148,000 acres of land along the eastern coast of the country. The health of the local ecology is critical to keeping the country’s economy going and sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people.
But since 1985, Kenya has lost a fifth of its mangrove cover to human activity. Economic decline has driven struggling individuals and communities to illegally cut down mangrove forests and sell the wood for building material and fuel.
Across Africa, however, many people are choosing to take matters into their own hands to save this important ecosystem that thrives along the saltwater coasts of 118 tropical and subtropical countries. On the front line, a wave of young people, like those of the Manyunyu Community Organization, who are mobilizing micro-movements to restore mangroves and take local action against the climate crisis.
Kenya is far from alone. In recent decades in The Gambia, drought has devastated the mangrove species near Anusmana Darboe’s home in the town of Sankadi, leaving the surrounding community in dire straits. “People in my community depend on fishing for their livelihood, and when the mangroves die, even the fish disappear, leaving a lot of people to suffer,” Darboe told The Daily Beast.
Several years ago, Darboe, 33, started the Sankadi Youth Development Organization, which works to restore mangroves in his community in the same way Salim and his group are doing in Kenya. The mangrove restoration effort has been warmly welcomed so far, and the group has planted over 150,000 seedlings. Fish populations are increasing again and forests are once again resistant to strong storms.
“I work with community members and most of them are very cooperative when it comes to planting mangroves,” Darboe said. “It’s a boost and a good gesture to show how very important saving the mangroves is for all of us.”
Save the world, get paid
The main driver of this movement is the emergence of carbon markets, which have given private companies the opportunity to achieve net zero carbon emissions and allow them to offset emissions by investing money in initiatives such as forest conservation. Realizing that this could be an opportunity for young people to earn a living by fighting climate change, conservation groups in many parts of the world have also started to participate in the trading of carbon credits.
Mikoko Pamoja was the first community-led conservation group in Kenya to be certified for carbon credit trading by Plan Vivo, an international body that regulates carbon credits. The group sells at least 3,000 tonnes of carbon credits each year, with one tonne costing around $5-8. Mikoko Pamoja launched her carbon offset project only eight years ago. But in the past two years alone, he’s earned more than $30,000 and now helps support dozens of other groups along the Kenyan coast.
“Our children will suffer if we don’t act now and come up with policies to save the world.”
— Jackson Kinyanjui
Salim Mwarima, who ran Mikoko Pamoja’s carbon offset projects until recently, told The Daily Beast that the group divides the mangrove forest into 100 square meter plots and calculates the amount of potential carbon that can be stored in each. parcel. Then it calculates the growth rate of new mangroves needed to reach this carbon storage capacity. Then he gets to work planting these mangrove trees.
“Carbon credits depend on how much carbon each patch of mangrove stores,” Mwarima said. “So the higher the carbon, the more credits we earn. And that motivates our community members to plant more mangroves.
Ultimately, ecosystem restoration is emerging as a new way for much of the developing world to reduce poverty and build economic resilience. Last August, researchers at the University of Tokyo found that every dollar spent restoring habitats for plant and animal life can yield up to $10.50 over the next 20 years.
But the effects of climate change are already being felt, increasingly hampering restoration efforts by washing away seedlings. Pollution and dams on rivers are also an obstacle to restoring mangrove forests to healthy levels.
And restoring mangroves alone will not solve climate change. The world is experiencing warmer temperatures than ever before, threatening the lives of billions of people. Jackson Kinyanjui, the founder of environmental organization Climate Change Kenya, told The Daily Beast that he believes urgent attention should be paid to mitigating the climate crisis to save the future generation.
“We must act to tackle the current climate crisis,” Kinyanjui said. “Our children are going to suffer if we don’t act now and come up with policies to save the world.”
With the passage of time and a lack of real government action, young people like those on the front lines of mangrove restoration efforts are simply advancing their own efforts to stop climate change.
It’s not really a surprise. Last September, a survey by British researchers revealed that almost 45% of the world’s young people have been directly affected by climate change. Around 64% say their governments are not doing enough to avoid the effects of the climate crisis. And 75% are worried about their future as the climate crisis continues to deepen in many countries.
“It is intrinsically important for young people to act against climate change, because we will be the individuals who will experience the direct and immensely destructive effects of climate change in the decades to come,” said Gregor Sharp, one of the leaders of the American group. of climate activists Earth Uprising, told The Daily Beast. “Climate change will affect today’s youth and future generations of this world by degrading basic human rights in general. Pollution and natural disasters will lead to increased damage to basic infrastructure. The areas we currently live in will become uninhabitable for human life.
Yet every action counts. As the world continues to wait for national leaders and multinational corporations to step in and force meaningful action that will reduce carbon emissions, young people like Salim and community organization Manyunyu have found a way to make a difference as new way to make a living.