By Ruth Keah
Growing up, Juma Mnyika loved watching monkeys jump up and down mangrove trees in his Ganahola village at the coastal Kenya’s Mombasa County.
However, these beautiful sceneries are only memories now for the 42-year-old, since most of the mangrove forest has been destroyed .“The monkeys ran away due to the mangrove forest destruction. Now we only see one monkey in a month, who comes even into our homestead to look for food,”
Mangroves are among the most productive marine ecosystems on earth, providing a unique habitat for many animal species. They provide habitats for birds, breeding grounds for many fish species as well as protection against storms, floods and erosion. Mangrove forests also act as important carbon sinks because they have higher amount of biomass compared to terrestrial tropical forest.
But mangroves have been in danger of human destruction and their global distributions have been on the decline.
Tudor creek in Mombasa has lost 80 per cent of its mangroves over the past 20 years.
However, Mnyika and his fellow bee farmers are now doing their best to restore and protect the endangered trees.
In the project dubbed ‘Asali Mkoko’, the over 100 farmers along the Tudor creek not only earn a living by harvesting honey from the beehives, but also use the bees as security for the mangrove forest.
“We started planting the mangroves, but noticed that people were still destroying them, so we deiced to install beehives along the Tudor creek to act as 24-hour security,” says Mnyika.
“The beehives have been very effective because when one decides to cut down a mangrove tree, the bees attack him/her.”
He says since they started the project in 2010, and have so far seen a big difference. He says almost 90 per cent of mangrove destruction has stopped, and some of the birds, crabs, prawns and fish that had disappeared are now coming back.
Mnyika owns 12 beehives. He says they normally check on the hives at least once or twice in one and a half months and harvest the honey every four months. He says one hive can produce up to 20kg of honey in a good season and eight kilos in a bad season. “Since I left formal employment, I have found a livelihood in the mangrove forest.
We sell one kilo of honey at Sh1,200,” he says. Mnyika says they have a ready market for the honey. A non-governmental organisation called Big Ship, which they have been working with, buys from them immediately they harvest the honey. However, such community projects are not without challenges. Mnyika says during dry seasons it is hard for the bees to find the right flowers to produce honey, and this reduces their harvest.
“Due to the prolonged dry season, this year I have only harvested honey once, and I only got 10kg,” he says. Monitored wildlife populations – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – have seen a devastating 69 per cent drop on average since 1970, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022. The report warns governments, businesses and the public to take transformative action to
reverse the destruction of biodiversity.
Around the world, the report indicates that the main drivers of wildlife population decline are habitat degradation and loss, exploitation, introduction of invasive species, pollution, climate change and diseases.
World leaders are due to meet at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) this December for a once-in-a-decade opportunity to course-correct for the sake of people and the planet. WWF is advocating for leaders to commit to a ‘Paris-style’ agreement capable of reversing biodiversity loss to secure a nature-positive world by 2030.
“The LPR report makes it clear that delivering a nature-positive future will not be possible without recognising and respecting the rights, governance, and conservation leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the
world,” says Alice Ruhweza, Africa Regional Director, WWF-International.
Evelyn Omondi from Big Ship Organisation, a community empowerment organisation that focuses on implementation of local solutions on restoring and protecting the environment, says they decided to partner with the community and some former loggers to set up a mangrove bee farming project to protect the
diminishing Tudor Creek mangrove forest.
“We train them on seedling establishment, bee keeping and monitoring of the beehives, and establish a market for the honey,” she says.
Ms Omondi says they decided to bring together the former loggers because to change their mindset against logging and teach them the importance of conserving mangroves.
She says so far, they have engaged more than 200 former loggers in the beekeeping project. The over 500 beehives are set up at various strategic points along the forest.
She says they normally sell seedlings at Ksh100 each. From the sales they buy beehives and give to farmers they have recruited. The farmers then plant the seedlings along the creek.
Their long-term plan is to make sure that each community member in the areas they cover can get at least 10 beehives.
According to Ms Omondi, the mangrove has so many benefits in the ecosystem.
She said there is a symbiotic relationship between the bees, the beekeepers, and the mangrove forest. The bees feed on the mangrove flowers, making highly desirable honey free from commercial additives.
One of the challenges Ms Omondi says they encounter is that most farmers have no enough knowledge in bee keeping, hence they spend more time and resources on training them. She says despite the challenges, they have now restored 67 hecaters of mangroves along the Tudor Creek.
As almost 200 nations are expected to gather in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh from November 6-18 for COP27, Ms Omondi called on leaders to look into strategies to improve such community initiatives to mitigate climate change.
“The COP27 meeting is very important because people will get to know how community initiatives have improved matters of climate change and the need to support them,” she says.
She estimates that mangroves in Kenya store between 600 and 1,500 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This means the 3,371 hectares of mangroves in Mombasa County store an average of 3.94 million tonnes of carbon.