By Sharon Atieno

Mangrove conservation efforts in Lamu County, along the Kenyan coast, have proven to be beneficial not only to the environment but also to the women, who are at the frontline of these efforts.

Lamu County accounts for 61% of the 61,271 hectares of the national mangrove forest coverage in Kenya. However, about 38% of the mangrove area in the region has been degraded, according to statistics from the National Mangrove Management Plan.

Women are involved in planting mangroves in areas where they have been destroyed, establishing mangrove nurseries and sensitizing community on sustainable mangrove use among other activities including beach cleaning, says Zulfa Hassan, Chairlady Mtangawanda women mangrove association.

These activities are often carried out by women groups or associations which are formed in different villages across the County.

Nuzla Misbahu, Chairlady Kizingitini women mangrove association, explains that through these conservation efforts, organizations dealing with conservation were able to spot them and give some of the women loans which they used to venture into different entrepreneurial activities.

She is among the ten women in her village who got a loan of shs. 25,000, which she used to open a small shop.

Upon completion of loan repayment which was done in 10 months, the women were given an additional shs. 50, 000 in the second phase.

“All the women who were given loans including me started businesses. I set up a small shop and the second investment I used to expand my shop. Others ventured into the fishing business and they sell fish in Pate island, while others transport their fish as far as Mombasa,” Misbahu notes.

Zulfa Hassan (left),  Nuzla Misbahu (middle) during a panel discussion on mangrove conservation

In Mtangawanda village, Hassan and her group of 50 women not only grow mangroves but also do fishing. Both the shs. 25,000 and shs. 50,000 loan given to her was invested in her small hotel business where she sells chapatis.

Hassan says: “ We are currently in the fourth month of our second loan repayment of shs. 50, 000 which we are paying in a period of 20 months. Once we finish paying the second loan, each person will come up with a business plan which will enable us to secure a loan of shs. 100, 000 or even shs. 200,000 to invest in our businesses.”

The loan program which is run by the Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) and others seeks to improve the livelihoods of women in the area by promoting small business enterprises tailored to improve their livelihoods.

The money which is disbursed on the basis of the women’s timely savings and repayments is a revolving fund through which they can grow their loan qualification based on their repayments.

Hassan explains that once the first lot of ten women are upgraded from the shs. 25,000 to shs. 50,000, a new cohort of women is selected and taken through the same program.

The women groups invloved in mangrove conservation go through a period of training from NRT and other partners including the Nature Conservancy and the Kenya Forest Service. They are taught about the different mangrove species, when, where and how to plant; as well as monitoring.

The women voluntarily take part in mangrove conservation because of their husbands, who mostly practice fishing.

Misbahu says that when they grow mangroves which act as habitat for fish, the fish are able to produce in plenty and thus, they are able to benefit through their husbands.

Mangroves play an essential role in reducing carbon emissions in the air, as they capture and store huge carbon stocks, making them one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world.

They are estimated to sequester up to 31.2 to 33.4 million tonnes of carbon per year, scientists have cautioned that this risks being released back into the atmosphere when mangroves are lost or their land converted for other land uses.

Moreover, they act as buffers between the land and the sea and lessen the risk of flooding to coastal communities.