People living on the coast of East Africa are amongst the World's poorest. They rely heavily on local ecosystems for their livelihoods and security; for example mangrove forests provide them with firewood, fish, medicines and protection from floods and coastal erosion.
Despite the importance of mangroves they are suffering high rates of destruction. This project pioneered new ways of studying, evaluating and managing mangroves, and communicated the lessons learnt to groups working in other types of ecosystems.
Mangrove forests are highly productive and efficient at capturing carbon, much of which ends up buried below ground and can therefore be permanently stored away from the atmosphere. This opens up possibilities for using payments for carbon credits to help mangrove conservation and to bring revenue for local people.
This project initiated a real demonstration of how to achieve this, combining the expertise of Kenyan and UK scientists, accreditation by a third party charity and the commitment and organisation of the Gazi Womens' Mangrove Boardwalk Committee.
A Kenyan sociology student made a detailed study of the development of this project to record the lessons learnt. She particularly focussed on how different groups, such as men and women and old and young became engaged and benefitted, on how the management of the mangrove resource worked and on how this project could inform others in the region that use payments for ecosystem services. The value of mangrove ecosystems to local people, and particularly to the poor, was often underestimated by developers and politicians.
Full estimations of economic value for individual sites would have been difficult and expensive - one option was to transfer the results from well studied areas to other sites, but this approach was untested for mangroves and may have led to large errors. We tested this 'benefit transfer' approach by measuring a range of direct use values (including for fuelwood, timber, crabs and shrimp) at seven different sites in Kenya.
By looking for correlations between these results and variables that could help predict them, such as levels of poverty and population density, and by comparing what local people say about the value of their mangrove resources, we determined the reliability of benefit transfer between sites, which allowed us to calculate the economic value of the mangrove resource in Kenya. Since carbon storage was a key benefit of mangroves it was important for developing countries to know the extent of their forests and the biomass of carbon in them, but measuring this on the ground was expensive and difficult.
We used remote sensing techniques to develop 'carbon landscapes' for East Africa that identified the biomass of carbon (including that stored below-ground) in different areas. We combined these maps with 'risk maps' and 'value maps' that showed areas under high threat and with high value, and presented these on a user-friendly platform that could be accessed by government and NGOs when developing projects and policy.
It was essential that developing countries had the capacity to identify threats to their people's livelihoods and to respond to international opportunities for conservation financing, such as those coming from climate change negotiations. Unfortunately there was often an over-reliance on expensive, overseas consultants.
This project built on eight years of collaboration between Kenyan and UK scientists with a track record of training for African colleagues. We continued this tradition by training Kenyan scientists, by giving bespoke business and entrepreneurial training to help ensure follow-on funding and by working together on papers and new proposals.
We established an East African forum to ensure good regional communication on the science and practice of payments for ecosystem services. This development of new links with relevant experience was also established in West Africa.