The Unsung Champions of Mangroves
Little is sung about Munje, a silent coastal village in Kwale county, Ramisi ward. And even less, little is known of the women of Munje Beach Management Unit (BMU) whom in the year 2020, amidst the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic formed Tunusuru Conservation Women Group for the sole purpose of rehabilitating the degraded mangrove ecosystem, and diversifying their livelihoods. Being one of the areas with little development and investments within the marine ecosystem, Munje remains to be a rich pool of various habitats providing ecosystem service for the adjacent communities.
The mangroves of Munje form part of the Vanga-Funzi complex (7,638 ha) within the larger Kwale county mangrove block (8,354 ha translating to about 13% of the national mangrove area). The National mangrove management plan estimate that 3,559 ha (46%) of the Vanga-Funzi system is in need of rehabilitation.
The unsung 15 heroines who came together on a voluntary basis, are doing a marvelous job, borrowing ideas from the neighbouring Bodo and Mwazaro BMUs to restore an ecosystem reeling from limestone manufacturing in the 1980’s, illegal pole harvesting from 2016, massive clearing of mangroves in 2017 associated with construction of a bridge connecting Munje to Funzi Island, charcoal burning, illegal harvesting for infrastructural development, destruction by honey harvesters who burn targeted trees, livestock grazing, and prolonged drought. Activities of the group were reinforced by a feasibility study undertaken to ascertain suitability of potential restoration sites and to advise members on corrective measures to tame degradation. Technical training on mangrove restoration added up to their indigenous knowledge. The women group has since established mangrove nurseries in 3 sites that were identified for restoration. 250,000 seedlings are ready for planting.
On 13th May 2022, Munje BMU led by the women, in partnership with CORDIO and Kenya Forests Service, planted a total of 10,000 seedlings, raising the numbers to 15,000. The women had planted 5,000 seedlings since the onset of rains in the third week of April. Their target is to plant 25,000 seedlings by June 2022 in 4 ha. Cumulatively they have out planted 18,000 seedlings (3.6 ha). The event was graced by Munje and Albadru schools, neighbouring BMUs (Mwaembe, Funzi, Bodo), Shirazi Group, Rafiq, Base Titanium, Coastal & Marine Resource Development (COMRED), Plan International, WWF-Kenya, Kenya Red Cross – Kwale, Kenya Coast Guard Services, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Kenya Fisheries Service (KeFS), Director of Environment Kwale – NEMA, KWS, Kenya Forest Service (KFS), The Forest Conservation Committee Chairperson – Coast region and Deputy County Commissioner Msambweni Sub County, the County Government of Kwale (CGK) (Department of Fisheries, Local administration), and last but not least 180 adult community members.
The journey has just begun and more work lies ahead. Supportive messages were given to the women group and the rest of the community. This ranged from recognition, indigenous knowledge, religion, emerging issues and scientific evidence that the work is anchored on.
“Whenever you plant a tree, an angel is kept there who intercedes for you asking for forgiveness until that tree dies. Mangrove trees stay for up to 50 years. Those are years of forgiveness.” He added, “If God gives rains and people don’t make use of them by planting anything, they are committing sins.” Village Administrator – Mr Kisira Hamadi.
This was echoed by the Forest Conservation Committee Chairperson Mr. Elias Kimaru who added that the work done that day, would only be described as “Sadaqah Jaariyah (Sadaka ya Kudumu)” for what the women are doing to humanity is beyond repayment in this world.
The group vision of ‘A restored mangrove area’ will not only contribute towards environmental conservation, but also support the livelihoods of the community that heavily depend on the mangroves, contribute towards the Blue Economy, Sustainable Development Goals particularly Gender equality (5), Climate Action (13), Life Below Water (14), and Life on Land (15), Partnerships for the goals (17).
The group continues to create awareness to the wider community on the need to uphold and embrace mangrove conservation. Among ways to support the group includes providing alternative seed pots which are environmentally friendly such as milk tetra packs. Shortage of the packets has been hindering them from establishing more nurseries. They currently reuse PET bottles but this still pose environmental hazard. The women are engaging in complimentary livelihood activities for instance bee keeping, basketry, organic farming, waste management related enterprises and ecotourism activities. Strengthening enforcement is critical to curb cases of illegal harvesting of mangroves. Ongoing development of a co-management plan for the broader Munje Co-management area, establishing a participatory forest management plan for the mangrove area and supporting the group to be part of the area’s Community Forest Association can further help in improving management and sustainable use of the mangroves in this area. At the seascape level, and in recognition of the linkage between fisheries and mangroves, establishing a joint co-management area plan has potential to address seascape level challenges that are beyond the mandate of Munje as a BMU under which the women group operates.
Activities of the women group are primarily supported under the project ‘Empowering Women in Community Based Natural Resource Management’ funded by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), while those of the broader BMU are under the Norad funded project “Innovating and sharing knowledge for coastal resilience in east Africa” both of which are implemented through Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, with technical support from the KMFRI, KFS and the CGK – Kwale.