With Proceeds from Carbon Offset Credit Sales, Marungu Votes for Shade

Residents of Marungu voted on April 20 that the money allotted to them from the sale of carbon offset credits from the nearby Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project should be used to build a social meeting hall.

shade-tree-kenya-closerMarungu is located about 75 miles inland from the Indian Ocean coast in a semi-arid region in southeastern Kenya. For this gathering, community members came together under one of the few large trees left in the region, but its shade wasn’t big enough to keep the 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit sun off the faces of everyone assembled. The social hall they approved would provide a more comfortable space to meet in the future, along with a place to host other community events.

The 60 or so representative body was composed of members of the families who have lived in the region for generations, newcomers who settled in the area in recent years and Masai herdsmen in various stages of transitioning from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle.

Roughly 30 million Kenyan shillings, the equivalent of just over US$220,000, were at Marungu’s disposal, thanks to the sale of carbon offset credits from the REDD+ project operated by Wildlife Works. The conservation company splits the profits it earns from sales on a 50-50 basis with the six villages, including Marungu, that are located in the project area.

OPIS traveled to the region to learn more about the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project. The credits it issues command a price premium over others sold in the voluntary carbon market, in part, because the project has a CCB Gold designation – showing it brings additional co-benefits to the community – from the carbon credit registry Verra.

The designation was earned for its protection of biodiversity and climate change adaptation practices, the latter of which includes the funding regularly provided to Marungu and the five other villages in the project area.

The community has access to this funding because they have agreed to stop venturing into open land owned by nearby cattle ranchers in the project to cut down trees for charcoal. Most in Marungu make a living with subsistence agriculture. But during periods of prolonged drought, and for the increasing numbers of families who have settled in the region with few resources, charcoaling represents a safety net that allows almost anyone to earn a meager income, typically around $1 per day.

Charcoal meets roughly 70% of Kenya’s domestic energy requirements, according to a World Agroforestry working paper. While the country has placed limits and bans on aspects of its production, the practice still represents a major source of income in rural areas.

But previous charcoaling practices in Marungu were not sustainable, according to Village Chief Peter Rangi, who said that the area was once much more densely forested.

By the time Wildlife Works established the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, the precursor to the REDD+ initiative, in 1998, up to 80% of the surrounding dryland forest had been cleared, Rangi estimated.

Convincing community members to stop charcoaling was a challenge, he said.

“It was very hard,” Rangi said. “But we were determined.”

To ensure the region doesn’t become completely deforested, “the community has to make sure the environment is protected,” Rangi continued. “We have to plant trees and ensure the trees grow.”

It’s recommended that 10% of each farmer’s land in Marungu is dedicated to regrowing trees. Those trees can then be used to charcoal in a more sustainable manner and prevent soil degradation, he said.

kenya-marungu-shade-carbon-voteBack at the meeting, Joseph Mwakima, who works in the Wildlife Works social outreach office, counted votes for other projects that were also under consideration. Those potential community projects and their estimated costs were agreed upon in advance. Mwakima conducted five rounds of voting in total to determine Marungu’s priorities for spending the carbon offsets revenue.

Besides the social meeting hall, the village also voted to prioritize building another water tank to help stave off the effects of drought that routinely affects the region, upgrading the community’s primary school classrooms, building a fence around the school and establishing an early childhood  education program. Next, Mwakima and the Wildlife Works social outreach office will examine the voting decisions, determine what can be done to maximize the available funds and oversee the project developments.

The day before the meeting, the village held a handing over ceremony for the Marungu Primary School, which was refurbished with funds from a previous round of allotment from carbon credit sales.

The fact that the community voted most recently to prioritize a social meeting hall represents a turning point to less critical priorities, in a sense. When the funding first came through, an immediate concern was improving the local education system and investing in water infrastructure. These concerns are still pressing, but less so compared to the early 2010s when the REDD+ project first began issuing carbon credits.

“In the early days of the project, we had to convince people to stop taking trees for charcoal so they could pay for their children’s schooling,” Rangi said. “Now they are getting money for this. So the trend of cutting trees and vegetation from the forest has stopped.”

–Reporting by Henry Kronk, hkronk@opisnet.com; Editing by Bridget Hunsucker, bhunsucker@opisnet.com

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