A woman walks through a path in a restored part of the creek. Image credit: Courtesy of Janet Murikira

Community dispatches endangered bees to guard degraded mangrove forest

When Bosco Juma’s Big Ship organization embarked on restoring and protecting the Tudor Creek, nothing prepared him for the daunting task ahead.

The creek located in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city had lost 80% of her mangroves over the past 20 years and Juma began the process in 2009 after noticing large islands emerge in places that were once covered by mangrove trees. Juma says,

Across the creek in Mwakirunge village, 38-year-old Caroline Nyambu was always at loggerheads with Juma’s Big ship members. Caroline recalls, 

Juma who had gotten tired of giving verbal warnings and handing the repeat offenders to the authorities decided to partner with some of the loggers to set up a mangrove bee farming project in 2015.

Currently, the project involves more than 30 farmers who have set up 120 hives at various strategic points along the forest with Caroline being one of the members.

The farmers produce approximately 300 kilograms of honey annually which is branded as Asali Mikoko (Mangrove honey), packaged in glass jars and distributed to local consumers and hotels. While bees and flowers are normally in a mutually symbiotic relationship Juma says in this case, the relationship is more of friendship with mutual gains.

While the bees have played a key role in barring the degradation of the creek and providing a livelihood for former loggers like Caroline, they have a much bigger role to play in the ecosystem.

According to a paper written by John Zawilsak, an apiculture instructor at the University of Arkansas, bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of the cultivated crops. This means that the gradual extinction of bees would contribute to the gradual escalation of food prices.

However, increased global temperatures and reduced rainfall have exacerbated stress on vegetation, thus reducing the availability of the pollen and nectar needed for the survival of naturally occurring bees.

According to a summary report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services(IPBES), this coupled with certain industrial agricultural practices has severely affected wild bee populations.

Other than providing food and habitat for the bees reared by Caroline and her fellow farmers, mangroves could help address the major problem being faced by populations of pollinating insects such as bees.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates mangroves in Kenya store between 600 and 1500 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

This means the 3371 hectares of mangroves in Mombasa county store an average of 3.94 million tonnes of carbon.

“Carbon sequestration by mangroves is estimated to be 3-5 times higher than any productive terrestrial ecosystem.” The WWF further estimates

Carbon Brief estimates that the amount of carbon stored in mangrove forests globally is equivalent to the carbon emitted by China and the US put together which are two of the world’s largest emitters.

However, mangrove deforestation releases approximately 24 million tonnes of carbon annually which is equivalent to Poland’s annual emissions.

Omar said the remarks during the launch of Kenya’s National Mangrove ecosystem management plan which recommended more sustainable projects to increase community involvement in the protection of mangroves.

However such community projects are not without challenges.

The hives mounted by Caroline and her fellow farmers have failed to protect the forest from Chang’aa (Illegal liquor) brewers who distill their beer before the high tides catch up with them.

“This has been very destructive because they cut down mangroves and use the wood to distill their liquor,” Juma says.

A day before Juma and the farmers were interviewed for this story, authorities destroyed 17 barrels of the liquor and impounded three tonnes of firewood from felled mangrove trees. Only one of the brewers was arrested after his accomplices escaped.

Kenya which emits approximately 73 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually hopes to reduce its emissions by 30% by 2030. One of the strategies that have been fronted to help achieve the goal is the increase of forest cover to 10% from the current 6%.

However, the plan has faced criticism from policymakers over its perceived ignorance of the mangrove sector. Juma says,

Join the One Earth Community

Subscribe to receive monthly updates on climate solutions, environmental heroes, and the profound beauty and wonder of our shared planet Earth.