• Tunisha Mehta

Blue Forests and Carbon Currencies- What can you learn from Mikoko Pamoja?


Blue Forests and their Entangled Roots

The world's largest coin is a doughnut-like stone carved out from a monolithic rock. It's 4m in diameter, weighs several tonnes and is submerged underwater. The Micronesian islanders of Yap call them "Rai." The Yapese, to this date, exchange Rai's ownership in traditional ways to trade everything from land and livestock to dowries and bequests, although the official currency remains to be the US dollar. Insignificant where a Rai is, whether deep into the wild or under the water, what makes it equivalent to the notes in your wallet or the numbers in your bank account is the worth that the Yaps have assigned to it.

Stone Money of Yaps, Western Caroline Islands. Source: Department of Archeology, UPenn.

The system often presents economics as a classical science- as something beyond our control like the stars and its dust. Whereas it's nothing more than a tool for deciding what to "value". Economy is, as a matter of fact, a social science to figure out how humans assign worth. Our prevailing sense of value is much skewed, especially for a post-pandemic era, as our current economy is profoundly incompatible with our ecology. COVID 19 pandemic caught the world pants down despite popular discourses anticipating the plausibility of one. The next big dip could somewhat be related to climate change and conflicting Anthropocene if we don't act on reversing the damages done. This pandemic has us all naked before the greater intricacies of what the universe has to offer. A level-headed reassessment of the status quo could propel the green public investment necessary to fight climate change. It's about time we rethink the economy- by asserting the value of "value" as something non-liquid, the society can avoid the trap of falling victim to general-purpose money, thereby enriching itself, the planet and all its beings. Can our misplaced values be corrected before space expedition and habitation is the only chance for man's survival?


The Big Suck

Turns out much of this fuss is only about the sixth element of the periodic table. To understand climate change, it's crucial to fathom the carbon cycle and its dynamic equilibrium of sources and sinks. This equilibrium remained almost unperturbed for the last 10,000 years until the industries' coming of age. However, the plants and food branch of the carbon cycle is not the most perfect one, in that a wee bit of carbon-storing organic matter that falls off is not respired upon for conversion to CO2 and this carbon leaks from the biosphere to the geosphere. But this leak of carbon, in dribs and drabs, has gone unstoppable for hundreds of millions of years leading the Earth's crust to coagulate a significant store of organic matter. Now humans have burnt away, for energy, this stash of concentrated and easily accessible fossil fuels and returned much of that carbon to the atmosphere in just a couple of centuries. It is really the adding-on of this new source with no new sink that has beaten the carbon cycle out of whack.

Source: The Economist and California Polytechnic IPCC

Modern industrial economy's effect on the planet, due to an annual flow of 9.5 billion tonnes of carbon from the ground and into the air, is testimony to the idea that humans now have power over the Earth just as much as the forces of nature. This new geological epoch, where humans have such ability, is what some scientists call the Anthropocene. Just as scary as Anthropocene sounds, this eerie sense of authority also gives me hope. A hope in humanity. What if human intelligence helps a past, dominated by human-made carbon sources, transition to a future, characterised by human-made carbon sinks? How about reassessing "value" to put economy in close harmony with ecology? How about an economy, that goes beyond circular, with the sixth element at its core?


The Case of Mikoko Pamoja

Mangroves grow along the tropical coastlines, and they're the only type of tree to thrive in saltwater. Being influenced by tides, they play a vital role in preserving the symbiotic culture of indigenous communities with coastal ecosystems. The mangroves with their entangled roots trap the carbon-rich biomass, store eight times more carbon than tropical forests, sealing it off from the atmosphere. Conservation of these fragile mangroves ecosystem is essential for the health of our oceans and planet. This vault of carbon- the blue carbon- can remain secure for millennia as long as the mangrove forests remain intact. Mangroves act as a significant carbon sink, offsetting the carbon through carbon sequestration- a process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Their roots not only serve as nursery habitat for fish that includes many species fished by the indigenous communities but also foster marine biodiversity.

Carbon Sequestration. Source: Author.

Mikoko Pamoja ("mangroves together") is a community-led blue forest conservation and restoration project spread across 615 hectares of land in Gazi Bay, Kenya. It aims to provide long-term incentives for mangrove protection and restoration through a community-based participatory co-management model. This project is the first of its kind in the world to enhance ecosystems and render livelihood benefits to local populations while offsetting global carbon emissions through the sale of project-based carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market. Carbon Credit is a generic term for any tradable permit representing the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent of a different greenhouse gas. The voluntary carbon market enables private investors, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses to voluntarily purchase carbon credits for offsetting their emissions, in order to adhere to laws employed by their country to subscribe to The Kyoto Protocol, 2005 and UNFCCC's Paris Agreement, 2015. Such market-based strategies are a great way to respond to environmental problems on various scales. Mikoko Pamoja, as a voluntary carbon credit market, generates income opportunities for the local community where the community can sustain by co-existing and preserving the precious mangroves instead of felling them down for feedstock and palm oil plantation. Conserving these blue forests through this pioneering model not only protects ecosystems beyond the shores but also brands and markets the carbon credits. The revenue generated by the management goes on to achieve the SDGs by facilitating public schools, provision of safe drinking water, and inclusion on these outcaste communities. Mikoko Pamoja is an extraordinary standard in the realm of VCM projects in which the national and sub-national policy scenario, local governance establishments, and international partner priorities have aligned to steer towards a healthier eco(log)nomy. However, some challenges need to be addressed to usher the fair play of these co-management structures.

Mikoko Pamoja Community. Source: Panorama Solutions.

While small efforts like this are only a drop in the ocean, Mikoko Pamoja's pioneering model needs to be replicated on a more ambitious scale to combat climate change. In the interest of achieving a net-zero economy, large-scale industrialisation of negative emission schemes, direct air capture, or restoration of old sinks become essential. Where India and Bangladesh share a huge repository of mangroves with 7.5 million indigenous people dependant on them for their livelihoods, we need to rethink how the inclusion of this vast population can be leveraged to achieve a healthier eco(log)nomy. Perhaps by designing for mutualism?

The previous centuries were for making money by extracting the black stuff out of the ground. Perhaps time has now come when money can be minted from thin air by putting the same black stuff back into the ground?


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