Robyn Shilland is the Director of ACES, coordinators of the Mikoko Pamoja and Vanga Blue Forest projects. Robyn has 10 years' experience of working in blue carbon trading, project management and research into carbon offsetting ethics and political ecology. 

Here, Robyn reflects on a decade of Mikoko Pamoja's pioneering work.

2022 marked the 10th anniversary of Mikoko Pamoja, the first community-led mangrove conservation project to be funded through carbon credits. Mikoko Pamoja was the result of community drive, collaboration from local to international scales, innovation, persistence and, most importantly, a deep love for mangrove forests and all that they do for us. Here, we reflect on the last 10 years, what we have learned in the process and look forward to the next 10 years (and beyond!) of protecting mangroves together through Mikoko Pamoja.

Some of the project staff, committee and partners in Gazi.  © Blue Forests Project, GRID-Arendal

Good things come in small packages…

At 117ha, Mikoko Pamoja is far from the largest forest carbon project in the world. It has an annual carbon benefit of 2,043t CO2e, equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of around 175 Brits (or around 6,810 Kenyans, whose average carbon footprint is a fraction of ours). There is an annual planting target of 2,000 seedlings, with the majority of the project being protection of existing forest.

In the context of global emissions, the project’s direct mitigation impact is a drop in the ocean. But Mikoko Pamoja’s power, influence and impact stretches far beyond the forest itself. It set the scene for other mangrove carbon projects, including nearby Vanga Blue Forest and other projects internationally. The Mikoko Pamoja team worked closely with the Kenyan Government and its agencies from the very start, and this relationship has allowed them to influence national policy including the Kenyan National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan and the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submission. This has directly influenced better conservation and restoration policies for the whole of the Kenyan coast.

A woman collects water from a well that was funded by Mikoko Pamoja. © Blue Forests Project, GRID-Arendal

This hasn’t gone unnoticed: in the past Mikoko Pamoja has welcomed Ambassadors and politicians from across the world and more recently, hosted His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Haakon and Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.

Inspired by Mikoko Pamoja’s success, Leonardo Dicaprio part-funded the development of a sister project, Vanga Blue Forest. In 2017, Mikoko Pamoja won the Equator Initiative Prize for “outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”.

Importantly, Mikoko Pamoja has inspired people locally and around the world to care for, and about, mangrove forests. Recent years have seen a ‘blue carbon boom’ as the understanding of and appreciation for coastal ecosystems has skyrocketed. This was not always the case, and it has been projects like Mikoko Pamoja, and the teams behind them, that have contributed to increased awareness of and love for mangrove forests. As Baba Dioum said, "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Previous Project Coordinator, Josphat Mwamba, receives the Equator Initiative Prize in New York in 2017.

Community consent takes time and flexibility

Too often in conservation, community engagement and consent has been seen as a tick-box exercise confined to the project development phase. This can lead to conflict, resentment, lack of community support and ultimately, failure of project objectives.

Mikoko Pamoja was born out of community desire for a project that delivered benefits to them whilst conserving the mangrove forest. Therefore, ensuring that the project was designed in conjunction with local people was essential from the start.

Being the first project of its kind in mangrove forests, the team faced challenges in communicating why and how the project would generate income from the carbon within the trees and soil – an abstract concept compared to the value of timber that they were used to. The negotiation of other elements including benefits sharing, governance and interventions – particularly with the need to include other stakeholders (such as the government) took time, patience and the skills and expertise of a diverse project team.

Mikoko Pamoja ensures equal gender representation on its governing committee. © Blue Forests Project, GRID-Arendal

This was not ‘done and dusted’ in a couple of meetings – it was a slow, iterative and thorough process over many months. It is still not, and will never be, over; consent and support are ‘live’ elements of the project and not taken for granted. The free, prior and informed consent elements of the v5.0 standard will formalise this consent, ensuring that the community are given a platform to explicitly voice their support (or otherwise) for the project on a regular basis.

Over the last 10 years the project has seen debates, misunderstanding and compromises and is stronger as a result – ultimately the community, genuinely at the heart of the project, have the power and final say on whether it succeeds.

People are the key to success

For all of the scientific, technical, policy and other ‘hard’ elements needed to develop a successful project, the biggest factor in the success of Mikoko Pamoja has been a passionate, enthusiastic and skilled team working together, and the support of project partners, students, volunteers and of course the community of Gazi Bay who have supported the project for the last 10 years.

This has included a core team of staff on-site in Gazi who have worked tirelessly on the development and ongoing operations over the last decade, supported internationally by project partners from academia and NGOs. KMFRI, the scientific and technical partner on-site, have hosted thousands of students from Kenya and around the world who have contributed to the project as part of their degrees, from undergraduate to PhD. A committed community give their time and energy to governing the project, ensuring representation from both villages within the project bounds.

Dr James Kairo, Chief Scientist at KMFRI and founder of Mikoko Pamoja. © Tony Ochieng

Mikoko Pamoja means ‘mangroves together’. The project truly has created a family of people across the globe who have been involved in some way, large or small, to contribute to the success of this special little project on the Kenyan coast.

What next for Mikoko Pamoja?

Mikoko Pamoja is accredited on a 20-year basis, so we have (at least) another decade to come (and more, if the project seeks re-accreditation after that). In the short term the community have ambitions to expand the area under protection, although this is on hold for now whilst the Kenyan government, in line with many countries around the world, makes policy decisions regarding carbon projects in the country. However, once resolved, the community hope to approximately double the area of mangroves under protection in the next couple of years.

New developments such as the PV Nature (Plan Vivo’s Biodiversity Standard) offer exciting opportunities to further protect and restore the mangrove forest and its inhabitants, bring additional benefits to the community, and diversify income away from a reliance on carbon financing.

In line with , we hope to see a future in which carbon financing isn’t necessary for Mikoko Pamoja – one in which adequate support is given to nature conservation and restoration as part of a low-carbon world. In the meantime – the next 20-30 years – carbon is likely to continue to play a key role in the financing of the project and others like it, supported by ethical carbon buyers who look for quality offsets with community development and biodiversity benefits as well as a carbon reduction tag.

Mangrove seedlings are a symbol of a hopeful future in Gazi Bay. © Blue Forests Project, GRID-Arendal

In summary…

10 years on from the conception of an innovative idea amongst friends, colleagues, and community members, Mikoko Pamoja remains a successful example of how carbon can be used to finance mangrove protection and restoration. The journey hasn’t been without its challenges but has also celebrated huge successes along the way and has even welcomed international royalty and prestigious awards.

The project is, at its core, a community effort and its success can be attributed to the “Mikoko Pamoja community” – the local people, staff, partners, volunteers, students, and everyone else who has contributed to a very special mangrove forest in the south of Kenya.


We would like to thank Robyn Shilland, Director at ACES, for taking time to reflect on 10 years of Mikoko Pamoja.