By Joshua Wafula, LGT Impact Fellow for Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association
In Maasai Mara, the primary income generator for conservancies is tourism, which has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. A more diverse and sustainable business model is needed to increase the ability of conservancies to protect biodiversity and alleviate poverty. Interventions co-developed with communities to restore degraded rangelands and improve productivity are critical for the local economy, diversifying revenue and reducing vulnerability to climate change. Carbon credits hold the promise of providing an alternative revenue stream while increasing the resilience of conservancies and creating healthier spaces for wildlife.
The Voice of the Mara (VoM) magazine spoke to Tarn Breedveld, Chief Executive Officer at Greater Mara Management, and Joshua Wafula, LGT Carbon Fellow at Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association, on the potential the One Mara Carbon Project holds for the Mara.
VoM: What is the One Mara Carbon Project?
One Mara Carbon project is a grassland management initiative that seeks to capture and preserve carbon in soils and vegetation. This will generate carbon credits which can be sold to create a new revenue stream, diversify livelihoods for the Maasai community and build resilient conservancies.
VoM: So, how do you capture carbon in soils and vegetation?
In the Maasai Mara ecosystem, grasslands can capture carbon in root biomass and conserve carbon by reducing soil erosion. Sustainable grazing helps the grass to regenerate and capture more carbon. Healthy grasslands are the key. If grasslands remain healthy, they provide grazing for wildlife and livestock while capturing carbon into the soil. If a grassland is overgrazed, grazing is impaired, and carbon capture is not optimal.
VoM: How will you ensure sustainable management of grasslands – are you coming up with new interventions?
We’re not developing new interventions to manage grasslands. Holistic grazing management has been a traditional pastoralist strategy for centuries: graze a particular area and let it rest to allow grasses to regenerate. By measuring the impacts of different grazing management strategies on soil carbon, we can help identify the best approach for each conservancy to ensure they can balance the needs of wildlife and livestock while maximizing the value of the carbon stored in the soil. Overgrazing leads to poor grasslands and low carbon stocks, but under grazing is not ideal either. The balance will be the key to success.
VoM: Have you taken the necessary steps for the project to take off?
Yes, measuring changes in the grass biodiversity and soil organic carbon is very important, and we’re already developing the tools to measure the impact. We have initiated baseline studies to update these tools to help inform conservancies and community members on the best management options.
VoM: You talked of carbon credits as an alternative revenue stream for conservancies. How does this work?
A carbon credit is a tradable unit representing one ton of greenhouse gas (e.g., carbon dioxide) emissions reductions or removals. The credits are purchased by companies, individuals, and other entities to offset their carbon emissions. By implementing sustainable grassland management practices, the conservancies will capture carbon from the atmosphere and generate carbon credits. An independent market regulator will then verify the amount of carbon captured and issue carbon credits which can be sold in the carbon markets.
VoM: Seems like a complex process. How will you ensure the local community is fully engaged?
Full participation of local communities is essential for the success of the project. Communication about the effects of different management practices will be equally crucial for conservancies to make informed decisions on managing their grasslands. Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association is an important starting point for engaging landowners, and we are currently developing a detailed community engagement strategy to be rolled out in 2022. We will also train and engage youth and women from different conservancies to collect soil samples and monitor changes in carbon stocks. On the communication front, we’re currently generating interesting communication materials for translation into Maa. We also engage experts with experience in landscape restoration initiatives to guide the process.
VoM: And finally, are you implementing the project in all conservancies?
For the project to make economic and ecological sense, it must be implemented at the ecosystem level. We hope that all conservancies will participate. This is because the costs to set up the project are pretty high, and there needs to be consistency in grassland management practices. Each conservancy will be heavily involved in how this works in their area to ensure the project meets the needs of the existing stakeholders, tourism operators and community members.