Last year, communities in Kenya’s Kwale County approached our partner COMRED to ask how they could increase local participation in conservation efforts to manage coastal fisheries. Kwale’s coast stretches approximately 250km and is divided into 20 local fisheries management associations. These Beach Management Units (BMUs) are responsible for looking after fishers and fisheries activities but can find getting high levels of community participation in conservation work a challenge.
BMU members complained to their leaders about the lack of benefits from engaging in conservation, so we needed to come up with the idea that would appeal to members,” said Jane Muteti, COMRED project lead.
Many coastal community members are low-income fishers or traders who don’t have access to formal and reliable financial services and struggle to save and get loans. To try to help people and the oceans simultaneously, we have worked with COMRED since November 2021 to introduce an eco-credit system that provides people in poor coastal communities loans tied to carrying out marine conservation activities.
We launched the Kwale Community Eco-Credit Fund in April when the seed money reached 800,000 Kenyan Shillings (KSH) and gave the first 10 savings groups 80,000 (around USD 700) each. Each group of around 20 to 30 members draws up and commits to a marine conservation action plan, such as planting and protecting mangrove forests, providing community, and doing beach cleanups.
Community members are excited that they can easily access credit to support their families and start a business,” said Perpetua Wairimu, COMRED’s eco-credit project officer.
Members pay a registration and application fee to access credit, grow the fund, and make it sustainable. The loans are tied to conservation efforts that will enrich the community and environment, while more savings grow the seed capital, making more credit available to new and existing members. The system, designed in consultation with community members and conservation micro-credit company GreenFi, has seen strong community engagement in neighbouring Tanzania, where we support the project through our Tanzanian partner Mwambao. The eco-credit system known as ‘Mkuba – the fund to care for the sea’ has been running since July 2018.
Helping community members understand the difference between the eco-credit fund and existing village loans and savings associations (VSLAs), which require members to have savings with the association to access credit, was initially a challenge. However, once the community heard that they could easily access loans without the precondition of having savings, people were keen to get on board and form groups. There are more female than male members due to many women having been VSLA members. Community members are now making repayments and carrying out conservation activities.
Community data monitors are trained to record conservation activities and financial transactions, track each group’s progress and share the data with the project team through a mobile application called ODK Collect. This reporting work increases community ownership of the project and reduces the time partner staff need to spend in the field.
This innovative blue loans project provides coastal communities with much-needed access to credit to help them improve their lives and the environment around them. We plan to engage and inspire more BMUs in Kwale county using this system and give credit to coastal communities for rebuilding their fisheries and conserving the ocean.
Acknowledgements: COMRED (Jane Muteti, Perpetua Wairimu, Patrick Kimani and Catherine Muyonga).