Fishing communities on Kenya’s north coast will be the first to benefit from “smart” identity cards. The cards will help distinguish genuine fishermen and loggers from poachers who raid waters and cut down mangroves vital to ease climate change threats.
Each government-issued Mvuvi card – Mvuvi means “fisher” in Swahili – features a photo and fingerprint taken from its registered owner.
Authorities will be able to read the cards using smartphones loaded with communications software that allows short-range wireless data transfers.
The cards are being used first in Lamu County, home to what the government says are about 60% of Kenya’s protected mangrove forests.
“There are people who pretend to be fishermen going out to sea but they are doing illegal logging of the mangroves,” Samson Macharia, commissioner of Lamu County, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Environmental scientists have long stressed the important role mangrove forests play in reducing global warming threats.
Mangroves are far more effective at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide – one of the major drivers of climate change – than trees on land, they say.
The trees’ roots also trap and hold sediment, providing a coastal buffer against storms and protection from floods, as well as creating an important fish breeding ground.
More than 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone and they are disappearing three to five times faster than other forests, according to international conservation group WWF.
Figures published by Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry show that the country lost about 20% of its mangroves between 1985 and 2009.
Of the mangroves that remain, an estimated 40% are degraded.
Coastal communities in Kenya are already struggling with the effects of climate change.
Globally, scientists have warned that water temperatures are increasing far faster than expected due to carbon emissions.
As oceans warm, they expand, driving rising sea levels which, along with more erratic weather, make farmland increasingly vulnerable to flooding and failed harvests.
Hotter seas also fuel more powerful cyclones and other storms, which can drive saltwater onto land.
With fewer mangrove forests to buffer coastal land, soil is becoming salty – which kills crops – and or is being washed away by heavy rains, scientists say.
Warming oceans also threaten fish, especially in areas such as Kenya that have experienced coral bleaching.
Funded by the European Union and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Mvuvi card project originally launched in 2018, with a pilot phase that handed out 250 cards to fishermen on Kiwayu Island in Lamu County.
About 1000 fishermen were selected to receive Mvuvi cards in this, the first official phase of the project.