Community defends carbon offset projects in northern Kenya

Carbon credit Isiolo

A section of members of Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy during a meeting at Bulesa on April 8, 2023. They have defended the Northern Kenya Rangelands Carbon Project over claims of indigenous peoples rights.

Photo credit: David Muchui I Nation Media Group

A community conservancy in Isiolo has defended the Northern Kenya Rangelands Carbon Project (NKRCP) against claims of violations of indigenous peoples' rights by local and international organisations.

The NKRCP, an initiative of community conservancies supported by the Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT), is billed as the world's largest soil carbon sequestration project.

In February last year, 14 community conservancies received more than Sh500 million from the sale of carbon credits under the project, which began in 2013. The money has been used for education, rangeland management, water supply and drought relief.

But in a report released late last month, Survival International, an indigenous rights organisation, cited the project's interference with community land rights, traditional grazing systems, lack of adequate public participation and a flawed carbon verification process.

The report is entitled 'Blood Carbon: How a carbon offset scheme makes millions from indigenous land in Northern Kenya'.

The Waso Paralegal Network, an organisation based in Isiolo, supported the report and blamed the NRT's establishment of conservancies for delays in registering community land.

"The indigenous communists fully support the report which condemns NRT's commercial operations on unregistered communal land to the detriment of pastoral communities...We reiterate that NRT has no right to own and trade carbon on our communal land as the land belongs to the community." The statement read out by the Waso Paralegal Network reads in part.

They cite the use of an independent council of elders, parallel to those of the local communities, as one of the violations.

The organisation also accused NRT of 'displacing' Borana pastoralists from Chari in the Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy through controlled rotational grazing.

But members of the Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy defended NRT and the carbon project, arguing that critics were 'enemies of development'.

Speaking to journalists in Bulesa, Isiolo County, Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy range management chairman Golicha Guyo said they had so far received Sh36 million from the carbon project.

"Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy works closely with NRT on conservation and development programmes. NRT and the conservancy have had robust public participation on the carbon credits and how the funds should be used."

"NRT has never interfered with traditional governance and grazing systems as alleged by the Waso Paralegal Network," said Mr Guyo.

He argued that it is local people who draw up grazing plans using traditional knowledge, with 20 per cent of the funds going to the grazing committees.

"The funds will help us formulate and implement a traditional 'dedha' grazing plan for healthy and productive rangelands that can store harmful carbon in the soil," he said.

Mr Galgalo Golicha, a member of the Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy Board, said allegations of violent eviction of herders were baseless and unfounded.

"Our rangers, who are armed, are accountable to the National Police Service and every single bullet used must be accounted for. Not a single incident of extrajudicial killing has been reported in our area," Mr Golicha said.

He said the money from the carbon credits had transformed the community by providing water, improving school infrastructure, providing scholarships for needy students and helping with drought relief.

In its response, NRT described Survival International's report as 'inflammatory, riddled with factual errors, poorly researched and containing several known falsehoods'.

NRT CEO Tom Lalampaa said they don't make a profit from the carbon project and that, contrary to the report, the initiative enjoys massive community support.

"We welcome any review of the verification process as this will only serve to strengthen the entire project and model... The project has brought incredible and tangible benefits to the environment and communities of northern Kenya," Mr Lalampaa said.