Kenya issues smart ID cards to fishermen for protection



Fishing communities on Kenya’s north coast will be the first to benefit from “smart” identity cards aimed at distinguishing genuine fishermen and loggers from poachers who raid waters and cut down mangroves vital to ease climate change threats.

Each government-issued Mvuvi card – the word 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.

Officials hope the cards, being used first in Lamu County, home to what the government says are about 60% of Kenya’s protected mangrove forests, will boost security and curb illegal fishing and logging.

“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.

“Over-harvesting of mangroves will affect (impacts from) climate change and ecosystems all along the shores of the coast and the islands,” he added.

Environmental scientists have long stressed the important role mangrove forests play in reducing global warming threats.

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.

“In the mangroves, we have witnessed ‘die-back’, which is mangroves just drying up,” said John Bett, who works on sustainable forestry for WWF-Kenya.

Bett said he has seen the effects of climate change in Lamu County gather pace in the last 10 to 15 years and that the rate of mangrove regeneration, which can occur naturally as seeds fall from trees onto the mud, has “slowed down dramatically”.

Only loggers registered with Kenya’s Forestry Service are allowed to cut mangroves in Lamu County and only within certain quotas and areas, he explained.

But without knowing who exactly is on the water, cracking down on those fishing or logging mangroves illegally has been a challenge, he stressed.


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.

Those cards were eventually canceled due to the discovery of security gaps in the system, explained Mathenge Ndungu, program manager of the Kiunga Youth Bunge Initiative (KYBI).

The local civil society group is in charge of finding and registering fishermen for the card.

The group is now working with the government to strengthen the security of participants’ personal information and is in discussions over allocating space on the government’s servers to store that database, Ndungu said.

In the meantime, KYBI has registered 700 fishermen and hopes to issue them all with cards by the end of the month.

“We are targeting 1,000 fishermen to be issued with cards in the first phase,” said Ndungu.

The hope, he said, is that the Mvuvi card will succeed in protecting a fishing industry already severely stressed by the combination of climate change, poaching and mangrove loss.

Ali Tewa, 34, who comes from Kiwayu, started fishing when he left school at 16 and remembers a time when the fish were plentiful in the waters around Lamu County.

“Back then, in the 1990s, you could go (out) for between half an hour and three hours to catch around 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of fish,” he said.