Role of mangrove forests in boosting sustainable livelihoods

Role of mangrove forests in boosting sustainable livelihoods

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Susan Rosemary Fenton
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is committed to addressing both the consequences and the root causes of climate change, as stated in its Strategy 2020, and outlined in its 2013-2016 Plan of Action on Climate Change. Vietnam Red Cross (VNRC) is the leading humanitarian organisation in the country with a national network of more than 21,000 staff and close to 300,000 active volunteers. By law, VNRC has the mandate to undertake disaster risk management actions – inclusive of climate adaptation.Vietnam is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. VNRC has been involved in the implementation of Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) projects which have included mangrove and forestry plantation and maintenance, since 1994, with support from the IFRC and Japanese Red Cross since 1997. This  has resulted in close to 9,000 hectares in total, equivalent to more than 7 per cent of all existing mangroves (119,677 ha) in Vietnam in 2013. Mangroves have been planted in 100 communes in 10 provinces with a total of 350,000 beneficiaries.
In 2011, an impact evaluation found that in addition to protecting coastal communities from the effects of typhoons and storm surges, and preventing the dykes from destruction, mangroves also substantially contribute to climate change mitigation through the expected sequestration of 16 million ton of CO2 by 2025. The investigation also pointed to the livelihood benefits that resulted from mangrove plantation, notably due to an increase in yield of aquaculture product collection of up to 780 per cent, especially for poor community members who benefitted from these activities. 97 per cent of respondents to a survey felt that the mangroves had positively affected marine life. 60 per cent attributed a positive impact on their income to the mangrove restoration project. With an average income of 7-10 USD per day and 20 working days per month, the income  from these products is not only stable but higher than  income generated from traditional employment in the considered communes (agriculture, planting etc.) Apart from benefiting from aquaculture, there are other seasonal activities, such as beekeeping during mangrove flowering, which are also popular. Mangroves also protect other community livelihoods, such as staple and cash crops, from seawater surges.
Despite these positive impacts, there remain a number of challenges that need solving so that sustainability is ensured. These include: some communes required to comply with strict district regulations prohibiting the collection of aquaculture products during the first three years; use of unsustainable aquaculture practices (e.g. electricity or fishing in the breeding season); destruction of mangroves to accommodate infrastructure projects,(e.g a port in Hai Phong and new sea dykes in Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa provinces); low investment; and lack of clarity of the rights, obligations and responsibilities for mangrove protection at all levels in the government, which is exacerbated by management of mangroves across two ministries – the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) for management of mangrove trees and Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment (MONDRE) for land use.
There were limited livelihood focused activities in the initial project, apart from advice to planters on how to market and sell their products effectively for bamboo plantation in 2004. Those training and workshops were only limited to 90 communes. But between 2011 and 2013, a total of 56 communes received livelihood training with 1,400 participants who learned about disaster risks, climate change impacts and how to apply some new livelihood methods which are resilient to those risks. It has been shown that when awareness is raised within communities and local authorities, and community members are able to practice sustainable livelihoods within mangroves forests, they actively protect them. The economic value of mangroves has been confirmed by local authorities as stable as – or even higher than agricultural production – and this should be used as a basis to advocate for the formal recognition by commune authorities of the economic value of mangroves. Further research to increase the body of knowledge and produce further evidence of the connection between mangroves and their economic impact on livelihoods should also be encouraged.
(This article was compiled with the support of Vietnam Red Cross Society, Director of Disaster Management Dr. Tran Quoc Hung and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society) – Outreach magazine of the Stakeholders’ Forum

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