To keep our coasts, coastal communities must benefit from sustainable enterprises
Three quarters of the world’s population living in coastal zones are in Asia[i]. These coastal communities are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as a consequence of the dynamic economic growth being experienced in Asia that is driving a dramatic loss of biodiversity. Mangrove ecosystems - and the diversity of life they encompass - are critical for a healthy, safe and prosperous natural and social heritage. So how can mangroves be sustainably managed, and what is the role of coastal communities themselves?
Successfully tackling the challenges facing mangroves and coastal communities must be undertaken using a holistic approach. RECOFTC takes such an approach by testing, advocating and providing evidence of how community-based natural resource management can provide sustainable solutions for balancing human, social and economic well-being of coastal ecosystems. RECOFTC’s expertise on community forestry includes integrated coastal resource management, partnering with local communities and organizations like Mangroves for the Future (MFF).
Recently RECOFTC and partners had the privilege of awarding 18 Community Forestry certificates to 18 villages in Gwa township, Rakhine State, Myanmar. This was part of a three-year project funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Myanmar to scale up community forestry in Myanmar. RECOFTC was accompanied by the Ambassador of Norway to Myanmar, Tonne Tines, Myanmar’s Deputy Director General of Forestry, U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin and the Country Director of The Nature Conservancy (and former Executive Director of RECOFTC), Tint Lwin Thaung. Just a month earlier, RECOFTC similarly had the honor of hosting the Ambassadors of Sweden and Switzerland, Staffan Herrström and Ivo Sieber, and a representative of the Norwegian Embassy, Chatri Moonstan, to visit the coastal communities of Pred Nai, Trat Province in eastern Thailand. These coastal communities have all benefited from over 20 years of support from RECOFTC and MFF.
As a result of the Scaling Up Community Forestry in Myanmar (SuComFor) project, RECOFTC and partners awarded community forestry certificates to 18 local community villages in Gwa township, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
Over the years, RECOFTC has been fortunate to work with MFF and have come to learn and respect the challenges of mangrove restoration and coastal resource conservation. While MFF and RECOFTC continue to invest in local participatory approaches to integrated coastal management, we are often reminded of sustainability concerns of projects, policy reform and regional coastal management initiatives. For both of the sites that we visited in Myanmar and in Thailand, success can be tempered by the increasing need for additional resources, namely donor-led initiatives. Now more than ever, there is an increasing focus on sustainable community enterprise development.
RECOFTC and partners continues to invest in local participatory approaches to integrated coastal management, but now more than ever there must be an increased focus on sustainable community enterprise development.
In Thailand, the communities of Ban Pred Nai and Ban Tha Ra Nae in Trat Province have begun to tap into the local eco-tourism market. While these communities have pursued grants to develop mangrove walkways through the community-managed coastal areas, they continue to seek outside support for their community-led conservation and development programs to restore large areas of heavily degraded mangrove forests and set up rules and procedures to effectively manage natural resources within the larger landscape. In order to bridge the gap, these communities are looking to learn from the Marriott-inspired turtle conservation program in Mao Khao Beach, where each tourist is asked to contribute to a development fund upon checking out of their resort. The same could be pursued with the communities of Ban Pred Nai and Ban Tha Ra Nae and several large resort enterprises that have started to work with youth as local eco-tourism guides to escort tourists through the community-managed coastal areas.
In Myanmar, the communities of Long Kyo, Gwa township, Rakhine State, are in a very precarious situation. Road building and encroachment continues to threaten coastal areas and in particular a rare form of mangroves that are stunted in their growth and resemble bonsai trees. Now that local communities have been awarded CF certificates, these communities are in a better position to address threats. There is an expectation that a sustainable tourism enterprise can bring in much-needed resources to maintain the coastal resources for future generations. Despite being supported by the Rakhine Coastal Regional Conservation Association, these communities need additional support for developing economic solutions and building local partnerships with other economic development interests to help protect the mangrove and coastal resources. These communities, which have developed 30-year forest management plans (a requirement to obtain their CF certificates), are now bolstered in their ability to negotiate with outside investors or to develop sustainable community-led small scale enterprise that values the forests, rivers, wetlands and coastal resources.
The coasts of Gwa township, Myanmar, are home to a rare form of dwarf mangroves that resemble bonsai trees.
Now that communities have community forest certificates, local people are in a better position to participate in sustainable small scale enterprises as long as enabling conditions are met.
In each of these cases, the prevailing paradigm for RECOFTC and its partners is to promote integrated coastal management and private sector solutions which recognize that communities must have ownership the business and the businesses’ impact on their coastal resources. That is, these private sector solutions must have arrangements for communities to manage coastal resources that are built on a shared understanding between the community, local government and private sector. There are a series of enabling factors that allow these critical elements of integrated coastal resource management to develop. These are:
The community has the capacity to make implementable decisions that reflect their objectives.
The community derives benefits from the integrated coastal resource management.
There are both an internal capability and external conditions for communities to make meaningful inputs into decisions on how coastal resources are to be managed.
Ultimately, these conditions must be met for sustainable community-led small scale enterprises to succeed. If outside investors are going to have entry points then they must focus on the community’s capacity to make decisions and give meaningful input into how eco-tourism or any other private sector solution is tested as a business case for sustainable community enterprise development. Organizations like RECOFTC and its regional partner MFF will continue to assist in these private sector solutions. While RECOFTC and its partners are well positioned to continue to build the community’s capacity to make these decisions and negotiate with the private sector, sooner or later, it will be very important for local institutions like the Rakhine Coastal Regional Conservation Association and the Good Governance for Social Development and the Environment Institute (GSEI) to step into this critical capacity building role.
For more information, see:
Embassy of Norway’s coverage of Scaling Up Community Forestry in Myanmar https://www.norway.no/en/myanmar/norway-myanmar/news-events/news2/scaling-up-community-forestry-in-myanmar/
Ambassador of Sweden Staffan Herrström's blog on community forestry in Pred Nai, Thailand (in Swedish) https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1524082227604340&substory_index=0&id=120425627970014
RECOFTC’s country program in Myanmar https://www.recoftc.org/country/myanmar (in Myanmar-language)
RECOFTC’s award-winning video of Pred Nai communities in Thailand (in Thai and English) http://www.recoftc.org/videos/voices-forest-thailand
ScandAsia’s coverage of Ambassador’s visit to Pred Nai, Thailand http://scandasia.com/swedish-representatives-visited-trat-mangrove-forest-restoration/
RECOFTC’s coverage of Ambassadors’ visit to Pred Nai, Thailand http://www.recoftc.org/press-releases/swedish-swiss-ambassadors-norwegian-embassy-visit-recoftc-field-project-prednai