Case Studies of Successful Community Involvement In Sustainable Management of Coastal Resources

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March 11, 2017 by Species Ecology

Case Studies of Successful Community Involvement In Sustainable Management of Coastal Resources

by Alfredo Quarto, Director, Mangrove Action Project

This paper attempts to provide some examples of methods of mangrove forest management involving local communities which were found to be most successful. It has been generally accepted among many official planners and NGOs that for sustainable development to succeed, the local communities must ne involved from the start in the planning, implementing, and monitoring stages of resource management. Without this early involvement, such programs aimed at conservation and sustainable use of coastal resources, including mangrove forests, cannot work.

Along with the anticipated involvement of local communities in sustainable mangrove forest management, a new and rather experimental and alternative technology–aquasilviculture is entering the spotlight. Aquasilviculture involves more traditional, non-destructive aquaculture techniques combined with sustainable forestry techniques, including limited harvest of mangrove products.

The following case studies may provide some valuable insights into successful community organizing techniques in the Philippines, Thailand , and Vietnam:

The Case in the Philippines

In a 1996 report, entitled “Comparative Strategies In Community-Based Mangrove Rehabilitation Programs In The Philippines”, written by Drs. J.H. Primavera and R.F. Agbayani (from the Aquaculture Department of Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), Tigbauan, Iloilo, Philippines) four case studies were highlighted. In their detailed analysis, the main, contributing factors affecting the success or failure of mangrove forest management programs are presented. The study itself utilized “rapid rural appraisal” techniques in data gathering, including “semi-structured interviews, direct observations, tours of sites, mapping, and diagramming… supplemented with secondary data…A three-member survey team composed of biologists and a socioeconomist gathered, compared, and assessed information on marine- and land-based resources and their utilization…” (Ibid, p. 5)

The Buswang Mangrove Reforestation Project was initiated via a contract “awarded by the DENR in 1990 to the municipal government of Kalibo Aklan through the Kalibo Save The Mangrove Association, or KASAMA, an organization of 28 family beneficiaries…” (Ibid)

The project was funded by the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) of Japan, and involved “50 ha. of foreshore area near the river mouth in the barangays of Old and New Buswang in Kalibo…(Ibid, p. 6) The local NGO, “Uswag Development Foundation”, involved in community development, worked with the local community, acting as an effective bridge between the local people and various government agencies.

The project resulted in the successful planting of the entire target area with two species of mangrove–45 ha of Rhizophora and 5 ha of Nipa palm. “Families belonging to KASAMA were each assigned a block of 1-2 ha to plant, protect and maintain for three years…The project has provided a buffer zone for Buswang and adjacent coastal villages…” (Ibid)

Many important benefits were derived from this community organizing and mangrove replanting effort, including stabilization of shoreline, reclamation of some tidal flats, and restoration of habitats for birds, fish, crustaceans and molluscs. These ecological improvements boosted the local economies of the coastal residents, giving further incentive to sustainably manage their mangrove resources.

“Gleaning for shellfish during low tide represents food security not only for the family beneficiares but for other residents as well. The 4-year old nipa plants have been harvested providing additional income from shingles. A once apathetic community has been transformed into full participation as evidenced by their formation of a cooperative store….” (Ibid.)

In 1994 land tenure was awarded the project participants by DENR in the form of 25 year stewardship contracts, authorized by the “Forest Land Management Agreement.” Moreover, Kalibo was distinguished as one of the outstanding municipalities in the Philippines, and received the 1995 Galing Pook Award in recognition of its successful mangrove reforestation efforts. (Ibid., p. 7)

According to the study, the main ingredients in Kalibo’s recipe for success lay in the fact that: 1) there was cooperation within the community to support the project, 2) there was prior social preparation via existent and learned organizational development and leadership skills within the community, 3) there was a sense of community security, or sense of “ownership”, of the resource due to the declaration of formal stewardship arranged between the community leaders, or Peoples’ Organization’s, POs, and the representative national government agency, the DENR, in coordination with the municipal government agency of the area, and 4) throughout the entire process, an effective NGO helped to mediate between the village community and governmental representatives. The NGO also fostered a successful learning process in the community by conducting “training courses in organizational membership, leadership and development, enterprise management, and environmental awareness for KASAMA…”(Ibid. p. 6)

All three other case studies which were dealt with in this report suffered from lack of certain essential ingredients which make for a successful organizinhg effort. Either there was insufficient NGO or local government support, or community preparation and organizational development had not been carried out prior to program implementation. One program clearly failed because of lack of community security defined by ensured land tenure. Without land tenancy rights, local community members are less inclined to sustainably manage their local resource base.

As stated in the report, “Long-term sustainability will need the active participation of the nearny fishing community with strong support from the local government unit and assistance of NGOs.” (Ibid, p. 14)

Thailand’s Community Forest Project

In Thailand, over half of the mangrove forests have been lost to development. Shrimp farming has been largely responsible for this serious loss. However, a small NGO in Southwestern Thailand, Yad Fon (Rain Drop) Association, located in Trang, has taken up the cause for the mangroves and the coastal communities which depend on healthy mangrove ecosystems for their lives and livelihoods. For over a decade, Pisit Chansnoh, a co-founder and current President of Yad Fon, has led his organization in pioneering grassroots methods enhancing local community involvement in management of coastal resources. And, in those years of practical fieldwork, Khun Pisit and his dedicated staff have developed a methodology of village-level organizing that seems to be working.

The concept of the “community managed forest” arose from a more general principle of local community involvement in ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources. Without local support and direct involvement of resident communities in those important resource management decisions, sustainable and eco-friendly development is not possible. Yad Fon had pioneered this idea at the village level long before it had become vogue in “official” resource management procedure.

Initially a particular village was targeted by Yad Fon for project work. A Yad Fon staff person would be assigned to reside in the target village for one or more years, where for the first year little effort was made to advise or help organize the community residents. The Yad Fon worker would simply try to become a part of the community, and, while doing so, observe the workings of the particular community he/she was living in. After a time, when trust had been developed between community members and the Yad Fon representative, the Yad Fon organizer would attempt to help steer the villagers towards resolving some of their most pressing issues. Through a process of meetings and open discussions among villagers, their community problems were discussed, and solutions suggested by the villagers themselves.

Certain small community projects, such as building a new village drinking well, were undertaken, and in the process of working on such projects, village leadership grew, or was strengthened, to where effective community organization developed over time. Once a local community became better organized, and its leadership more developed, other issues were faced, and sometimes major obstacles overcome. With proven success of these smaller cooperative projects, the self-confidence of the villagers grew, and other bigger challenges were met.

One such challenge, was to become more self-sufficient and freed from dependence on the middleman for loans and other assistance. One process which was encouraged by Yad Fon, was the establishment of a village “savings plan”, which was run by the villagers and helped free them from the strangling grip of the money-lenders and middlemen. For instance, villagers were encouraged to form a fishing cooperative to which each member paid affordable regular dues which went into a community bank account. With this pooled money, small, but enabling, low-interest loans could be made, and stores of essential goods, such as fishing gear, or diesal fuel, could be bought more cheaply in bulk, and then sold at fair prices to the cooperative members. Becoming more financially independent was an essential step which further empowered the villagers.

Also, villagers began to restore and manage their local coastal resources, including the nearby mangrove forests. With initial advice and education from Yad Fon on sustainable use of their natural resource base, villagers attempted to implement programs of self-management and monitoring of their coastal resources. Existing mangrove forest areas were either replanted or rehabilitated through community work projects. In short time, positive results occurred, such as increased fish yields and healthier sea grass beds. This success further strengthened villagers commitments to more ecologically sound fishing practices. And neighboring communities began to take notice of these positive accomplishments, and also began to ask questions.

From its humble beginnings working in four villages, Yad Fon now works in over 30 villages with notable organizing success.

“We believe in the potential of local fishers,” Pisit stated, “that they have knowledge, or ‘wisdom’, but don’t always have the opportunities to share their knowledge.” Pisit often talks about what he terms the “local wisdom”, which comunity members must rediscover among themselves.

The “community forest” concept is one of the cornerstones of Yad Fon’s important work. The provincial government, along with the Forest Service, had actually sanctioned the first community forest pilot project. This was set up in one of Yad Fon’s early target villages. Select committees help manage the mangrove forest, using agreed upon strict guidelines for all community members.

“Community forests,” Pisit explains, “encourages people to harvest the by-products of that forest, rather than cut the trees themselves.”

Those skills utilized for the management of forest have overflowed into other areas of community life, again bringing many positive changes. Neighboring villages invited local leaders to visit and share some of their experiences. Even the Thai Forest Service became interested in studying Yad Fon’s organizing methods, and began to initiate its own test programs based on these proven techniques. Yad Fon’s goal is to link village to neighboring village in order to establish a working network. Acting in concert, such a village network will have much more clout in addressing important issues.

Four years ago, Thailand’s Prime Minister presented an award to Yad Fon recognizing its accomplishments at the local village level. Other government officials are more receptive now, as well. Yet, Khun Pisit stated that despite future government programs, or despite NGO involvement, in the end, it is really up to the villagers to carry on themselves. “The forest sustains the people who sustain the forest!”

Vietnam, After the Revolution

The case of mangrove forest management in Vietnam is unique from the other two cases presented above. For one thing, in 1986, with the collapse of the “cooperative system”, the government “decreed to give agricultural land to farmers individually…” ( from “Mangrove Reforestation In Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province, Vietnam”, by Nguyen Thanh Binh, OXFAM, UK/I 1996, p. 1).

In 1990, OXFAM UK/I joined forces with Water Resource University in Vietnam and the residents of the Northern village of Ky Anh to construct nearly 17 km. of seadykes to protect otherwise vulnerable coastal communes in the area. The dyke scheme was effective in offering needed protection from the many heavy storms during the typhoon season. “Calculating in the recent 5 years from 1987 to 1991, there were nine typhoons landing into Ky Anh that made 12,375 houses collapse, over 7200 hectares of rice fields be intruded by sea water, 74 hydraulic works and transport works destroyed. Hundreds of villagers tended to move further south to seek a better liofe…” (Ibid.)

The seadyke seemed like a workable solution. However, the same storms which had threatened the vuillagers’ homes and rice fields would eventually wear down, and possibly breech the seadyke as well. To protect the seadyke, an extensive mangrove replanting was initiated, with the assistance of experts from the Mangrove Ecosystem Research Center (MERC). Action was taken to replant around 250 ha of mud flat on the seawartd side of the new dyke. In time this mangrove fringe would have the useful function of protecting the seadyke and the villages from otherwise destructive waves and and storms. Also, the eventual positive effect of the mangrove forest cover on inshore fisheries would greatly enhance the livelihoods of the local residents.

It was agreed early on that no shrimp ponds would be constructed within the mangrove fringe area. The shrimp farmers and villagers agreed that such a practice would result in great problems for both sides, whose relations were already quite tense. Heated and sometimes violent disputes had already erupted between these often conflicting interests. Many local villagers saw the shrimp farms as a bane, not the boon that the industry and government had once proclaimed.

Shrimp farming had come like a storm to the coasts of Vietnam in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many vast sretches of important mangrove forests were cleared to make way for the invading shrimp farms. After the initial boom years, many serious problems developed, including mounting coasatal pollution, decreased rice paddy productivity, and severe damage from newly exposed coastlines layed bare by the encroaching shrimp industry.

The recent replanting of mangrove trees and the completion of the seadyke have given villages new hope for their futures in the area. To help catalyze early villager participation in the replanting process, the Vietnam government offered parcels of land to those who took part in the replanting effort.

“Each individual family who were planting mangroves was given a Land Use Title signed by the Chairman of the People’s Committee of the District….people will be responsible to protect it because that is their own property. Beside individual protection, each commune also will select a team to manage the mangrove stand in general. The team members will be paid through the fund collected from the tax which the local villagers pay as a dyke protection fee…” (Ibid., pp. 2-3)

This working model of dyke construction and mangrove plantation is now being replicated in nearby communes in ther Ky Anh district. With cooperation of both local officials, worker union leaders, and local villagers, the program promises to be a great success.

The main program objectives are:

1) To reinforce all the seadykes recently constructed with OXFAM funding assistance,

2) To help poor villagers and especially poor women to get access to land use,

3) To build up people’s environmental awareness through their active participation in the project and long-term protection and maintenance of their own mangrove plots,

4) To improve aquatic activities by providing a breeding ground for shrimp and crab raising and through that generate more income for the villagers in general and women in particular.

To attain these goals, a core team of trainers from MERC are giving on-site training to the villagers in mangrove propagule collecting and planting techniques.

“At first, a group of villagers will be chosen to be a core group (training of trainers). The team members (approx. 20 people) are preferably selected from each commune. Women will be the first priority. These people will (then) train ordinary people at their own plots….”

Several species of mangroves will be replanted, including Kandelia, Rhizophora, Bruguira, Avicennia, Sonneratia, and others. Replanting of new trees in places where seedlings have died will be done on a rotating basis, where, for example, one season only Rhizophora will be replanted, and the next season only Kandelia. This species diversification will increase the biodiversity and productivity of the area.

OXFAM, in collaboration with MERC and other groups, has also published three types of training books to help facilitate public education on the issues involved. Two of the books are aimed at children, and will be used within the District school curriculum.

“One of the most crucial points making the project sustainable is the full and active participation of the local people.” (Ibid. p. 6)

In order to ensure effective local community involvement in coastal resource management certain factors are an imperative to include in any organizational planning. First, there must be a recognition of inherent differences in philosophy which often separate so-called “modern” and “traditional” approaches. Most “modern” systems are more technically based, while the traditional systems often have both a social and spiritual base. And, traditional systems have often evolved on the very lands being considered for sustainable management.. These basic differences in philosophical approaches often cause well-intended modern programs to fall far short of their objectives, while frustrating all parties involved in the effort.

Also, too often, traditional knowledge and expertise is undervalued, or misunderstood, by those governmental or non-governmental organizations attempting to implement sustainable resource management programs involving local communities. A more integrated approach would blend the “traditional” and the “modern”, highlighting the merits of both. In fact, a recommended approach to local resource management is for governments to provide the legal and the administrative framework to support traditional management systems. Such provision engenders community support, trust, and involvement from the beginning.

Built-in flexibility is an essential aspect of traditional resource management systems. The traditional system is not static, but is actually adaptable to changing conditions. Linking such adaptability with any synthesized modern approach is critical. However, defining roles for traditional resource monitors is important This will ensure that sustainable practices are in place, and that the local community members themselves safeguard against wasteful, or threatening, practices.

One serious problem affecting traditional communities is the loss of interest among the young people of the community in carrying on the traditions. Also, many are tempted by the popular glitter and frills that modern technology may offer. The promise of quick riches and elite standing in the community has tempted many community members wishing to advance their status. Identifying, or rekindling, a faltering traditional leadership is often the initial challenge to any community organizing efforts. In order to catalyze interest in a sustainable management program, awareness raising and learning activities must be included from the beginning in such a program. Again, such educational outreach should include local community knowledge and participation. And, such programs could provide an invaluable opportunity to document the traditional wisdom that still survives.

True, traditional resource management systems have been weakened by modern developments. However, these traditional systems are still functional, and can be tied into a modern approach to help ensure the success of such programs. Governmental recognition, support, and protection of existing traditional systems is vital, however. In fact, without effective constraints–via legislation and enforcement–against such enterprises as the shrimp aquaculture and trawling industries, programs aimed at sustainable coastal resource management are undermined. Such efforts become themselves unsustainable– mere meaningless exercises in frustration.

And, without effective protection of local community land-use rights in place, local interest in these kinds of programs will wane.


“Comparative Strategies In Community-Based Mangrove Rehabilitation Programs In The Philippines”, Drs. J.H. Primavera and R.F. Agbayani (from the Aquaculture Department of Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), Tigbauan, Iloilo, Philippines)

“Sustaining Livelihoods In Coastal Fisheries”, David Thomson and Brian O”Rierdan, Appropriate Technology, Sept. 1995

“Lessons For Modern Management From The South Pacific”, Hraham B.K. Baines, Appropriate Technology, Sept. 1995

“Community-Based Sustainable Management Of The Mangrove In Southern Thailand”, Dr. Niti Rittibhonbhun, Dept. of Aquatic Sciences, Prince of Songkhla University, Hat Yai, Songkhla 90110, Thailand, 1995

“Community Development of Ayeyarwady Mangroves”, A.K. Lahiri, June 1995

“Community Management of Coastal Resources, Southern Thailand”, Pisit Chansnoh, Yad Fon Association, NAGA, The ICLARM Quarterly, Oct. 1993

“The Fishers That Rescued The Sea”, by Alfredo Quarto, for Mangrove Action Project, 1995








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