Mangrove forests grow along tropical and subtropical coastlines, providing habitats for many marine species as well as timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for indigenous people. They also act as a natural barrier to protect coastal villages from natural disasters such as storms, floods and tsunamis.
However, mangrove forests have been destroyed and degraded by unsustainable harvesting and unsustainable coastal development projects. Therefore, nowadays many innovative programs for mangrove restoration and reforestation are being conducted.
These projects operate in many countries and although some good results have been documented, it could be said that the projects have not been effectively implemented. There are many reasons for this. One of them is the lack of local participation. The question here is why local people do not participate actively in these projects?
There is a fact that local people are often left out of decision-making processes in forest restoration and are only asked to participate once implementation has begun, yet local people have depended on mangrove forests for their livelihoods for a long time.
In addition, local people’s relationship with their land and resources is deeply intertwined with their customs, culture and political practices; it is the expression of their social wholeness. In their view, living, working and nurturing the land with full control and tenure security is key to wholesome living and surviving as a people.
However, under various projects their livelihoods have been negatively affected and their voice has not been heard by the government. As a result, local people are often not interested in participating in forest restoration.
The second question is whether local communities can negotiate their rights to a livelihood strategy and to the use of traditional knowledge to participate effectively under the policy called mangrove restoration?
Livelihood security is very important for local people. How can they participate in mangrove restoration projects if they do not have enough food for their daily life. In addition, the people of each geographic area have their own knowledge and culture; scientific knowledge is not always the best solution to complex problems.
Indigenous forest management systems could be relevant for contemporary social problems. Local people have used the forest for a long time, they know how to manage it and make a living from it, but decision makers do not realize the importance of indigenous knowledge and local customs.
Finally, the benefit sharing mechanisms in the mangrove restoration projects are often not set up clearly by policy. As such, local people often do not have clear rights to access these forests.
The controversies arising due to the mangrove restoration policy should be discussed. My argument here is that state policy should look at mangrove restoration not only from a conservation aspect but also from a social, economic and cultural aspect.
Although mangrove forests play an important role in the era of climate change and global warming, they also play a crucial role for local community livelihood strategies and there is a need to address any conflict in access to them.
My Hoang Hao Tra is a student of Chiang Mai University, Thailand.
Editor’s note: Watch the discussion forum on managing mangrove forests for climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits, from the first day of Forests Asia 2014.