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Mangroves: Key is local

/ 05:10 AM March 12, 2021

For the development of mangroves, the key is local formulation and implementation. Otherwise, like many praiseworthy national undertakings done from the top down, experience has shown that this development is likely to fail.

The first question is: Why pay attention to mangroves at this time? During this period of climate change, pandemic and poverty, we must remember that mangroves are the forests of the sea. Like forests, they produce both economic and ecological benefits that we need badly today. Since we have already lost half of them, we should be fully aware of the benefits they can provide us.

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First, mangroves protect seaside communities from storm surges and sudden flooding. During the “Yolanda” tsunami, all that was seen in the affected area was debilitating devastation along the shoreline. There was one exception. A large community looked intact, protected by the mangroves that stopped the surging waters. Today, we need to replicate this experience because of the more frequent flooding and disasters brought about by increased climate change.

Second, mangroves provide livelihood to the poorest sector in our country. These are 1.6 million fisherfolk who rely on a rapidly dwindling fish supply. The mangroves are the breeding place for increasing the fish needed for them to survive. They also provide additional income opportunities. Examples are paying fisherfolk to build and maintain these mangroves at this time of little catch and employment, providing additional income from products like crabs and oysters, and enhancing the mangroves’ ecotourism potential.

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Third, mangroves constitute an excellent response to climate change. They pull greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them in their soils up to four times as much the carbon of other tropical forests. They provide habitat for a wide variety of terrestrial, estuarine and marine species, as well as protect water quality by removing harmful pollutants.

We have already lost half of our mangroves. We must now restore and expand them. But doing this with a national formula-fits-all approach will fail miserably.

There are three sets of players who must participate, but all with a clearly local focus.

The first set is from the government’s executive branch. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB) has the required technology and experts to help lead in mangrove development formulation and implementation. The Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) has the ability to mobilize and harness the organization and resources needed to support this initiative.

The second is the local government units (LGUs). Since the mandate for agriculture and fisheries development is devolved to the LGUs who know their local situations and constituents best, they will be mainly responsible for managing this effort. They will also mobilize for and train the people involved on the most effective way this can be done.

The third set is composed of the fisherfolk themselves. Organized into groups, they will execute the details of mangrove development. They will be the ones who will most benefit from protection from storm and flood surges. The income from the increased supply of fish, the employment opportunity from building and maintaining the mangroves, and the added livelihood from crabs, oysters and other options such as ecotourism will be a significant boost to their well-being.

All these should have a local focus. In Central Luzon (Region 3), initiatives have already been undertaken by the Kapampangan Development Foundation with its chair, Manuel V. Pangilinan, and president, Benigno N. Ricafort. It is partnering with Alyansa Agrikultura, whose president, Arsenio N. Tanchuling, has 30 years of community-based coastal resource (including mangroves) management experience. They have started discussions with officials of the DENR-ERDB, the DA-BFAR, LGUs and fisherfolk organizations. Proposed sources of funding are the People’s Survival Fund sponsored by then Sen. Loren Legarda, the Green Climate Fund originated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and contributions from corporations doing business in Central Luzon. Since time is of the essence, similar large mangrove initiatives building on successful local models should be implemented immediately in other regions. But we must always keep in mind that to be successful in mangroves, the key is local. INQ

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The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Contact is [email protected]

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