Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar, November 15 – In November, GGGI have been exploring potential investments in agriculture, forestry and fishery value chains that not only increase economic and social development, but also reduce deforestation pressures and increase the extent of mangrove forests. GGGI investment, forestry policy and bio-economy specialists have been consulting with communities, NGOs and government in the Ayeyarwady Delta to understand the factors that are critical to achieve fully inclusive, sustainable success, and support national goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation in coastal areas.
The conservation of mangrove forests is a notable policy priority for Myanmar. Mangroves are widely acknowledged to offer life-saving protection to coastal communities against the impact of extreme weather events, storm surges and tropical cyclones. In addition their contribution to climate change adaptation, mangrove forests store up to 400% more carbon than other forest types (particularly in their soils) which makes their conservation important to maintaining the stability of global climate. Unfortunately, Myanmar’s mangrove forests are disappearing at the highest rates of any country in Asia, and therefore have a disproportionate impact on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The potential economic, social and environmental benefits of finding a solution to ensuring the sustainability of forest management are very timely for the Delta. The potential investments in mangrove conservation, and associated value chains could significantly contribute to achievement of Myanmar’s Nationally Determined Contribution targets, as well as key sectoral polices and strategies for climate change mitigation and REDD+, adaptation and sustainable development.
In a series of workshops and site visits, GGGI facilitated discussions on the range of current forestry and fishery value chain activities in the region to assess what stakeholders see as the barriers to developing or scaling up these activities.
The establishment of community forestry projects are seen as a useful means to stabilize and reforest mangrove forests. Local communities strongly recognize the importance of mangroves to provide households with firewood, house and boat building materials. However, a frequently overlooked benefit from mangroves is that they provide natural habitat for Myanmar’s highly sought-after mud-crabs, prawns, blood cockles, and other fish species. Some of these lucrative delicacies provide income for large numbers of landless rural households in the Delta.
Consistent stories were heard during the mission. Existing laws restrict those wanting to own and manage lands. In some communities up to 70% of the population may be effectively landless. There is a shortage of livelihood opportunities in the Delta, and many are forced to seasonally migrate to cities to find work. Mangroves and other forests are often illegally logged as people have no other household cooking fuel options, or have no other option to make an income. There is a large demand for mangrove fuel wood and charcoal from the Delta that reaches as far as Yangon. The catches of crabs, fish and prawns are falling due to lost mangrove habitat, leading to fishers to selling all they catch, including juveniles and females with eggs. This is leading to a cycle of debt for many landless people of the Delta, and as stated by a spokesperson of the Department of Fisheries “we need to conserve the mangroves to increase fishery value chains; their destruction is the primary reason for recent fishery stock depletion”.
Due to their remote location and unaffordable transport costs, many are unable to travel to the markets to sell their goods. Instead they rely on selling to a buyer who comes to them but are forced to sell at often half the market price. Many landless people want to diversify their incomes but lack access to affordable finance without a land title, or knowledge of market demands.
“Community Forestry could ensure people’s rights to sustainable use of forest resources, improve people’s livelihoods also in fishery value chains. These synergies between social, environmental and economic benefits are good examples of what green growth is about”, says Dr. Aaron Russell, Country Representative for GGGI in Myanmar.
Initial value chain analysis shows that with the right financial, technological and institutional interventions, integrated community-based mangrove-fisheries management could be sustainable, would provide more diversity in incomes for the landless, thereby strengthening incentives to maintain and reforest mangroves.
In addition to mudcrab value chains, supplementary value chains that have the potential to contribute to these communities’ incomes are to integrate coconut palm or nipa palms and other shade trees around fish/prawn/crab ponds or integrated with the existing farms in agroforestry arrangements. Coconuts provides food, offers many applications for natural coconut fibres, and have the potential for export of virgin coconut oil. Nipa palm similarly has useful fibres, can be useful for livestock feed and there are indications of export demand for nipa palm buds. In addition, there are numerous natural extracts from mangroves that are used across south-east Asia as dyes and pigments, and even with medicinal properties that are underexplored in Myanmar. While individuals can improve their incomes on individually owned land, the sustainability of mangroves and recovery of many fishery species are more likely to be achieved if the economic needs of the whole community are taken into account.
The mission team concluded that the promotion of community forestry and associated value-chains should form a key component of GGGI’s Coastal Landscape Restoration program. This early analysis will feed into further in-depth integrated value chain assessments by GGGI to design tailored solutions and interventions that are pro-poor and lead to socially inclusive benefits from direct and indirect use of restored and protected mangrove areas.