Oceans play a significant role in everyone’s lives, especially for coastal communities who directly depend on it for food, oxygen, cultural, recreational and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change, industrial fishing, and pollution pose constant and increasing threats to coastal and marine ecosystems.

A fundamental approach to overcoming these challenges is to incorporate the concept of social empowerment into the management of natural resources. Social empowerment is understood as the process of developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence, and acting individually and collectively to change the social relationships, institutions and discourses that exclude communities and keep them in poverty.

Over the years communities all over the world have developed knowledge and practices to sustainably use and protect natural resources. Social empowerment in the conservation and sustainable development context refers to giving local communities the power and authority to decide how best to manage the ecosystems they rely on.

A coastal initiative spanning 11 countries, MFF aims to effectively strengthen the resilience of ecosystem-dependent communities by conserving the integrity of coastal ecosystems, and ensuring that use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Through participatory analysis methods, MFF works closely with the communities to identify problems and come up with strategies that might improve their lives. Amongst other objectives, the program focuses on introducing livelihood diversification activities to coastal communities as they rely heavily on mangroves and other coastal ecosystems for their livelihoods.

The participatory approach builds on the concept of social empowerment and is central to Mangroves for the Future’s (MFF) resilience framework – an approach that recognizes that effective and sustainable ecosystem management solutions must engage individuals and communities.

The photo story features mostly women because gender inclusion plays a fundamental role in effectively bringing about sustained positive change to communities’ livelihoods and quality of life. By creating an environment that fosters enhancing women’s capacities in natural resources management and alternative income generation, MFF projects drive sustainable development, through increased and more effective participation of women in the community’s decision-making process.

Women who were part of the program learned about the importance of reducing pressure on natural resources and engaged with new opportunities for alternative income generation. At the same time, efforts on the ground to raise community awareness about the importance of gender equity were not spared, highlighting and reiterating the importance of women’s role in the management of the community’s natural resources, consequently enhancing their legitimacy as leaders.

The following examples demonstrate how MFF has contributed to social empowerment and effective governance of natural resources:



Vietnamese women sell clams to traders in a small village near Xuan Thuy National Park. Hundreds of women gather at the mudflats by the park’s mangroves daily to gather clams and snails for food for their family and for selling. Most of these women cannot get a job away from their home or village as they have to be close to home to look after their children and livestock. Going to the mudflats, which is just a few kilometers away, is one of the few options these women have to help secure food and extra household income. These trips to the mudflats have given these women important insights about the area and the surrounding mangroves which will prove invaluable in securing a future for her children and for her community.

The mudflats where the women work are part of a protected area. Since 2013, an MFF initiative to strengthen park management has engaged local women in co-management of the mangrove forests. Enlisting active community participation in caring for important ecological areas has not only proven to be an effective strategy in protected area management, but has also empowered the women by giving them the opportunity to share their knowledge and have their voices heard.



Photo credit: © IUCN Bangladesh and Nabolo Parishad

Through a project that provided financial leadership training to women living near the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, Promila and some of her friends created Shomity – a business selling reed mats. With this activity, the women no longer have to rely on collecting shrimp post-larvae and fish larvae from the Kholpetua River to make a living. This places less pressure on the river. The women now feel empowered to negotiate prices and take orders directly from customers, as well as maintain good working relations with local shopkeepers. Here we have Promila collecting reeds to make the reed mats.



Photo credit: © SPEED

A community engagement project in Karankadu, India has introduced new livelihood skills like cage culture fishing and pickle making from fish to women living in coastal areas. Income generated from these supplementary livelihoods activities has allowed the communities to pay off their loans and ease access to markets. This form of economic empowerment has brought financial security, social security and improved lives for the communities in the area. The project has also fostered a sense of leadership, with more and more women participating in community-based social gatherings.



Photo credit © Steven Bernacki/IUCN

An elevated walking path through the mangrove forest of Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia. Illegal harvesting of mangrove trees in Koh Kong province in Cambodia for charcoal production hampers conservation efforts in the area. Through an MFF project, community members who used to make their living from fishing and charcoal production from mangrove tree, have learned new techniques for growing vegetables, natural composting, and chicken farming. With this new alternative farming techniques, community members’ income has increased dramatically and they no longer have to spend time making charcoal. The increase in financial security has empowered farmers to implement new integrated farming practices and drip irrigation systems that save water and increase crop yields.



Photo credit © MFF Indonesia

Tutut Ulfa Rahayu, seen here drying mangrove leaves, is one of many female fish farm workers who received training on mangrove and fish-based food processing in East Java Province. Through trading mangroves and fish-based products, the women now generate supplementary income for their families, and gained additional time for activities that were once neglected. With a newfound sense of autonomy and confidence, these women can now spend quality time with their families.

Photo Credit: © MFF Indonesia

Sri Lanka


Photo credit: © MFF/Steen Christensen

Aloe vera plantation managers keep a watchful eye on their crops. Puttalam lagoon in Sri Lanka is known for its finfish and crustacean fishery, supporting the livelihoods of over 3,000 fishers. Due to declining fish stocks, communities around the lagoon have intensified their fishing efforts, causing negative impacts on the ecosystem. As a result of an MFF project that introduced Aloe vera cultivation to the communities, fisher families now have an alternative source of income. The project has also successfully linked families to Janet Ayurveda, a cosmetics company which procures Aloe vera. With improved market access and a stable monthly income, poor households that once relied solely on fishing are now empowered to expand their new found Aloe vera businesses. Nature is also less heavily hit.



Photo credit: UNEP © Reynaldo F Molina

In Bel Ombre District in the Seychelles, local communities took an active role in local decision-making processes and built partnerships with the private sector for investing in a resilient and sustainable coast line. This has supported ongoing efforts to decentralize environmental management and enhance public participation in decision-making. Similar capacity enhancing workshops have also been conducted in Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.



Photo Credit © MFF Pakistan

A project in Kakapir village, Pakistan provided technical and vocational training on home-based sewing business and hand embroidery to over 80 women. These women, who previously had no access to income-generating activities, have started to make money by working on small orders. There is also an emerging sense of entrepreneurship as the women have started to establish their own micro-enterprises.



Coastal erosion, saline water intrusion and decline in fish stocks as a result of mangrove forest depletion are some of the main problems faced by Pyinbugyi Village in Myanmar. An ongoing MFF intervention is helping communities to establish an environmental governance model by building awareness and capacity as well as promote sustainable livelihoods through Village Environmental Conservation Committees (VECC).



Photo credit © Ana Grillo

An artisanal fishery conservation group was established in Laem Klam sub-district, Thailand to conserve and restore marine resources in the community. Through MFF, the group has shared best practices on crab farming, artificial grass planting, mangrove planting to neighboring communities, empowering them to engage in similar income generating and conservation activities. Here a member of the artisanal fishery conservation group weighs his catch for the day.


Photo Credit © MFF Maldives

In the Maldives, tuna fisheries are rapidly declining due to climate change. An ongoing medium grant project is introducing hydroponics farming to fisher families as an alternative source of income. The Vice President of Women’s Development Committee is seen here training other women on the use of organic fertilizers.

Editor: Edward White