By Angela Dewan
The thick mangroves of the tropics offer local communities a number of services and products. Yet they continue to be destroyed at a rate of around 150,000 hectares, or around 1 percent, each year, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. This is almost twice the rate of the1990s, when 1.1 million hectares, or 6 percent, were lost.
In the Banacon Island Mangrove Forest in the Philippines, a 425-ha area, the local community makes a living out of the mangroves, harvesting around 400 kilograms of shrimp every day.
“In this area, the people planted and have sustained the mangroves themselves. It’s a good example of community forestry,” said Antonio Carandang of the University of the Philippines. “The natural mangroves in the area are very few. Since 1957, the people have planted 460,000 ha without government support.”
But most mangroves around the world are under threat of more lucrative ventures.
Ladawan Puangchit, of Kasetsart University, Bangkok, said that mangroves in Thailand stand to be cleared for tin mines and shrimp ponds.
Mangroves in Thailand occupy only 1.5 percent of forested area, or around 250,000 hectares, but they provide livelihoods for many.
For her research on the Ban Pred Nai mangroves in Thailand’s Trat Province, Puangchit set out to put a price on mangroves, to determine how valuable they are to those who use them.
“Mangroves of course provide other products and services, so the value in reality could be much higher,” she said.
Carandang put a similar price per hectare on mangroves.
In the context of balancing conservation and development, however, the cash yield per hectare of mangroves is still far lower than oil palm plantations or tin mines.
“This is a lot of money to the people who use them,” Carandang said. “But yes, we definitely need to do a comparative study, and perhaps we will complete this research with such a comparison”
While economic forces will play a large part in decision-makers’ management of mangroves, it is difficult to gauge a true price on them, considering mangroves sequester carbon relatively well and the price of carbon is still being contested.
Until the value of mangroves is better understood, Carandang says we should avoid clearing them.
“The best thing to do is to keep communities in charge of them, because they are the ones who benefit from them and they have an incentive to keep them healthy.”
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