Where Land Meets The Sea: A Global Review of the Governance and Tenure Dimensions of Coastal Mangrove Forests


This 8-page brief summarizes key findings from the report Where Land Meets The Sea: A Global Review of the Governance and Tenure Dimensions of Coastal Mangrove Forests. This review provides an overview of the status of mangrove governance and its tenure dimensions globally. In particular, it assesses how effectively the diversity of legal and policy frameworks as well as institutional structures—formal and informal—enable mangrove governance across different settings. The review also examines the institutions and patterns of local management and use, including tenure rights and gender differentiation and how these local institutions might influence mangrove management and rehabilitation efforts. It is part of a larger study funded by the USAID Tenure and Global Climate Change Program that includes national-level assessments in Indonesia and Tanzania.

Key points of the assessment

There is a dearth of research on how mangrove forests are governed and what the role of enabling conditions such as tenure arrangements is for supporting mangrove management to meet multiple goals in the context of climate change.

  1. Authority over mangrove forest management is overwhelmingly vested in state institutions, and state-led mangrove protection is a central objective. Government-led mangrove protection efforts, permitting no or minimal substantive use of its natural resources by local communities, face major challenges; mainly that enforcement is constrained by inadequate personnel, capacities, and budgets.
  2. Given the ambiguous position of mangroves situated between the land and sea, the configuration of state authority for mangrove management is quite complex. Most commonly, this authority falls on a single line agency, namely the forest sector. The forest sector applies the framework used for terrestrial forests, which is often not appropriate to the distinctive ecological characteristics of mangrove systems. In some countries, there is fragmentation of responsibilities across two or more agencies such as forests, fisheries, environment, and wildlife. This contributes to a high level of segmentation and jurisdictional ambiguity.
  3. Mangroves are regulated under legal frameworks intended for forests, environment, water, land, marine, or fisheries sectors. Generally speaking, laws and policies have not been crafted for the specific management requirements of mangroves.
  4. Frameworks and mechanisms for coordinating mangrove governance across agencies and governance levels are uncommon, and where they exist, are difficult to put into practice.
  5. Local tenure rights to mangrove resources vary. Customary rights as well as patterns of use and management are often unrecognized by statutory systems, especially in Africa. Local indigenous rights are often recognized by the state in Latin America, where full ownership, including title, is issued to communities. In Asia, long duration leases are granted to households and communities; these leases often offer a broad range of rights in the bundle, sometimes including transfer rights. In these cases, multiple uses, including collection of firewood, charcoal production, and fishing, are allowed.
  6. There is a mangrove tenure transition underway in a few countries toward increased community participation in mangrove management and governance through devolved tenure arrangements. Experimentation with community-based approaches is increasing, motivated primarily by continued mangrove degradation and loss under strict protection regimes.
  7. Outcomes of community-based approaches for mangrove management should be researched. While national governments continue to be central actors in mangrove conservation, international organizations and NGOs are exerting influence and shaping agendas and approaches to mangrove management. In particular, they are increasingly experimenting with inclusive models of community-based management. Community concessions and extractive reserves that accord full ownership or longer-term rights appear to be more effective in mangrove conservation. Programs involving communities jointly with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research organizations, and those that provide other incentives appear to generate better mangrove rehabilitation outcomes. Where customary rights are not respected or recognized and are actively undermined, or community institutions are subject to government interference, mangroves tend to deteriorate.
  8. Gender equality has been a missing element in mangrove conservation and management, despite gender differentiation in the type of products harvested, the economic value of products harvested, and harvesting locations. As a result, their interests and potential contributions to better management outcomes are often diminished and disregarded. However, community-based rehabilitation programs are increasingly integrating gender and some are even focusing solely on empowering women.