Scandinavian Development Support: Mangroves for the Future

The Mangroves for the Future initiative (MFF) in Asia is an example of where development aid from Scandinavian countries is allocated and benefiting sustainable development, but is typically unknown to the general public. Dr Janaka de Silva, former MFF Programme Manager, explains how the funding is being used.

In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the UN started MFF in 2006, financed principally by Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) and Sida (Swedish International Development Agency) with substantial contributions from its core partners and the private sector.

“MFF was really born from the need to try and improve coastal systems; for both people and the eco systems in a practical and a more strategic way [recognised as important by the Scandinavian donors]. Coastal areas are extremely dynamic and rich in terms of natural resources. But they are also extremely important in relation to human development; key tourism areas and for infrastructure such as ports and harbours. These multiple services mean that solutions need to address both natural and human development needs. MFF promotes good coastal management that balances the multiple uses from coastal ecosystems.”

MFF does this by encouraging integrated management and investments that are ecologically and socio-economically sound, and which promote human wellbeing and security. And these activities should build resilience to the growing threats from the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

All eco systems in coastal areas relevant
“Particularly in the villages in the Phang-Nga area [Thailand] you will hear stories of people saying: ‘I climbed the mangrove tree and it saved me or it absorbed the shock of the wave so my house was saved.’ And that is one reason why we went with this name because it was now recognized by local people and communities as a valuable resource,” says Janaka de Silva, referring to the 2004 tsunami.

In addition to mangroves MFF includes all other important eco systems such as seagrass beds, wetlands and coral reefs.

“Using mangrove as a flagship ecosystem is very relevant. Everyone knows that communities with rich mangroves survived the tsunami,” comments Chatri Moonstan, Senior Program Officer (Development Cooperation), at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Bangkok.

“Mangrove projects are quite significant in the current portfolio; the supporting of mangrove restoration and rehabilitation in both Indonesia and Thailand where civil society and governments are jointly participating,” Janaka observes.

“In Thailand there are also livelihood-related actions and activities: supporting sustainable livelihood options including alternative income opportunities.”

Empowerment via large and small grants
Operationally, MFF supports concerted actions and projects to generate and share knowledge more effectively, empower institutions and communities, and enhance the governance of coastal ecosystems. MFF seeks to achieve results through four areas of action: regional cooperation, national programme support, private sector partnerships and community action.

MFF, through a series of partnerships with different organizations, invests directly in supporting sustainable coastal ecosystems through on-the-ground projects that are highly effective as the testing ground for new and innovative practices.

“We have two investment mechanisms; large and small grants. Small grants tend to be designed specifically for civil society; it’s a mechanism to actually get right down to the roots of society, because one of the beauty things of MFF is that it feels it should address all elements of a country’s actions.”

“Each country has adapted these programmes to suit its own national needs. Based on the national strategy plan a national coordinating body – again a multi stakeholder platform – makes decisions on how the funds should be used. And that plan is not supposed be something new but supposed to complement and build on existing policies, plans and objectives as well,” emphasizes Janaka.

“Through the grant scheme MFF can take the donor funds and direct it into the eight member countries, based on guidelines from the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) which is composed by these countries as well as eight partner organizations that represent conservation, civil society, and the donors.”

Norad and Sida had recognised the importance of this more strategic, structural kind of support.

Each country is represented by a government organization. The RSC also oversees all efforts to ensure accountability and transparency to MFF’s donors and other contributors.

Bottom-up system
“MFF is also unique in that its implementation works to ensure participation of stakeholders from across civil society, international organizations and governments to work collaboratively. So it’s also about creating a multi-stakeholder platform. Mechanisms are promoted for all stakeholders to have a voice in how we invest and use those resources that we have.”

“And there are 15 Programmes of Work, used when targeting our work, which fall into three main objectives: those that generate information and knowledge that can improve decision-making; those focusing on empowerment, e.g. transferring and giving opportunities for different stakeholders to have the right to manage the resources and participate in those decisions; and third is aimed at enhancing governance: how to improve the policies and practices so you can make changes in the long-run.”

“The MFF approach aims to create vertical links from communities to national and regional levels so that the investment at the community level are guided in a manner that addresses key issues more strategically. MFF has established processes that enable the identification of those people who are more vulnerable and need to benefit and tries to work with these groups. I think the beauty with this bottom-up system is that it actually enables local knowledge to be used in decision-making.”

Participatory governance enables government, civil society and communities to jointly plan and manage it in a more strategic way so that it benefits everyone is also encouraged.

Scandinavians flexible
 “One of the valuable features we’ve had from Scandinavian donors is they have been flexible on how MFF invests in terms of thematic areas within the MFF countries,” thinks Janaka.

“Currently our grants system is funded through Norad and the governance is funded through Sida (institutional and government).”

Norad has so far provided 30 million NOK for small and large grants and finds that MFF delivers “amazingly good results”.

“Small grants are among the key success factors that bring about tangible results at the field, national and regional levels. Small grants are quite small in amounts but large in term of impacts and visibility,” replies Chatri Moonstan.

Between 2008 and 2011 more than 80 Small Grant Facility projects were carried out across the MFF region.

Among the result so far, the majority of small projects have contributed to alleviating poverty and empowering communities through the development of sustainable livelihoods, states MFF.

Investments have led to behavioural changes that have reduced pressure on natural resources and provided additional sources of income.

MFF has also contributed to improving coastal governance by supporting Integrated Coastal Management and by influencing national policies.

The long-term goal is that MFF can become a more self-sufficient continuing initiative, which is integrated in national policies, galvanizing resources from other co-funding than donors, and including “different donor funds for different actions”. Looking forward MFF will build on its civil society approach and inclusive design for coastal management, and provide assistance to develop similar models of ecosystem conservation in other regions.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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