Protecting mangroves: what does it cost?

A 2010 report by Forest Trends entitled Roots in the Water: Legal Frameworks for Mangrove PES in Vietnam identified high opportunity cost as a major barrier to mangrove conservation and the development of payments for ecosystems services (PES) systems. In Vietnam, the high opportunity costs arise from the high returns that can be earned from clearing mangroves particularly for shrimp ponds.

Mr. Vo Van Nua in Can Gio Biosphere Reserve

After a recent Mangroves for the Future (MFF) meeting in Can Gio Biosphere Reserve, 90 minutes to the south of HCMC, we visited one of the reserve’s 170 ranger stations. The house belongs to Vo Van Nua, aged 65, who has worked for the management board as a forest ranger since 2005. Nua’s family is responsible for protecting 86 hectares including 56 hectares of mangrove forest. The management board pays him VND725,000 ($35)/hectare/year of forest so he receives about VND3.4 million ($160)/month. He earns another VND500,000/month from fishing and shell fish collection, and after all expenses he saves VND500,000/month. Before joining the protection program, Nua lived off fishing and shell fish collection alone, which was not enough to cover his daily expenses, let alone allow him to save.

For Nua and his family, forest protection makes sense financially. In fact, the full package is even more attractive because as a government employee Nua enjoys free medical insurance. The government has also built him a house made of concrete (which he prefers not to stay in). But Nua also knows that if he is involved in any illegal tree cutting, the management board will terminate his contract and his family will return to poverty. With its strong sticks and carrots, there is a strong incentive for Nua to comply with the terms of the contract. That’s why he has taught his children to take care of the mangroves and his eldest son will take over the forest protection contract.

The Can Gio Biosphere Reserve includes about 31,000 hectares of mangroves. The annual protection cost therefore comes to about VND22.5 billion or $1 million. Since HCMC covers this cost, this is the implied value to the city of maintaining an intact mangrove forest between the city and the East Sea. For the HCMC government, the economic value of protecting this forest is clear. In fact, the benefits provided by the reserve undoubtedly far exceed this amount. The ADB’s 2010 HCMC Adapting to Climate Change report concludes: “Can Gio offers considerable storm protection, reducing the impact of storm surges and winds on HCMC. Being at least 15 km across from southeast to northwest, this forest complex will continue to provide significant protection against waves and storm surges. However, the area is under intense pressure from land use changes and encroachment.”

In the context of forest PES, Can Gio is a special case. The economic case for protecting it is strong. HCMC represents a willing payer that also, through the management board, provides sufficient oversight to ensure compliance with the forest protection contracts. And since there are few points of entry into the mangrove forest, the risk of detection is high, which deters illegal cutting. Nevertheless, the results and lessons learned from Can Gio will be of interest to the government as it starts work on legislation to enable PES systems in mangroves (and other forest types that provide important spawning grounds).

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Work area: 
Climate Change
Climate Change
Viet Nam
North America
Project and Initiatives: 
Mangroves for the Future 
Building Coastal Resilience
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