Raising voices for blue forests: A chat with Tanzanian “mangrover” Mwita Mangora

26 August 2018

NAIROBI (Landscape News) — A self-professed “mangrover,” Mwita Mangora lectures at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and is a key player in the Western Indian Ocean Mangrove Network (WIOME). We spoke to him in the lead-up to this year’s Global Landscapes Forum in Nairobi this week, where he’s involved in a side event devoted to mangrove forests, the African Mangrove Forum.

Q: What are you bringing to the GLF?

A: WIOME has been preparing a mangrove restoration guide for our region, and we thought that the GLF would be an appropriate forum for showcasing it. There are a number of restoration guides already in use, but most of these are based on experiences, resources and practices from other regions, so they don’t line up with our situation here in the Western Indian Ocean region.

Q: Why not? What’s specific to mangrove restoration in your region?

A: It’s mostly to do with the institutional framework, which affects how things operate. We have these similarities between the countries in the region, because of the historical evolution of our growth: we have adopted many of the colonial institutional set-ups and legislative formulations. So we have certain commonalities in terms of the challenges we face and the ways we are attempting to address them, with regards to the existence, access and use of the mangrove resources.

Q: Could you give me an example of one of these challenges?

In Tanzania – and I think things are similar in Kenya and Mozambique – mangroves are designated as state forest reserves. We’ve adopted that from the colonial set-up. One of the conditions of these reserves is that they are not freely open to the public: they are managed and controlled, so access and exploitation is supposed to involve licensing and permits. But that is not what is happening on the ground: the legislative framework says so, but the practice is the opposite.

Q: Why?

A: Well, mangroves are a unique ecosystem situated between land and sea, and a wide range of actors are interested in them, so those actors bring on board a variety of institutions that then claim management over the resources. There’s the fisheries sector; the forest sector; the environment sector; and even the mining sector is interested nowadays (because these areas are being used to create traditional salt pans, which in our countries falls under the mining sector.)

Often, these sectors conflict in their ideas on how to manage this resource. We need to harmonize, but it’s hard to do through our existing institutional frameworks. So we’re trying to come together at a regional level to address this question as a group: how do we create an integrated approach to addressing mangrove management and conservation issues given the complexities that are around this resource? Mangroves need unique policy interventions, but most governments have been treating them the same as other forest types. And we’ve seen that this is not quite right.

Another complexity is the fact that mangroves provide daily support for livelihoods in our region: coastal communities draw from them quite extensively for things like fuelwood and construction. So that direct relationship makes it really challenging to conform to the idea of the forests as reserves. In many places, the authorities have decided just to keep silent on local exploitation of the resources. You might think, “why don’t the government act? Why don’t they enforce the laws as they are stated in the papers?” But in real life it proves very difficult. You can’t separate these people from their resources. So we have to go to the drawing board and work out how to develop effective reforms that take this into account.

Q: Is carbon accounting helping to get mangroves on the map in your region?

A: It’s an emerging subject here. Efforts to quantify carbon in mangrove forests are still in their infancy: we’re still building up cases to demonstrate their value for carbon sequestration. In Tanzania, the total mangrove coverage, which amounts to about 150,000 hectares, comprises only 0.3 percent of the country’s forested area. So we need to keep communicating the message to managers and policymakers that while these forests only cover a small area, their value is huge, because they can sequester and store four or five times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems.

Q: What are your hopes for this year’s GLF?

A: My feeling is that the GLF – which I think is one of the largest global events for these issues – is a great opportunity for the “mangrovers.” This year, the theme is landscape restoration, and we have a whole side event devoted to mangroves. So we have a chance to showcase the challenges that we face regarding mangrove degradation, and to think about what we need to do as a continent to restore these landscapes.

The drivers of mangrove degradation within Africa are extremely varied. In West Africa for example, they have the largest mangrove coverage of the continent, and conflict with the oil and gas industry is a major threat. In the East African region, it’s more the human pressures, such as cutting down trees for timber and converting to other land uses. So we want to come together and see how we can harmonize these differences in experience.

We need to use this forum to build a strong team to promote mangroves. Africa has really been lagging behind in this. It’s time to raise our voices, so people will realize the huge potential of this resource. I’m optimistic that we will take advantage of this gathering to get our voices heard, and that it will inspire donors and other parties to come forward and join hands with us to try and reverse this trend of mangrove degradation on the African continent. We are really keen that our side event attracts as many people as possible – please, if you’re reading this, come and join us!

Want to join the movement for mangroves? Tune into the African Mangrove Forum online at 9 a.m. Nairobi time (GMT+3) on Wed. Aug. 29 to hear more from Mangora and other experts from across the African continent