Exploring mangrove social-ecological system dynamics in South-East Asia: linking livelihoods, vulnerability and ecosystem services in Vietnam

Produced as part of the Adaptation to climate change and human development CCCEP research programme theme

Globally, human activities have led to rapid mangrove degradation. In Vietnam, as across much of coastal South-East Asia, mangroves play a vital role in the livelihoods of coastal rural communities with relatively low levels of development. However, little is known about the precise impact of human activity on the ecosystem services underpinning these livelihoods.

This paper analyses the livelihoods of mangrove dependent communities to gain insights into how social-ecological systems are responding to human activities by identifying: 1) key aspects of change; 2) current household livelihood strategies; 3) characteristics of households most dependent on mangrove system provisioning goods; and 4) livelihood trajectories of illustrative mangrove dependent households. Guided by the sustainable livelihoods framework and resilience theory, employing a comparative case study of three communes on Vietnam’s northern coast, this research takes a mixed methods approach.

Findings demonstrate that a rapidly growing aquaculture industry, facilitated by far-reaching land and market reforms, and local misappropriation of the benefits of these reforms, has undermined mangrove goods and services. A strong aquaculture industry has led to increased livelihood diversification at the community level, but growing specialisation at the household level. Female headed households were significantly more dependent on mangrove resources in all communes, and limited land use rights increased dependence on mangrove resources in communes with a growing aquaculture industry. Access to land, finance and social networks have increased the resilience of livelihoods, while a lack of these in combination with an absence of rights, environmental degradation, sickness and discrimination increased vulnerability.

The paper concludes by identifying the key challenges facing mangrove social-ecological systems as: ensuring the maintenance of ecosystem functions and processes underpinning local livelihoods; fostering equitable distribution of ecosystem goods and services to encourage their sustainable use; and increasing the diversification of income opportunities to reduce pressure on mangrove resources.