Environmental Economics and Management
Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
ecosystem services, poverty, mangroves, risk
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Mangrove ecosystems consist of trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitats throughout tropical and subtropical regions. These habitats provide essential ecosystem services to surrounding communities – including protection from erosion, flooding, and storm surge, access to raw materials, carbon sequestration, and nursery habitat for many species of marine life. Poor and vulnerable populations in rural coastal communities tend to rely disproportionately on natural resources to fuel their livelihoods, as they lack access to other market goods and services. Unfortunately, mangrove ecosystems have been substantially degraded over the last two decades. Therefore, the poor and vulnerable populations that rely most directly on these services are significantly affected by mangrove degradation. By identifying specific ecosystem services that could directly benefit these populations and remove sources of poverty traps – mechanisms that cause poverty to persist – economic development and mangrove conservation in these areas can be improved.
As part of a larger interdisciplinary research initiative, the focus of this research project involved understanding the sources of risk that poor and vulnerable populations face and the ways in which they mitigate these risks. Many rural coastal communities in developing countries tend to be heavily exposed to exogenous shocks – such as coastal flooding or drought – but lack the mechanisms to effectively cope with them and consequently continue to remain in poverty. By better understanding these sources of risk, the specific mangrove ecosystem services that directly contribute to poverty alleviation can be identified, eventually spurring economic development and mangrove restoration efforts.
Field research was conducted in fifteen rural coastal villages in Tanzania that were identified as having the highest risk of coastal flooding and storm surge. In each village, one community-level survey and ten household-level surveys were conducted in order to acquire a baseline understanding of their reliance on natural resources, sources of poverty traps, and the most common sources of risk and risk management strategies. Survey questions included the following topics: population demographics, mangrove use, fishing and shrimping practices, effects of long-term and medium term shocks, coping mechanisms, income source, and access to markets. Using multivariate regressions, survey data was then analyzed to pinpoint the most common sources of risk and coping strategies. Variables such as gender, age, household size, and access to support networks was also utilized to further study any differences in risk management across these specific demographics. Once analyzed, these preliminary findings were used to infer potential mangrove ecosystem services that could work to alleviate poverty in these communities.