Finance fishing boats

Malaysian fishermen planting mangroves face obstacle to funding nature

  • Field projects seek funding to grow as pledges increase
  • Communities Face Barriers to Tapping into Growing Funding
  • Win-win for locals to protect nature and improve livelihoods

SUNGAI ACHEH, Malaysia, Jan 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Crossing a swamp, retired fisherman Ilias Shafie and a small group of villagers plant young mangrove trees on Malaysia’s west coast, one tree at a time.

They have planted some 400,000 mangrove trees since a restoration initiative began two decades ago, with the original aim of increasing catches for local fishermen.

Now their work has taken on added importance as alarm grows over global warming and the loss of nature, with mangroves seen as a key weapon in the fight against climate change.

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But mounting international concern has yet to help this community secure the global funding needed to expand its project, underscoring the obstacles often faced by groups on the ground seeking to tap into growing funding streams for the nature protection.

“Mangroves are important to us fishermen – we need them because it’s the breeding ground for fish,” said Ilias, 70, recalling how dwindling mangrove forests were affecting his catch and means livelihood, which prompted him to start the initiative.

Mangroves represent less than 1% of the world’s tropical forests, but they are crucial in the fight against climate change because they are more efficient than most other forests at absorbing and storing the carbon that warms the planet.

Mangrove ecosystems also protect coastal communities from storm surges, reduce flooding and help boost food security.

Despite their advantages, they are in decline, with the global area of ​​mangroves shrinking by just over a million hectares between 1990 and 2020, although the rate of loss has slowed in recent years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. ‘Agriculture.


In Malaysia, mangroves are often cleared to make way for infrastructure development and agriculture, while they are also threatened by industrial pollution and overexploitation – including in the northern state of Penang, where people live. Ilias.

As fish catches dwindled for him and other fishers in the late 1990s, Ilias mobilized his peers to join him in restoring rapidly disappearing mangrove forests through the Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association (PIFWA), which he heads.

Their small initiative has been recognized – to date around 30 local businesses have sponsored their tree planting as part of corporate social responsibility projects.

PIFWA charges companies a small fee of 8 ringgits ($2) per tree planted, while participating fishermen are compensated through stipends for their time and labor.

Now Ilias hopes to access larger sums of global funding to plant more trees, but he is grappling with challenges – ways to access the available money and expand the project to other issues. such as language barriers and lack of technical expertise.

He cited the example of an international donor who wanted the group to innovate with new ideas and expand the tree planting project after a first round of funding.

“We didn’t have the capacity to provide other things, like turning this into an ecotourism site or involving more young people,” he said, adding that they had therefore not received support. additional.

“We’re nervous – we’re fishermen and we can’t commit to something we’re not sure we’ll do,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a break from planting youngsters. mangrove trees.

His frustration shows the practical difficulties of channeling funding to restore nature to where it is needed, even as more countries and donors invest in so-called “nature-based solutions,” from reforestation to agriculture. expansion of wetlands.


Over the past decade, less than 1% of international climate finance has gone to indigenous and local communities to manage forests that absorb global warming carbon emissions and are rich in biodiversity, according to a recent study. green groups report.

Nature conservation remains underfunded around the world, with UN urging a quadruple to augment annual investments to 536 billion dollars by 2050, to face the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity and land degradation.

Lately there has been an increase in promises, including at the UN’s COP26 climate summit in November, where around $19 billion was pledged in public and private funding to protect and restore forests.

This month, a new global fund has been launched by the Rights and Resources Initiative and the Campaign for Nature to help indigenous and local groups conserving forests and other ecosystems on the ground gain easier access to international funding.

Environmentalist Meena Raman said making more small grants available to communities and partnering with local nonprofits to overcome language and knowledge barriers would help channel the money to places that have been forgotten in the past.

“Nature provides them with jobs and they protect the ecosystem… It’s about sustainable livelihoods and preserving nature (at the same time),” said Raman, president of Friends of the Earth Malaysia, a conservation group.


Back in Sungai Acheh, a sleepy village with wooden fishing boats along the river, the women said they had also benefited from the mangrove planting initiative.

A group of them learned from communities living in the mangroves in Indonesia how to process some of the tree species into tea, juice and jam, selling the products for 6-8 ringgit each to increase the income of their household.

“It not only helped my husband increase his fishing catch, but I also benefited from it,” said Siti Hajar Abdul Aziz, 36, a mother of five.

More coastal communities like hers would benefit from protecting nature and improving their livelihoods, if they got financial support to champion similar initiatives, she added.

Siti Hajar hopes to one day find ways to increase sales of her mangrove products by selling them in places like supermarkets.

“Before that I was just sitting at home – I’ve learned so much since I started doing this,” she said.

($1 = 4.1910 ringgit)

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Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit

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