Sustainability of Lower Lempa River (Bajo Lempa) Region | El Salvador

By: Jamie Pounds Stanton & Tom Stagg

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This study in El Salvador aimed to determine the feasibility of strengthening and expanding a local resource management plan, the Plan Local de Aprovechamiento Sostenible (PLAS). The Bay of Jiquilisco and the surrounding mangrove ecosystem in the Bajo Lempa is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve and a Ramsar wetland valued both for being a large carbon sequestering ecosystem and rich in ecological variety. Further, the nearby communities rely directly on resources from this ecosystem for their livelihood. However, degradation of this ecosystem is threatening both the sustainability of the environment and the livelihood of residents.

Aiming to assess the broader social characteristics of this region, we identified four variables as important to the implementation of local environmental resource conservation policy: effective communication structures, community ownership of the policy, relative economic stability in the region and access to alternative markets and resources.

We conducted 76 household surveys and held over 10 hours of semi-structured interviews, the community leaders and citizens alike stressed the importance of sustainable regulation of their ecosystem. They value the mangrove ecosystem and know intimately that without proper conservation efforts, they cannot continue to survive as communities. Unfortunately, we also found that over 80% of community members in communities where the PLAS has been implemented are unaware of the regulations dictated by it. Additionally, 92% reported that there were no locations where they could acquire alternate materials to sustain their livelihoods. In addition, it was widely reported that enforcement, as well as monitoring and evaluation, was insufficient. Both the community leaders and the forest rangers expressed a need for increased resources, such as technical assistance and funding to train and employ more rangers, and for supplies as simple as uniforms.

We recommend supporting the expansion of the PLAS, but have identified key areas that need improvement where PLAS has already been implemented; if these issues are not addressed, they will also limit conservation efforts in new communities. Community education and investment in monitoring and evaluation are two areas where we are focusing our recommendations. A third recommendation underscores the need for support of established cooperatives in fishing, shrimping, and dairy production, among others. Our survey confirmed a very low level of income in the Bajo Lempa, with 62% of households surveyed stating they did not have dependable work, and 34% reporting a monthly income of $0. Improving the economic conditions in the region can relieve some of the burden of the mangrove ecosystem system as a provider of food and building materials.

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