Scandinavia supports resilient coastal communities via MFF

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, the unique partner-led programme ‘Mangroves for the Future’ (MFF), was initiated to promote investment in coastal ecosystems for sustainable development. Breaking new ground and generating new or improved coastal ecosystem management models, MFF has continuously received support from Scandinavian countries for its operations.


In keeping with its unique partnership-based principle, MFF has established the highest-level decision-making body, the Regional Steering Committee (RSC), to provide strategic leadership for policy change and advocacy. The RSC is co-chaired by IUCN (Asia Regional Office) and UNDP (Regional Centre in Bangkok) and has representatives from each of the MFF member countries, and the institutional partners FAO, UNEP and Wetlands International.
Within each MFF member country, a National Coordinating Body (NCB) has oversight of MFF activities at the national level. Here again, reflecting the partnership approach of MFF, NCBs include relevant government departments, civil society organizations including NGOs, academia, and individual experts and, in most countries, private sector representatives.

Though mangroves is the flagship of the initiative, MFF helps countries, sectors and agencies tackle growing challenges in all types of coastal ecosystems such as, coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, wetlands, beaches and sea grass beds. Its management strategy is based on specific national and regional needs for the long-term sustainable management of these sensitive ecosystems – where coastal communities, civil society organisations as well as the private sector are stakeholders.


Based on lessons learned, MFF – now in its third phase – has come a long way, with its own designed “tools” that are being implemented in all the 11 member countries. Danish MFF coordinator Dr Steen Christensen, who oversees the programme, explains MFF’s achievements to date and what lies ahead for the initiative’s future beyond its current funding.

Nordic phase 3 funding
MFF has received core donor funding from Norad (Norway) and Sida (Sweden) since 2007, and from Danida (Denmark) since 2012. The ongoing third phase of the regional initiative was announced in June 2014, with new funding from Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) for the period 2014-2018.

SIDA’s decision to fund phase 3 was based on significant achievements made by MFF in its first two phases. Up until then, around 200 projects had been implemented through the MFF grants mechanism, and its unique partnership-based model had brought together government, civil society and private sector to play more effective roles in the governance of coastal areas in numerous cases.


But SIDA has also placed demands on MFF for the future.

“SIDA said that MFF must clearly demonstrate the added value of a regional programme, otherwise they could as well support a number of national projects. So rather than being just a grant mechanism we aim for the project to have a regional impact on sustainable coastal management. MFF follows the principle that healthy coastal ecosystems can contribute significantly to human well-being and resilience to climate change,” explains Steen.

MFF’s main focus is on developing the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities, and to develop “shared understanding and capacity for building community resilience to natural disasters and climate change related impacts”.

Efforts to influence coastal management policy with an increased emphasis on “soft governance”, as well as to expand its knowledge management and capacity development activities (offering hands-on training and learning opportunities for coastal management practitioners around the region) will also continue.

In 2012, Danida stepped in as a donor to MFF with particular support to a 3-year project (2012 – 2015) aiming at developing an ecosystem-based approach to climate change adaptation in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“With Danida’s support, we took the opportunity to develop our ecosystem based resilience approach which basically is a set of tools and guidelines to be followed to ensure a consistent approach to climate change adaptation and resilience building. These tools and guidelines are now the guiding principles for the entire MFF programme,” explains the Dane, who has been with MFF since 2011. Based on these results, Danida decided to join Sida as a core donor to all 11 countries for the period 2015 – 2018.

Steen has vast experience working with multidisciplinary programmes relating to management of aquatic resources and ecosystems in Europe, Africa, Greenland and South and Southeast Asia. He was previously in Vietnam as part of a fisheries industry development programme that Demark supported.


Steen has also worked for the Mekong River Commission, conducting economic evaluations within the same industry.

“This is where I got particularly interested in the livelihood aspects of fisheries, especially since millions of people are dependent on these resources.”

Gaps in resilience
A central part of MFF’s work involves the Community Resilience Framework, with its analysis platform, which guides MFF’s activities and interventions. This tool allows the programme to gain detailed understanding of the gaps in resilience in the target community’s social and ecological systems in close collaboration with all stakeholders in the target area.

“By applying our resilience framework, we try to support the people living in ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in defining an own long term visions for their community. And then we support them in implementing nature-based solutions for sustainable development and improved resilience towards climate change and natural hazards. Of course, as part of the framework, we also have a ‘Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation programme’ that allows us to monitor progress and actual results on the ground. To be able to do that we need to establish good baseline data before we start the intervention and also good and informative indicators that one can actually measure at a reasonable cost,” explains Steen.

The ‘MFF Resilience Analysis Platform (RAP)’ takes into consideration both the social and ecological system, when conducting structured analysis of the target communities.

“So now, before we do anything, we go out to the specific site and conduct a resilience assessment and try to identify with the local community what the problems and risks are. Then we try to find out how things were in this community way back as long as people can remember and what happened along the way up till now.”

“How would this community look in a resilient state? What kinds of organisations are there? What are the things that you want to change? Then we identify maybe 25 different issues that could be improved in the community of which MFF perhaps can support only a few. We then try to make the plan by identifying the steps that need to be taken to work towards the goals we can support.”

For the next step, NGOs and civil society organisations are invited to propose their solutions for identified problems.

“It is also important to highlight that it is the countries that decide which projects they want us to support.”

Organisations whose proposals are selected for support will be contracted to implement the projects.

These projects are highly effective as the testing ground for new and innovative practices, which are recorded and then shared through the own MFF knowledge platform.

“This is a very strategic way to have a much more directed support to fewer communities and build model resilience communities. The national or provincial government can then look at these communities and conclude if they have came up with solutions that can be replicated in other areas,” says Steen and adds: “Because we have aggregated cluster projects, we can invite people from other countries to come and see how they have solved similar issues”

MFF also offers strategic support and, provides countries with valuable information to guide them on the development of their national coastal development policies.


Success story from Trat
Steen highlights, as example, a large project in Trat, Thailand where a particular community in the area was still affected by property rights and land tenure issues that originated 40 years back, and whereby attempts to rectify the situation had not been successful.

The project, which was supported by MFF in 2011 and 2012 was implemented by the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC) and succeeded in strengthening existing community-based coastal resource management networks by focusing on knowledge sharing and improving management practices.

“By strengthening the community-based coastal resource management approach in the area, the project encouraged the community to come together, discuss, negotiate and find better ways to solve their problems,” explains Steen. Now these community groups are extending help and support to neighbouring areas facing similar challenges.

“Here is an area where MFF could play a larger role. I would like for us to more frequently go back to already completed projects and see if there is a need for following up in some way or the other. In Trat for example, we could support these successful communities in sharing their experiences and lessons learnt with other provinces in Thailand or communities in other MFF countries with similar issues. This would be a cost-effective way in improving unfavourable situations in other areas.”

MFF seeks to achieve demonstrable results through regional cooperation, national programme support, private sector engagement, and community action. The MFF grant-giving facilities are the main vehicle for delivering work on the ground.

The majority of MFF’s grants projects have contributed to alleviating poverty and empowering communities through the development of sustainable livelihoods. These projects have also led to behavioural changes that have reduced pressure on natural resources, particularly by reducing illegal fishing practices. In addition, the projects contributed to improving coastal governance by supporting Integrated Coastal Management, and by influencing national policies.

“I try to coordinate all the activities in the countries so that we work towards the same goal. There are many different issues, which are not the same from country to country. We cannot use a one-hat-fits-all approach. Even the term resilience is defined in various ways and it is important for a regional programme to appreciate that the countries have different backgrounds, do not face the same kind of threats and have not been through the same kind of development,” explains Steen. “You need to start where people are, otherwise you cannot hope to support any development. Therefore, it requires a lot of strategic thinking and planning to move towards a common goal of building resilience.” “I think MFF is one of the few development programmes in the world that has actually managed to put the Resilience Approach into practice in a consistent way at a regional level.”


MFF in the future…
Among the priorities on the agenda for MFF is to enhance private sector engagement in MFF governance structures and reinforce the business case for green growth. Greater emphasis on engaging with the private sector involves, both, harnessing the resources of the sector in support of sustainable coastal management, and working with companies to reduce their impact on coastal ecosystems and communities.

MFF is also preparing a self-financing plan for the operational needs of MFF beyond 2018 etc.

“Now it’s time that the countries start considering: can we move from being a grant receiving country to maybe supporting our own grants in our own country or even providing support to MFF? If the countries do not show interest or willingness or capacity to take over the financial responsibilities, the programme is not sustainable. Our donors will not support us forever. The time has come for countries to take ownership so that MFF can aim for sustainability beyond 2018.”


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