Ms Cardoso and her community have helped plant over 6000 mangrove trees in Liquica.

 

“We aren’t doing this because of money, but because we now understand the importance of mangroves for our community,” says Timorese mother and villager Sepora Domingas Cardoso.

Cardoso, lives in the quiet coastal town of Ulmera in Timor Leste’s Liquiça district, around 30 minutes drive west of the capital Dili.

With about 50 other Ulmera community members, mostly women, Cardoso is working to restore the mangrove forests of Liquiça. She has collected seeds, planted over 6000 seedlings by hand and monitored the health of plants.

The Ulmera residents receive small financial incentives for their participation in the public-private partnership “Coastal Resilience” project that aims to improve the environmental resilience of Timor-Leste's coastal communities.

“In the beginning the program didn’t pay us for the work, but they came and taught us a lot about mangroves and their role in our lives and our environment,” Cardoso said, describing the 2016 start of the four-year project.

Run by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Timorese government, the “Coastal Resilience” project is helping restore 1000 hectares of mangrove forests in 11 locations on Timor’s north and south coasts.  

“Before the project started we [women] often sat at home with nothing to do. The older men have also benefitted from the fish farms built by the UNDP,” referring to dozens of rectangular mud-embankment ponds bordering the mangrove plantation.

The fish farms – which the Coastal Resilience Project expanded to be become profitable and sustainable – represent the integrated and environmentally sensitive nature of the project’s livelihood support dimensions. They are naturally refreshed by tidal water coming into the mangroves and require no artificial or imported building materials.

Mangrove ecosystems are beneficial for sustainable fish farming

 

The UNDP’s chief advisor for the project, Petronilo Munez has been working on mangrove ecosystems in Timor Leste since 2011. He says mangroves are a critical fish breeding ground, especially for commercial fisheries, which the Ulmera community relies heavily on.

 “Mangroves also protect the coast and communities from storm surges and erosion,” Munez adds.

With UNDP support, Munez trains employees from government ministries, primary industry advisory agencies and the national university on Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data gathering techniques using open-source smartphone software.

“These monitoring skills and the ability to create informative maps will help us find ways to manage these threatened ecosystems better,” says Aleixo Amaral, Deputy Director of the Department of Fisheries and Marine Science who took part in the GIS training.

Mangrove coastlines in Timor are threatened primarily by siltation, overexploitation, and sea level rise. The Coastal Resilience program has incorporated the traditional law concept of Tara Bandu to protect trees in vulnerable areas from community harvesting.

Government and civil society employees are being trained in GIS data gathering using mobile phones

 

Tara Bandu is a Timorese concept of community-generated social contracts that regulate people’s relationships with each other, animals and the environment. Traditional rituals designate protected items, such as mangrove trees which are to not to be harvested, or only under certain conditions.

The revegetation site at Ulmera is only 1.5km away from the site of Dili’s new deep-water port, which saw seven hectares of mangroves cleared to allow more container ship traffic to access Timor Leste. While the port development will create jobs, the Coastal Resilience Project has supported the livelihoods of 25,000 Timorese.

By building healthier and more productive ecosystems, the Coastal Resilience project has helped Ulmera men and boys who live by fishing and harvesting seaweed. At the same time, the women of Ulmera have boosted their smallholder cooperative agriculture income through basic business training and equipment upgrades.

As the project nears its end in 2020, Munez is happy with the results and prospects. “These plantations are in good condition, they only need protection from livestock while small and will grow to full height on their own,” he says.

Projects like the Coastal Resilience project will continue following the recent announcement of $22.4 million in funding for Timor Leste from the Green Climate Fund, which supports the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenges of climate change.

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