Zonal Land Management in Biosphere Reserves
Zonal Land Management in Biosphere Reserves:
An analysis of the socioeconomic impacts of integrated management strategies in the Lower Mekong Delta, Southern Viet Nam
By Emily Prag
Vietnam, once known as an area rich in biodiversity, is struggling to find the balance between conservation and development as its economy continues to grow. Fortunately, programs like UNESCO’s biosphere reserves are a promising way for countries around the world to find the intersection of conservation and sustainable development. Biosphere Reserves are tracts of land designated through UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) that function as zones of integrated management of ecological and economic resources. Throughout our trip, we visited three of Vietnam’s biosphere reserves: Can Gio Mangroves, Mui Ca Mau National Park and U Minh Thuong National Park.
Biosphere reserves have three complementary functions: conservation, development, and logistics. The conservation function focuses on protecting cultural diversity, biodiversity, genetic resources, and ecosystem integrity. The development function fosters human and economic development that is both ecologically and economically sustainable. The logistics function provides a host of resources including demonstration projects, environmental education, sustainable development trainings, research and monitoring. A successful biosphere reserve incorporates management and development decisions on local, national, and international levels. One of the most crucial parts of a biosphere reserve, however, is involving local communities in management decisions.
As we travelled through the Delta’s reserves, we met with many workers and residents who helped us understand how these integrative management schemes work. At Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve, managers devised a successful system that compensates families living in the reserve for forest protection activities. Not only do they receive income from taking care of the mangroves but they can also develop small-scale aquaculture businesses. At Mui Ca Mau National Park, we visited a couple homes in the biosphere reserve that have developed integrated mangrove-shrimp farming systems. This allowed the farmers to make a steady income while leaving a significant portion of the land still forested. A similar system is found in Kien Giang province, where at U Minh Thuong National Park each family must leave at least 1/3 of their lands covered in Melaleuca forests but are welcome to develop the other portion for aquaculture or agriculture activities.
To ensure a balance between conflicting conservation and development goals, biosphere reserves are divided into three main zones: the core, buffer, and transition zones. The core area is dedicated to protection and conservation of natural resources. This area is used as a sanctuary for biodiversity and allows for low-impact land use through education, ecotourism, and research. The buffer and transition zones are used to practice integrative management techniques. They exist to protect not only biodiversity but also cultural diversity and livelihoods. In essence, biosphere reserves are a place to experiment with sustainable development and conservation strategies that will build resilient human and ecological communities for the future.
Biosphere reserves are also crucial grounds for studying climate change. In 2009, UNESCO created a program to fund and educate community-based organizations within and around biosphere reserves to work on climate change issues. Researching local climate change effects and effective mitigation and adaptation techniques is also a priority in many biosphere reserves. Since climate change is so evident here in the Mekong Delta, biosphere reserves are making profound efforts to combat climate change through research and sustainable development opportunities.
Many people realize the ecological, economic, and cultural values connected to their landscapes but also many do not. I hope, through the development of educational resources and awareness in local communities, these biosphere reserves will strengthen the Vietnamese peoples’ understanding on climate change, conservation, and sustainable development. If the biosphere reserves continue to find success, then the Mekong Delta will be in good shape for the future!