Fisherfolk Fix Both Food and Climate by Closing Fishing Grounds

Sungai Nibung village chief Syarif Ibrahim (second from left)
leads by example in planting mangrove trees in Kubu Raya regency,
West Kalimantan province.

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Mar 23 2020 (IPS)

Samsul sounded very happy last Monday (Mar. 16) when recounting
his experience of catching crabs worth more than $60 in a single
day. 

“I hauled over 12 kilograms of crabs on that day, which I sold
to local traders,” Samsul told IPS during a phone interview from
Sungai Nibung, a fishing village inside a protected mangrove forest
in Kubu Raya regency, in the West Kalimantan province on Borneo
Island. The island is a 90-minute flight north of the country’s
capital Jakarta.

But that was some time ago.

Decades of overfishing and rampant use of fish bombs, poison,
and trawls, combined with the rapid conversion of land into oil
palm plantations in neighbouring villages, had severely depleted
crab, shrimp and fish stocks in the area, resulting in dwindling
catch and declining incomes for local residents.

To help make ends meet, Sungai Nibung residents would cut down
mangrove trees to sell as firewood, often playing cat and mouse
with law enforcers as the mangrove forests were protected
areas.

But in 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Jakarta
set aside 3,058 hectares of mangrove forest for the community to
manage under a village forest scheme. Village residents were
allowed to cultivate the mangrove forest to improve their economic
circumstances but were not allowed to cut down mangrove trees.

Since then many fisherfolk like Samsul not only continue to have
an income, but some have even doubled theirs.

“I have been a fisherman since childhood. Prior to 2017, my
income was around $6 gross per day. Now, I take home an average of
$18 daily,” Samsul, a father of two, said.

Muhammad Tahir, 47, another Sungai Nibung resident and a
colleague of Samsul, also had a similar story.

“My income was uncertain before but now I get an average of
$242 gross per month. With that income, I was able to send my
second child to study at a university in [the provincial capital]
Pontianak and my youngest to a junior high school. On top of that,
we can also now save around $6 monthly,” the father of four told
IPS.

  • West Kalimantan’s minimum wage is currently around $140 per
    month. It was approximately $133 a month in 2019.  

Sungai Nibung, a fishing village located inside a protected
mangrove forest in Kubu Raya regency, West Kalimantan province.

Dividing the mangroves for profit

Syarif Ibrahim has been the head of Sungai Nibung village since
2005. He told IPS that the village residents decided to divide the
community forest, locally known as hutan desa, into zones
for development, conservation, and sustainable agriculture.

“The development zone covers an area of some 1,800 hectares
and is designated as fishing grounds, with 400 to 600 hectares of
conservation area dedicated to mangrove research and education
activities. The sustainable agriculture zone has some 600 hectares
for dry-land paddy field and horticulture plants,” Ibrahim
said.

“We also agreed that rivers and tributaries in the development
zone are closed for fishing for three consecutive months at
different times of the year to allow crabs, fish and shrimps to
breed and replenish the stock,” Ibrahim said.

Riansyah, a Planet
Indonesia Foundation
activist who assisted villagers in the
area with understanding sustainable fishery, said the first
closures ran from August to October 2017, involving five rivers and
tributaries.

“Since then, 11 of the village’s 21 rivers and tributaries
have been closed and opened alternately for fishing at different
times of the year. Each closure lasts for three months,” said
Riansyah, adding that five rivers and tributaries were scheduled to
be closed in the next round of closures from March 22 to June 22
this year.

During the closures, two fisherfolk are assigned daily to patrol
the rivers and tributaries to ensure no one violates the agreement,
Riansyah told IPS.

Entering its third year, the open-closed fishing system has
proven to improve local people’s economic condition as reflected
in both Samsul’s and Tahir’s experiences.

But more importantly, Sungai Nibung residents have learned to
save the mangrove forests from destruction. In the conservation
zone, for example, fishing is strictly prohibited except in
designated areas. Local residents, including fishers, have also
learned about the important role mangroves play for coastal
ecosystems.

“Now fishers here know mangroves are very important for the
sustainability of crab, shrimp and fish in the village and have
agreed to stop using fish bombs, poison, and trawls,” Ibrahim
told IPS.

According to the Food
Sustainability Index
, created by the Barilla Centre for Food and
Nutrition
 and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Indonesia
has a score of 61.1 out of 100 when it comes to sustainable
agriculture, where 100 is “the highest sustainability and
greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and
economic Key Performance Indicators”. This is just below the
average of 65 of other middle income countries.

Saving the mangroves for climate mitigation and sustainable food
supply

But aside from the conservation and ensuring that fish stocks
are allowed to replenish before fishing, residents have also
participated in various mangrove campaigns, planting over 32
hectares of the village forest with mangrove trees since 2017,
according to Riansyah.

West Kalimantan, with around 100,000 hectares of mangroves, is
home to 75 percent of Indonesia’s mangrove species. Aside from
Kubu Raya, mangrove forests are also found in other areas such as
Ketapang, Kayong Utara, Mempawah, Sambas and in Singkawang
municipality.

According to an international paper, mangroves
capture four times more carbon than rainforests and store captured
carbon in the soil beneath its trees
. This ability to mitigate
climate change is a key to a sustainable food system.

The FSI also notes that addressing deforestation is important
for countries across the globe adding that, “climate
change adaptation and mitigation strategies will be essential in
creating a more sustainable food system since agricultural
activities make a significant contribution to climate change,
accounting for up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions, according to some estimates.

Asep Sugiharta, director of Essential Ecosystem Management at
the ministry of environment and forestry, told IPS that Indonesia
recorded 3.3 million hectares of mangrove forests in 2019, almost
23 percent of the world’s total mangrove forests. At least
252,071 hectares are found in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of
Borneo Island.

“At least 2.6 million hectares of the country’s total
mangrove forests are located outside conservation forests and only
0.7 million hectares are in conservation forests,” Sugiharta told
IPS during an interview in Jakarta.

  • Indonesia recorded annual greenhouse gas emissions of 2.4
    billion tons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2015, around 4.8 percent
    of the world’s total global emission for that year, according
    to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
    (PIK)
    .  
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to cut emissions
    by 29 percent without international support and 41 percent with
    international cooperation by 2030, compared to a “business as
    usual” scenario.

Environmental benefits aside, the open-closed fishing system has
given new optimism to Samsul, particularly when it comes to the
future of his two children.

“I was not able to finish my elementary education due to dire
poverty. With the success of the open-closed system, I am
optimistic my income will continue to grow and thus I can send my
two children to higher education,” Samsul said. “More than
that, I was told the system would ensure the sustainability of the
coastal ecosystem for our great grandchildren.”

Meanwhile, village head Ibrahim breathed a sigh of relief that
Sungai Nibung residents have bought into the idea of sustainable
food production.

“The challenging part was changing people’s paradigms. The
villagers were so used to fishing anywhere throughout the year in
the mangrove forest, taking big and small crabs, shrimps, or fish.
Now, they have started thinking about their sustainability.”

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Fisherfolk Fix Both Food and Climate by Closing Fishing Grounds

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Fisherfolk Fix Both Food and Climate by Closing Fishing Grounds