Marine Protected Areas, Co-Management and Livelihoods: Coastal Change in Vietnam

Brown, Paula

University of Sydney
Faculty of Science

PhD thesis

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Global marine conservation targets have driven the increase in marine protected area (MPA) programs in recent decades, and international donors and environmental non-government organisations have promoted their expansion to the developing world. Conflicts can result between MPAs and local livelihoods and local resource governance systems, and new livelihoods and resource governance systems introduced through MPA projects. The alternative livelihoods proposed to offset conflicts occur as MPAs and local livelihoods are often based around the assumption that local people are willing and able to give up their existing fishing livelihoods, despite the reality that the “alternative livelihoods” are often not sufficient to replace existing livelihoods The literature on MPA practice often fails to adequately reflect what occurs in practice around livelihoods change, or to propose ways to work within existing livelihoods constraints. Thus a gap exists between results repo rted from MPA projects and what occurs on the ground through MPA implementation. A social research lens is needed to examine what occurs “behind the beautiful curtain” of MPA reporting at the local, regional and national level. The research presented in this thesis investigates what happens in the implementation of co-management and MPAs as model approaches, how they have been translated to and within the context of Vietnam, and how fishing-based livelihoods are transformed through these processes. The thesis considers “aquarian transitions” in the coastal zone around processes of regulatory, environmental and livelihoods change associated with agrarian change analysis. Aquarian transition re-frames these processes to the specificities of the aquatic context and to the rural coastal landscape of the MPA. The research questions addressed through this thesis are: • What are the socio-political influences on MPA management and how do these affect the achievement of biodiversity conservation and sustainable re! source m anagement objectives? How do the institutions of MPA development play out at different scales, from the local to the national? What is the influence of different government, non-government and international actors at these different scales? • How does co-management of aquatic natural resources work in Vietnam given its centralized, authoritarian mode of government and the flow-on effects of this on natural resource governance? How are universalistic co-management practices developed and promoted by international actors from the west/global north translated within the context of Vietnam? • How do MPAs in Vietnam affect and address existing livelihoods of local people within and around the protected area? Are alternative livelihoods programs successful or adequate? Do they replace or only supplement existing livelihoods? What assumptions are evident within livelihood programs about local people’s adaptation to livelihood change in the face of restricted access? Multi-sited and multi-scaled ethnography was used in the research to address research questions around livelihoods, co-management, and the institutions of MPA development. This thesis forms an ethnography of development institutions examining both MPA policy and practice in Vietnam. The research was implemented in Vietnam over 18 months from January 2006 to December 2007, with follow up field work undertaken in mid-2010. The data collected was qualitative, and based on observation and participation in activities with each case study under investigation. Case studies of several kinds were investigated – one NGO-focused case study following one of that NGO’s projects as well as their overall development approach to MPAs (Trao Reef Marine Reserve, with MCD – the Center for Marinelife Conservation and Community Development), one conventional site-based case study of an MPA and its local and regional context (Cu Lao Cham MPA); and one policy developme nt case study of the national livelihoods strategy for the L! MPA (Liv elihoods support for Marine Protected Areas) program within the national Ministry of Fisheries. The strategy captured the lessons learned in livelihoods management at all MPAs in Vietnam to that time, and implementation of the strategy reflected the debate around livelihoods practice evident during 2007. I conducted participant observation during training activities at regional case study sites, as well as at sites of policy development in Hanoi and with a range of actors. In the capital my research activities were involved with national government ministries, a case study Vietnamese NGO, and with IUCN who hosted my research in Vietnam through provision of office facilities. In regional locations, participant observation was focussed around the two principal case studies and involved regional training activities for MPA managers, provincial meetings focussed on MPA management, management plan development workshops, as well as training events held with local people by MPA management. The multi-sited nature of this ethnography enabled the study of policy formulation as well as implementation, and the translation processes occurring between the different actors at these sites and scales. Community-based approaches to MPA management mobilised much greater participation and connection to marine conservation than more traditional government MPA management. The cost of these approaches was the length of time needed to implement them, the limited geographic impact they had on the ground, and the lack of respect for these approaches demonstrated by government representatives. Operation outside of the government context in Vietnam had costs and benefits, in that MCD’s approaches to MPA management were not valued by government, but were valued by international donors who wanted to fund grassroots projects without the hindrance of central and provincial government bureaucracy. Provincial government’s attempts to implement co-man agement were much more top down, and resulted in participati! on in MP A activities at the local level without connection to the power structures operating at the regional level above. Past and current MPA practice during this research demonstrated that provincial government struggled with the horizontal connections required to develop collaborative management arrangements across this level of government. Efforts at MPA enforcement in Vietnam were hampered by a “perfect storm” of non-compliance caused by the effectively open access nature of coastal resources, large numbers of coastal populations and their livelihood needs, and absence of livelihood alternatives. These results are relevant outside of the context of Vietnam as other countries experiencing similar population pressures in coastal zones and fishing livelihood dependence of coastal communities are likely to face similar limitations on the success of enforcement. The fact that alternative livelihoods do not easily work as alternatives needs to be better explored by the literature on MPA practice, as the promotion of the alternative concept can create false expectations about what it can deliver on the ground. MPA projects will have much greater chance of success if they start with more realistic goals around livelihood diversification at the outset. The research demonstrates how international models are often poorly adapted to fit the local context they are introduced to. In the case of alternative livelihoods implementation or territorialised regulation around subsistence livelihoods, they can be weak in theory from the outset. These model approaches are shown not to work in the local context. The local scale demonstrates the outcome of translation of policy approaches from the international scale and through the national and regional scales of influence, where different actors and processes affect the policy’s form and outcome. What occurs at the local level is a consequence of these processes of translation and adaptation to the local. The multi-sited and mult
i-scaled ethnography of d! evelopme nt institutions enables these processes to be revealed, and highlights how MPA projects can appear as islands of project activity in a sea of socio-political complexity. The thesis contributes to the literature on livelihood management in the coastal zone, paying specific attention to alternative livelihoods interventions. It also contributes to the literature on both MPA and fisheries management practice. The findings in these areas will have relevance to any case where livelihood substitution is being considered beyond the focal points of MPAs and Vietnam. It contributes an important critical focus to the use of model approaches to natural resource management, and the role that international donors play in forcing the implementation of these approaches in developing countries. It also contributes to the methodological literature as an example of ethnography of development institutions, of how experience-from-practice may contribute to the greater literature by document ing the experiences and key lessons from development practice.