Yesterday morning, Mangrove Association and EcoViva hosted a forum on the “Contributions and Challenges for Coastal Zone Development” to share successes in rural growth initiatives and discuss a unified vision for development of the Bay of Jiquilisco region. Among the over 350 people in attendance were representatives from 54 communities, leadership from 8 local groups of La Coordinadora, 11 cooperatives, 12 local and international NGOs, 8 municipal governments, 3 national agencies, and representation from the National Assembly. In preparation for the impending Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact that will bring unprecedented new resources and development to the coastal zone of El Salvador, local stakeholders expressed the belief that a well-managed coastal zone is the best mechanism for rural growth.
Through organizing efforts such as the forum, local communities and organizations are seeking to improve investments through U.S. foreign aid by contributing expertise from successful rural growth programs and ensuring that future development builds upon existing, effective initiatives in the region. In the coastal zone of El Salvador, national and international aid and development institutions have historically relied on local actors and the nongovernmental sector to create, organize, and execute growth strategies and rural policies.
At the forum, community members and organizations, local and international NGOs, and municipal and national government officials shared knowledge from those experiences that have proven to spur economic development in areas such as shrimp, fishing, agriculture, and land use. The panel of speakers also included a representative from the Technical Secretary to the President of El Salvador, the lead negotiator on El Salvador’s second MCC compact. The forum was an opportunity for local community and productive sectors to collaborate with NGOs and the local and national authorities to offer value to the compact.
The forum also addressed the challenges to inclusive and sustainable rural economic growth presented by this new push for development. El Salvador´s coastal zone is one of the most vulnerable and sensitive areas in Central America, exhibiting one of the highest levels of deforestation, second only to Haiti, due to unregulated land use and development in the region. Some areas, like the Bay of Jiquilisco, the Jaltepeque Estuary, and the mangrove ecosystems they shelter, exhibit globally significant biodiversity and environmental attributes that have qualified these areas for national and international protection under environmental conventions such as UNESCO and RAMSAR. However, speakers at the forum expressed concern that further unregulated development, large-scale tourism, unsustainable fishing, damaging agricultural practices, and the exclusion of local actors will affect the thousands of families and hundreds of rural cooperatives that farm, fish and steward Central America’s most prominent coastal ecosystem.
The goal coming out of the forum is to develop a framework to facilitate sustainable development, not just for the MCC compact, but for all future aid and investment in the coastal zone. This framework will include policies to enable local small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, ensure the direct engagement of communities and cooperatives, as well as articulate clear and inclusive environmental and social guidelines. The forum marks a significant step in an organizing process to create rules of the road and put forth a vision for the coastal zone. Part of this vision will be a “Special Management Regime” to ensure inclusive, sustainable development in the coastal zone. Yesterday’s event has set the tone for integrating diverse perspectives and local leadership to construct a framework for the future of the Bay of Jiquilisco.