Strengthening community leadership for mangrove restoration and food security of the Paz River, El Salvador

IUCN @ Paul Aragón
Published: 18 March 2019
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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The hydrodynamics and course of the lower part of the Paz River were altered in the past, affecting the water supply into the river mouth and coastal mangroves. Currently, further degradation comes from deforestation and agricultural practices like sugarcane and livestock. These mismanaged activities led to inequitable use of fresh water and conflict between companies, communities and local authorities. The communities and coastal ecosystems of Garita Palmera are among the most affected.


Having assessed the decreasing water flows and the vulnerability of their livelihoods, the fishing families agreed to implement Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) measures to restore coastal and mangrove forests with the support of the NGO Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña and IUCN. The measures created awareness for the importance of ecosystem services and improved their condition through conservation agreements,  restoration and community monitoring.


Solution developed under AVE project -


Central America
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Ecosystem services
Fisheries and aquaculture
Food security
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Local actors
Sustainable livelihoods
Other theme
Science & Research
Species management
Traditional knowledge
Water provision and management
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


San Francisco Menendez, Ahuachapán, El Salvador | Garita Palmera, coastal zone of the El Aguacate microbasin, Paz River


Water-related climate risks in the area are:

  • Risk of flooding on the coastal plain
  • Climatic scenarios foresee less rainfall and more droughts 
  • Diminishing of water resources availability

Sustainable production and watershed management challenges are:

  • Deforestation drivers due to the introduction of sugarcane and livestock.
  • Unsustainable irrigation practices of sugarcane producers
  • Water wells (aquifers) and the water quality of mangrove ecosystems are showing increasing salinization
  • Soil erosion and pollution problems from agriculture practices

Regarding the governance of natural resources further important challenges are:

  • El Salvador lacks a specific regulatory framework for the integrated management of watersheds or water resources
  • Land management instruments that would help to improve up-stream management to guarantee the availability of water downstream are absent
  • In addition, the Paz River basin is shared between El Salvador and Guatemala, which requires binational coordination


  • Fishing communities of Garita Palmera, El Tamarindo and Bola de Monte (Ahuachapán, El Salvador)
  • El Aguacate Microbasin Committee (community association for environmental protection, formed by local leaders)

How do the building blocks interact?

This solution contemplates 3 Building Blocks (BB): Water governance (BB3) and the implementation of EbA measures (BB2) is achieved by mobilizing the support of existing community structures under an "action learning" approach (BB1) that combines training, field actions, participation, monitoring, and valuing of ecosystem services. At the community level, a process of collective learning and empowerment is generated by acquiring knowledge of vulnerability, ecosystem restoration as an EbA measure, food and water security and the relevant legal and policy frameworks (BB1).


Combining the three BB results in improved self-governance of communities and their capacity for policy influencing, thus strengthening their adaptive capacity.


Stakeholders (local communities, state agencies, and the private sector) are convened towards solving environmental problems and coordinate through governance structures. Lessons from implementation of EbA measures (BB3) are shared by local leaders (through dialogue and campains) to convince the government and private sector that restoration efforts increase resilience to climate variability and decrease the food insecurity of local families.


Local communities

  • Greater local knowledge on sustainable mangrove management, restoration, climate change, water and watershed management, and food security.
  • Building local social capacities though the positioning of the El Aguacate Microbasin Committee as a reference in environmental defense and ecosystem restoration.
  • Community ownership around EbA measures, water defense, and local natural resources (mangrove)
  • Reforestation of more than 3 ha of mangrove and improvement of the hydrological system
  • Research on the benefits of EbA for food security using a Monitoring and Evaluation methodology with 22 families.

Maintreaming EbA at the national level

  • Advocacy for regulating the use of fresh water and the natural assets of coastal ecosystems carried out by local communities (Microbasin Committee) with the CONASAV (National Council for Environmental Sustainability and Vulnerability), the Environmental Court, MARN (Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources) and MAG (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock).
  • Partnerships established with MARN and Park Rangers at the local level to support mangrove management activities.


IUCN @ Paul Aragón

Feeling the wind that runs across the mangrove at 7am reminds her why she started taking care of the mangrove and the sea. "It feels fresh, before there was more heat. We have learned how to care for nature and appreciate water. Before, what I did was to cut down trees, catch small fish and shrimp, I would do damage without knowing that I was doing damage to myself, to my family and my community” reflects Maria Magdalena Del Cid Torres, who lives in the Playa Bola de Monte hamlet, in the coastal zone of the Paz River basin.


At that hour, she is beginning her day’s work of mangrove and forest surveillance. Together with another neighbour, she patrols the area by foot, taking care that no one enters to cut trees or fish indiscriminately in the mangrove. It is not an easy task for a woman: It entails more than 8 hours away from home in an isolated frontier area. For Maria, there is no criticism from neighbors or fear that will part her from her new mission. They also carry out water monitoring . "We take the temperature of the water, we measure the salinity of the water wells and how much water there is. Sometimes we are accompanied by people from UNES - the NGO Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña, an IUCN member organization - and sometimes we go alone."


The people of the community also participate in canal clearing activities. "Dredging the canals is giving us family sustenance, we catch bigger fish and when it’s time for fishery closure, we take care not to fish. It’s a wonderful experience because the work involves women and men, young and old. It looked easy but it is hard work, to walk inside the mud and between the roots of the mangrove, but it greatly benefits the mangroves."


Maria feels her experience in the mangrove forest and what she has learnt through training workshops have taught her to understand how climate change affects her as a woman, but above all, how her work can contribute to positive change in her community.


"I was one of the women who stayed mostly at home. I feel happy because I have been given the opportunity as a woman to understand and learn new things. I am organized, I take care of our mangrove and I am a witness to the changes that we’ve achieved. In addition, I now understand that I am the one who makes my own strength; strength does not come with us, we build it ourselves, and this I did not know by just staying at home" Maria concludes.

Contributed by

MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid

Other contributors

Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES)