Specials Environment

Posted October 1998

Integrated coastal area management

Agriculture, forestry & fisheries

Overview | Introduction | Summary guidelines | Agriculture, forestry and fisheries | Conflict resolution


This Special is taken from "Integrated coastal area management and agriculture, forestry and fisheries: FAO guidlines", (Environment and Natural Resources Service, FAO, Rome, 1998. 256 p). The full publication is available on-line. For a printed copy, contact nadia.scialabba@fao.org
Agriculture in coastal areas often plays an important role and, as elsewhere, it occupies the major share of available land. Coastal areas often provide excellent soil and climatic conditions for agriculture. Apart from its evident function in providing food to coastal populations, agriculture also often provides raw materials to industry, which may be established in the area to make the most of port facilities. Agricultural products may find markets in the tourism sector, although this is not always as strong a link as is sometimes assumed. Agriculture also provides livelihoods for coastal populations, including those of coastal cities.

Coastal agriculture often benefits from favourable environmental conditions, from generally good land and sea communications, and from the development of industry and tourism in coastal areas. However, it also faces constraints related to the proximity to the sea, including: the risk of saline air and water; poor water quality and insecure supplies caused by upstream activities; and severe competition for available coastal land.

The agriculture sector influences, and is influenced by, other sectors. These interactions may be positive, but are often negative, and revolve around competition for land, water, capital and labour. The negative influences of agriculture on other sectors include pollution of fisheries by agrochemicals and silting of coral reefs and ports resulting from land erosion. In turn, agriculture itself may by negatively influenced by pollution originating from outside the coastal area, or it may induce its own negative impacts, for instance by inappropriate irrigation practices which can lead to the intrusion of salt water from the sea.

In order to integrate agricultural planning into overall coastal planning, the first stage is to gather relevant and useful information. This should cover the biophysical and socio-economic environments, interactions with other sectors, governance, and the constraints, opportunities and possible alternatives for the sector.

The next stage is planning, taking account of the special characteristics of coastal agriculture while ensuring that the plan conforms to overall national objectives for agriculture. During this phase, means to reduce or avoid the negative impacts of agriculture on other sectors should be introduced; these may entail revising subsidies, taxation and regulations, while introducing specific support services and reviewing the institutional set-up. The outcome might be changes in cropping patterns and cultivation methods.

Throughout the process, all interested parties and stakeholders should be consulted and involved and close liaison should be maintained with relevant ministries and services dealing with the other sectors. Coastal area agricultural development plans will address the specific characteristics of agriculture in the area, interactions with other sectors and the importance of sustainable practices.


Forest resources (including wildlife) are substantially different from agricultural or fishery resources, and information, policy and management requirements concerning them are therefore also different. Furthermore, forest resources in coastal areas are frequently so different from their inland counterparts as to require different and special approaches to management and conservation. Mangroves and tidal forests for example have no parallels in terrestrial uplands.

Special features of the coastal forestry sector include the following:


The fisheries sector depends on the coastal area in a variety of ways, both directly (e.g. resources and space) and indirectly (e.g. factors affecting biological productivity). This makes the sector particularly susceptible to land- and sea-based activities that have an impact on the coastal environment. To a lesser degree, the sector also generates negative effects on other activities that are concentrated on the coastal area. While many of the interactions within the fisheries sector and between the sector and other activities (e.g. agriculture, forestry and tourism) are of a competitive or antagonistic nature, a number of complementary interactions may also exist. If the fisheries sector is to make an optimal contribution to economic and social welfare, these interactions must be taken into account and the development and management of fisheries integrated within the wider context of coastal area management.

A first challenge facing fisheries authorities is to establish clearly the social value of the fisheries sector. This requires an approach to management that gives economic and social factors at least as much importance as biophysical ones. However, in the context of ICAM, objectives and strategies for the development of fisheries must be conceived as part of wider local, regional and national economic development and resource use strategies. The "best use" of coastal fisheries resources will depend on these wider strategies, which condition the value attached to the impacts generated both by the sector and by other sectors on the coastal environment (e.g. what type and degree of human-induced changes in the ecosystem are acceptable?).

These objectives, and the related management strategy, will in turn condition the selection of indicators to assess the impact of policy measures from a social and economic, as well as a biophysical, perspective. The entire process is closely linked to the institutional and organizational context in which the fisheries sector operates; a major challenge is to modify the existing context in order to achieve preferred patterns of coastal resource use.

The central problem is one of resource allocation between alternative uses and users. The difficulty of this lies in the special characteristics of renewable coastal resources, i.e. their mobility, the related issue of free and open access and the dynamic nature of their use. Within the capture fisheries subsector, the problem of limiting access and finding ways to extract resource rents is well known; in the absence of such measures, fisheries are bound to be overexploited, preventing the increase in economic welfare that they could generate. Where a fishery is already overexploited, the exploitation level will have to be reduced in order to achieve optimal use. Fisheries dynamics are subject to considerable variability and uncertainty, as is well documented. Approaches to management (e.g. the precautionary approach) must take risk and uncertainty explicitly into account.

Resource allocation problems arising from interactions that are mediated by changes in the biophysical qualities of the coastal environment appear to present similar difficulties; examples include free and open access to water, space, primary productivity, and critical habitats, and the variability and uncertainty of their evolution in response to human use. In addition to the issue of access to fish resources, management needs to consider the environment within which the fisheries sector operates. If ignored, these interactions and those more directly associated with fish resources are bound to generate conflicts between users, both within the fisheries sector and with other activities.

A central role of the fisheries authorities should be to define the trade-offs at stake clearly and in consultation with other sectors involved in coastal resources. This should be based on an assessment of the value placed on various management options, taking into account all the elements of value attached to each option, rather than only those for which a market already exists. Integrated coastal area management (ICAM) requires the potential benefits of the management process to be made explicit to the actors concerned, for them to agree on common goals and follow compatible strategies. While research may be required for the assessment of the value and risks associated with each option, it is essential to involve stakeholders and seek public involvement in order to benefit from the knowledge of the resource dynamics already available to users, foster a common knowledge of the management process, and reach consensus and agreement on resource management.

In terms of policy measures, two broad solutions suggest themselves. One is a regulatory approach based on direct control by a management agency, where essentially very detailed plans are established designating who may do what in different areas and under what conditions. In rare cases, this may be the only option. However, a second approach is to seek to modify incentives faced by individuals through the use of various economic instruments (e.g. charges or subsidies). Of particular interest is the extension into the coastal environment of the standard resource allocation model based on use rights and prices. In fisheries some progress has been made in the development of exclusive use rights systems. The challenge is how to implement such mechanisms for other, unpriced, coastal resources. The best solution, often based on a mix of policy instruments, will depend on local circumstances and may change over time.

The variability and uncertainty linked to the dynamic nature of coastal resource use requires that management strategies remain flexible and be considered as an ongoing learning process, rather than a single, isolated exercise. Uncertainty also requires the adoption of strategies, based on the definition of thresholds beyond which the risk of unacceptable changes in the coastal environment are considered excessive. An important aspect of management strategies is to deal explicitly with the risks associated with various management options.

The monitoring system developed as part of the policy measures should be linked to this aspect. In addition to measuring the impact of policy measures, it should allow early detection of thresholds. Both the monitoring of biophysical and economic and social parameters, and the prioritization of research needs should be closely linked to the management objectives.

Integrated coastal area management: Overview | Introduction | Summary guidelines | Agriculture, forestry and fisheries | Conflict resolution

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