Ingredients for Success in EcoTipping Point Case Studies

Detailed Ingredients for Success for our most instructive cases:

What does it take to turn around the vicious cycles driving environmental decline? Basically, it takes appropriate environmental technology combined with the social organization to put it effectively into use. More specifically, our case studies have consistently shown that the following ingredients are keys to success.

  • Outside stimulation and facilitation. We seldom see EcoTipping points “bubble up from within.” An EcoTipping Point story typically begins when people from outside a community, or new to it, stimulate a shared awareness of the situation – how it is changing, and what seems to be responsible. Outsiders can be a source of fresh ideas for possible actions. EcoTipping Point success stories will become more common only with explicit programs to provide this kind of stimulation to local communities (Rogers 2003).
  • Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership (Westley et al. 2007). Genuine community participation and “ownership” of what happens is prominent in EcoTipping Point stories. The stories do not feature top-down regulation or elaborate development plans with unrealistic goals. The community moves forward with its own decisions, manpower, and financial resources.
  • Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Social system and ecosystem fit together, functioning as a sustainable whole (Marten 2001). As an EcoTipping Point story unfolds, perceptions, values, knowledge, technology, social organization, and social institutions all evolve in a way that enhances the sustainability of valuable social and ecological resources (Senge 2008). Social and environmental gains go hand in hand. “Social commons for environmental commons” are developed, including clear ownership and boundaries, agreement about rules, and enforcement of rules.
  • “Letting nature do the work.” Micro-managing the world’s environmental problems is far beyond human capacity. EcoTipping Points give nature the opportunity to marshal its self-organizing powers to set restoration in motion.
  • Rapid results. Quick “payback” helps to mobilize community commitment. Once positive results begin cascading through the social system and ecosystem, normal social, economic, and political processes took it from there.
  • A powerful symbol. It is common for a prominent feature of the local landscape – or some other key aspect of an EcoTipping Point story – to represent the entire process in a way that consolidates community commitment and mobilizes community action to carry it forward.
  • Overcoming social obstacles (Tainter 1990). The larger socio-economic system can present numerous obstacles to success on a local scale. For example:
    • It imposes competing demands for people’s attention, energy, and time. People are so “busy,” they don’t have time to contribute to the “social commons.”
    • People who feel threatened by innovation or other change take measures to suppress or nullify the change.
    • Outsiders try to take over valuable resources after the resources are restored.
    •  Dysfunctional dependence on some part of the status quo prevents people from making changes necessary to break away from decline.
  • Social and ecological diversity. Greater diversity provides more choices and opportunities – and better prospects that some of the choices will be good. For example, an ecosystem’s species diversity enhances its capacity for self-restoration. Diversity of perceptions, values, knowledge, technology, social organization, and social institutions provide opportunities for better choices.
  • Social and ecological memory (Berkes et al. 2002). Social institutions, knowledge and technology from the past have “stood the test of time” and may have something to offer for the present. Nature’s “memory” exists in the resilience of living organisms and their intricate relationships in the ecosystem, which have emerged from the time-testing process of biological evolution.
  • Building resilience (The Resilience Alliance [link:]; Walker and Salt 2006). “Resilience” is the ability to continue functioning in the same general way despite occasional and sometimes severe external disturbance. EcoTipping Points are most effective when they not only not only set in motion a course of sustainability, but also enhance the resilience to withstand threats to sustainability. As EcoTipping Point stories play themselves out, new virtuous cycles emerge to reinforce and consolidate the gains.  A community’s adaptive capacity – its openness to change based on shared community awareness, prudent experimentation, learning from successes and mistakes, and replicating success – is central to resilience. 


  • Fikret Berkes, Johan Colding, and Carl Folke. 2002. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change. Cambridge University Press.
  • Gerald Marten. 2001. Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development. Earthscan Publications. (See this book online at   
  • Elinor Ostrom. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press.
  • Everett Rogers. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations (Fifth edition). Free Press.
  • Peter Senge. 2008. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. Doubleday.
  • Joseph Tainter. 1990. Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press.
  • Brian Walker and David Salt. 2006. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press.
  • Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton. 2007. Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed. Vintage Canada.

Examples of Ecotipping Point Ingredients for Some of Our Major Cases Studies

Apo Island Marine Sanctuary (Philippines)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. Outsiders can be a source of fresh ideas. The marine sanctuary was created after three years of dialogue between Apo Islanders and Silliman University staff – a dialogue that helped the fishermen and their families to take stock of what was happening to the fishery and what might be done about it. Marine biologist Angel Alcala took some of the fishermen to a small no-fishing reserve at another island, where they could see the dramatic impact of fish protection on fish stocks. Later, NGO assistance was critical for securing the Island’s local (barangay) government legal authority to exercise control over the Island’s fishery. Years later, another NGO helped the Islanders to set up a community family planning program.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership. Communities in EcoTipping Point stories move forward with their own decisions, manpower, and financial resources. Creation of the sanctuary, and subsequent community management of the Apo Island’s fishing grounds, came out of community discussion. The local barangay government took the lead, but key decisions along the way were made by assembling representatives of all Island families at the primary school playground (along with an ample supply of roast pork and other amenities) to discuss the issue at hand until reaching agreement, even if it took days of intensive discussion to do so. Persistence has been a key to long-term success. Although not all Islanders were convinced at the very beginning that the sanctuary was a good idea, those who were committed persisted until the benefits became obvious to everyone. The barangay leader at that time, and her extended family, have been highly committed from the very beginning, through a dynasty of barangay leaders in that family. Their commitment has been entwined with entrepreneurial involvement in the Island’s tourist development and with their stewardship of educational initiatives for the entire community, made possible by tourist revenues.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Social system and ecosystem fit together, functioning as a sustainable whole. When the Islanders established their marine sanctuary, they set in motion a “social commons” to fit their “environmental commons” – their coral reef ecosystem and fishery. The social commons began with community management of the sanctuary and evolved to managing the fishing grounds around the Island. Social cooperation was facilitated by the network of trust and obligation in Apo’s tight-knit community, where everyone is related by blood or marriage to almost everybody else. The cooperation worked because they drew on community wisdom to devise effective rules for protecting their fishery, and the rules were practical to enforce (see “Overcoming social obstacles” below). The marine ecosystem responded by repairing itself and better meeting community needs. Once the EcoTipping Point – the marine sanctuary and the social organization to implement it – set positive change in motion, normal social, economic, governmental, and ecological processes took it from there.

“Letting nature do the work”. EcoTipping Points give nature the opportunity to marshal its self-organizing powers to set restoration in motion. As soon as fish were protected in Apo’s marine sanctuary, their high reproductive capacity enabled them to quickly repopulate the sanctuary. When destructive fishing was no longer allowed around the Island’s fishing grounds, nature set in motion a complex restoration process for the entire coral ecosystem – something that human micro-management of the ecosystem could never achieve.  

Rapid results. Quick “payback” helps to mobilize community commitment. Three years after establishing the sanctuary, the increase in fish stocks was so dramatic that it inspired Islanders to embark on managing their fishing grounds outside the sanctuary. Full recovery of fish catches outside the sanctuary took longer, but there were visible improvements from the beginning. The spectacular recovery of the Island’s coral-reef ecosystem attracted tourism, reinforcing the commitment of Islanders to a healthy marine ecosystem. A substantial portion of the income from tourism went back to the community in the form of infrastructure (e.g., water supply, electrification, renovation of the Island’s primary school) and community development projects (e.g., a local bakery, micro-financing, and marketing cooperatives), further reinforcing commitment.

A powerful symbol. The Islanders say that the marine sanctuary saved the island’s marine ecosystem, the fishery, and their way of life. The sanctuary is a sacred site for Apo Island inhabitants. It forms the centerpiece of a shared story of pride and achievement. It is unthinkable to violate the sanctuary or what it represents.

Overcoming social obstacles. The larger socio-economic system can present numerous obstacles to success on a local scale. For example, people may have so many demands on their time, it is difficult to find the time for community enterprises. The Island community devised ways to manage its marine ecosystem without making excessive demands on people’s time. The sanctuary’s no-fishing rule was easily enforced by a single person watching from the beach, a task rotated among Island families. Similarly, fishermen at work on the Island’s fishing grounds could easily see if other fishermen didn’t belong there or were using illegal fishing methods. Another common obstacle is government authority that stands in the way of a local community doing what is necessary. This is an issue of local autonomy. Apo Island’s local government encountered this issue when it decided to exclude other fishermen from the Island’s fishing grounds (with no precedent in Philippine law or tradition) and enforce a ban on destructive fishing methods (when the enforcement of existing fisheries laws was the domain of higher levels of government). Fortunately, the Islanders were able to negotiate approval from higher levels of government to embark on these innovations. Finally, the establishment of a national network of marine sanctuaries, called the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS), which was inspired by Apo Island’s success, posed a serious challenge to local autonomy. Before, management decisions for their fishery resided solely with Apo Islanders themselves, but now the NIPAS management board has final authority. One practical consequence has been that tourist fees, which went directly to the Island’s local government before, now go to the national organization and return to the local government after considerable delay and reduction of the funds. The Islanders are still in the process of dealing with these challenges of national integration.

Social and ecological diversity. Diversity provides more choices, and therefore more opportunities for good choices. Ecologically, the species richness (i.e., diversity) of Apo Island’s marine ecosystem has enhanced its capacity for self-restoration. Socially, the Islanders created their sanctuary, and undertook the many innovations that followed, only after expanding (i.e., diversifying) their social horizons beyond the village to include dialogue with scientists from Silliman University. This helped to diversify their awareness of choices for action. Then, the rich diversity of the Island’s coral reef enhanced its attractiveness for tourism, and tourism provided a more diversified base for the Island’s economy. Before, the main sources of income were fishing, part-time farming, mat-weaving, and boat service for people and supplies to and from the island. Tourism brought other sources of income, such as working at the Island’s two small hotels, providing services to the hotels (e.g., catering), selling T-shirts and sarongs to tourists, “home-stay” accommodation to backpackers, and expanding boat services to and from the island. Education has allowed some of the younger generation to pursue professional careers outside the Island, diversifying income sources even further and providing additional income for the local economy.

Social and ecological memory. Social memory had a key role after Apo Islanders banned destructive fishing. The fishermen returned to traditional fishing practices such as hook-and-line, fish traps, and large-mesh gillnets, which they knew to be functional and more sustainable than destructive fishing practices. The ecological memory of the coral ecosystem lay in the intricate co-adaptations among its natural inhabitants – the key to recovery as a valuable resource for the Island. In addition, social and ecological memory played a key role in deciding where to locate the sanctuary.  The Islanders selected a highly degraded part of the Island’s fishing grounds, which they considered to have the greatest potential for recovery, because they recalled it had the Island’s richest coral ecosystem in the past. Finally, when the Islanders decided how many fish they should harvest as fish stocks recovered, they were able to fall back on their traditional value of “taking only what they need from the sea.” With larger fish stocks, they could have increased their catch (and income) by continuing to fish “dawn to dusk” (as depleted fish stocks had forced them to do before). But instead, as fish stocks increased, they reduced the intensity of their fishing, keeping their total fish catch about the same as before – a wisely sustainable strategy.  While devoting some of their “newfound” time to diversifying economic activities, the fishermen devoted much of it to family and community, which traditional values told them are most important for quality of life.

Building resilience. “Resilience” is the ability to continue functioning in the face of sometimes severe external disturbances.  The key is adaptability. Apo Islanders showed their adaptive capacity when tourism became so heavy that diving and snorkeling were damaging the coral and interfering with their fishing. Their experience managing their fishery gave them the insights and confidence necessary to impose restrictions on snorkeling and diving, even if it conflicted with short-term income from tourism. In the long term, spinoffs from the sanctuary, such as tourist income, local women’s associations, general strengthening of community solidarity, quality education, and professional careers for some family members on the adjacent mainland have reinforced the ability of the island community to sustain its success in the face of unknown future challenges.

Agroforestry and Community Forest Management (Nakhon Sawan, Thailand)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. In the early 1980s, members of the international aid organization Save the Children awakened the villagers’ awareness about the true source of their predicament, and encouraged them to devise their own solutions. The organization provided technical assistance and funding. In the late 1990s, the Thai government began supporting agroforestry and community managed forests as part of His Majesty’s “Sufficiency Economy” program. The subsistence lifestyle is subsidized to some degree by remittances from young people earning a living outside the village.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership. The people of Khao Din village worked together to retrace what went wrong, and formulated a strategy to improve the situation. The community forest, in particular, took a lot of teamwork to replant and maintain.  After Save the Children left, village leader Ajaan Thanawm continued the organizational efforts. He founded a group, Association of Agriculture, the Environment and Development, Nakhon Sawan, which now includes 2,545 families. Thanawm’s efforts have led to the adoption of agroforestry in over 40 other villages. It was noted in a study of the more and less successful replications that the more successful villages have a trustworthy and motivated leader who can inspire enthusiasm in others; they also have more frequent community meetings.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Social institutions developed that were appropriate for watershed management and restoration. The community developed a sense of ownership of the land, which—together with increased awareness of environmental problems—led to even better stewardship. Soil quality and biodiversity were markedly improved. The more successful villages enforce rules governing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As the farmers turned from monocropping to agroforestry, their quality of life improved. The ecosystem provided a healthy and varied diet. The most successful villages no longer have to buy food from outside their community. Outsiders were prevented from cutting trees in the community protection forest or otherwise damaging it. As agroforestry and protection forest trees grew larger, carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere and the carbon sequestered in the wood of the trees.

“Letting nature do the work.”  Being in harmony with nature is one of the key ideals in Buddhism. The restored ecosystem resembles in many ways the structure of a natural forest and its ecosystem services. Ecological stability is improved; soil erosion and degradation are reversed; more water is available. The construction of fishponds and planting of a variety of fruits and vegetables enables nature to provide a bounty of good food, and natural methods (without the heavy use of chemicals) take advantage of natural fertilizers and pest control.

Rapid results.  A single growing season showed the benefits of polyculture for family food. What started on 8 acres of demonstration plots spread quickly as the benefits became clear. Farmers earned less cash than with export crops, but their costs for food and agricultural inputs were drastically reduced, and a wide range of forest products became available as well. The full benefits (economic, social, and environmental) of agroforestry and community forest can take 2 to 5 years to develop, but the successful villages then serve as models for others.

A powerful symbol. Leaders such as Ajaan Thanawm and the King of Thailand are important symbols.

Overcoming social obstacles. In the more successful villages, people are willing to devote enough time to community meetings and community work. They follow the rules, and are able to prevent outsiders from appropriating resources (cutting trees, dumping trash, occupying the land). The change in government policy was helpful, as it changed from encouraging cash-crop monoculture with high inputs of artificial chemicals to an emphasis on self-sufficiency. However, many of the people, especially young people, are not satisfied with low cash incomes.

Social and ecological diversity. The greatly improved diversity of farm and forest plant life in Nakhon Sawan meant that no cash was needed to buy fruits and vegetables. Farming system and livelihood diversification through integrated farming based on agroforestry, home processing of agricultural products and cottage industries, combined with communal forest management, empowered villagers to re-capture control of their lives through community-based sustainable resource management. With the diversification of livelihoods and less need for urban migration, the village population has a more balanced representation of all age groups and fewer social problems associated with neglected children or dissatisfied youths.

Social and ecological memory. The villagers remembered not only what the landscape looked like before, but also remembered their traditional technical know-how, such as integrating fish ponds, vegetable crops, and trees on their farms; forest products gathering; and cottage industries. Agroforestry was spoken of as going back to their roots.  As elsewhere, the system also takes advantage of nature’s built-in memory.

Building resilience. More diverse agriculture, and watershed restoration, led to more resilience to weather and market fluctuations. Decreasing expenses and debt led to more resilient family finances and less need for drastic measures such as overexploitation of forest products or migration to cities for work. There was also a fundamental change in people’s thinking, toward working together as a community and away from unchecked materialism. The restored social support system provides further resilience.

Non-Pesticide Management (Andhra Pradesh, India)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. Venu Madhav came from a village about 100 kilometers from Punukula, as a worker for a local non-government organization, SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment). He encouraged the villagers to consult with a woman in another village who had learned how to control pests without chemical pesticides. Venu Madhav and the SECURE staff found an “early adopter” in a prominent village elder, Margam Mutthaiah. They coached him in Non-Pesticide Management, and two SECURE staff members were posted in Punukula to teach and facilitate further progress. The group also received technical support from agricultural entomologists at the Sustainability Center in Hyderabad.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership.  Margam Mutthaiah proved to be a strong and dedicated leader. Adoption of Non-Pesticide Management grew in a widening circle, until the entire village of Punukula was pesticide-free. The process was greatly facilitated by support from the village council (panchayat) and the farmers’ association. Women played an essential role in gathering and grinding the neem seeds, as well as complementary materials like chili-garlic solution.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Instead of investing scarce cash resources in pesticides, the community invested its more abundant time and labor in Non-Pesticide Management practices, using a locally available tree. They also ventured into vermicomposting as a superior substitute for chemical fertilizers. This not only improved the health of the people, but the entire ecosystem as well.

“Letting nature do the work.” Neem is a local, fast-growing tree that produces a multitude of natural pesticides. Placing neem cakes in the soil improves not just pest control, but nitrogen content as well. Nearly a dozen other complementary natural methods were also used to trap and/or kill pests and to lure insect-eating birds to the cotton fields. The return of birds and other pest predators to the fields made pest control increasingly easy; eventually fewer applications and less labor were required.

Rapid results. In a single cropping season, “early adopter” Margam Mutthaiah showed non-pesticide results good enough to convince 20 other farmers to try it. Their harvest proved to be just as good as those still using pesticides—at much less cost. Punukula eventually became a model for neighboring communities.

Overcoming social obstacles. Middlemen (i.e., pesticide dealers who promised to purchase the cotton harvests) punished Non-Pesticide Management users by paying less for their crops, but the village farmers formed a marketing cooperative that found fairer prices elsewhere. They overcame their debt problem by banding together so pesticide providers were not able to bully them with demands for immediate repayments. Also, they were able to persuade the state government to encourage Non-Pesticide Management, over the objections of pesticide companies and dealers.

Social and ecological diversity. Farmers at Punukula received a diversity of technical assistance which, when added to their own creativity, led to a diversity of Non-Pesticide Management techniques, which proved most effective for controlling crop pests. Eventually natural biodiversity was restored to the landscape, providing natural control by bird and insect predators of crop pests.

Social and ecological memory. The neem tree has been used for centuries to control insect pests and promote health. Non-Pesticide Management also took advantage of the ecological memory that resided in birds and other pest predators, whose populations recovered once toxic pesticides declined in the environment.

Building resilience. Pesticide abstinence brought back natural control of pests. This reduced costs for agricultural inputs as well as hospital bills and the indentured servitude of children, which allowed families to reduce their debts and establish more financial resilience. People were able to expand their acreage, pursue more education, and engage in more entrepreneurial and community projects. Moreover, the increased confidence engendered by success, as well as community solidarity and strengthened social support system (mutual help) among farmers, made them better able to withstand many types of challenges.

Rainwater Harvesting (Rajasthan, India)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. Five young men from the group Tarun Bharat Sangh (“Young India Organization”) came to the village of Gopalpura intending to set up a health clinic. But they found the greatest need was water and, on the advice of a village elder, began to work on restoring traditional earthen dams (johad) for rainwater catchment and groundwater replenishment. They were helped by outside professional engineers.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership.  Working only for food, a number of villagers joined the team to restore the first johad. The following year, a larger dam was restored with an estimated 10,000 person-days of labor by the residents. Traditional participatory village councils (Gram Sabha), which featured representation from every family and reached decisions by consensus, were revived to manage dam construction. The Gram Sabha also initiated community reforestation projects. These cooperative efforts strengthened village solidarity even more. Rajendra Singh, one of the five young men from Tarun Bharat Sangh, maintained his role as leader, and Tarun Bharat Sangh has actively facilitated the construction of johads in more villages to the present day.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. Effects from the rebirth of rainwater harvesting ping-ponged from ecosystem to social system and back, and the momentum got stronger as both systems began to heal. The communally-oriented traditional Gram Sabha councils were able to manage communal enterprises such as johad and village forests with an effectiveness not found in conventional village councils (pancharat). Young men came back home from the cities, providing additional labor for johad restoration. Villagers also organized fuelwood tree planting and protection of the village forest. This mobilization of manpower led to the restoration of the environmental support system, so that once again the ecosystem provided for people’s needs.

“Letting nature do the work.” Once the dams were constructed, one had only to wait for the monsoon rains. The ponds behind the dams filled with rainwater, which percolated into the groundwater, and wells began to flow again. Underground transport of the water from dams to wells was achieved at no expense for infrastructure such as pipes or ditches, and no water was lost to evaporation. Rivers and streams were restored to year-round flows, providing further “free” water distribution. The higher water table meant that crops could grow with less irrigation, and trees could grow close enough to villages to reduce the effort for fuelwood collection. The recovery of forests reduced soil erosion, protecting the johads from siltation.

Rapid results.  Results from the very first pond were seen in just a few months. During the monsoon it filled with water and a nearby well began flowing again. This quick payback inspired more dam building. Ten years later there were 10 such ponds in Gopalpura, holding 162 million gallons of water. The practice eventually spread to 750 other villages.

Overcoming social obstacles. The restored village forest resources and river fisheries attracted the interest of the government, which then sought to claim the resources as state property. But the “water warriors of Rajasthan” had become well organized and were able to defend their resources.

Social and ecological memory. Reviving the tradition of building johads was possible because elders remembered how to construct and maintain them. The traditions of the Gram Sabha village councils, voluntary labor, and foot marches ensured success and replication. Because of ecological memory, the restored rivers and forests provided habitat for wildlife that had not been seen in the area for many years.

Building resilience. The forest helps to maintain and protect the watershed. Underground water storage reduces evaporation, and ensures water supply for household use and dry season irrigation even in times of low rainfall. The social organization and community solidarity are also strong protections. The circle of positive effects—more water, more agriculture, more vegetation, less erosion, more water—and the related social benefits (e.g., men returning to the village) ensure the sustainability of the gains. It was no longer necessary for women and children to haul water from distant sources. As a consequence, women had more time for housework, child care, and supplemental economic activities, while children had time to return to school and the education that could provide them a more secure future.

Community Gardens (New York City)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. Artist Liz Christy was a newcomer to the rundown Bowery neighborhood. There was also an influx of younger college students seeking lower rents in an otherwise very expensive city. Christy brought in a group of friends to help clean a single vacant lot and turn it into a garden. People had wanted to do something like this, but needed a “spark” to get it going. Cornell University (New York’s Land Grant college) provided technical support for expanding the community gardening network.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership. In the 1970s, Liz Christy formed the Green Guerillas, a democratic organization which still exists today. The group helps different neighborhoods to organize and design their own green spaces, depending upon their preferences (e.g., neighborhoods with many children or with many elderly people; or neighborhoods with ethnic groups who want to grow vegetables not available in local stores). Christy’s personality, dedication, and leadership skills were crucial to the organization’s continuing success. Over the years it was discovered that gardens created by outside agencies (e.g. the Department of Housing and Urban Development) and then handed over to local residents fell into disrepair after a short time. Only those in which decision-making and leadership emerged from the community were successful. People develop a sense of ownership in gardens where they themselves have worked, as opposed to public parks. People say to themselves, “I planted that tree, I put in that bench, I grew this zucchini,” etc. And the community organizations went on to many other projects to improve their neighborhoods.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. By working as a community, residents were able to create a healthier urban environment. The idea of community gardens fit well with an urban population in need of green space and places to congregate and socialize. Many were also unemployed and in need of work and healthy food. As the ecosystem changed, people began to recognize it as a source of nutrition. As neighborhood quality improved, people began to take pride in it and dedicated themselves to improving it even further. Garden rules were important (e.g., no drug dealing, respect for others, maintaining an active garden in one’s assigned plot, and using organic methods), as well as penalties for breaking the rules, which were mild for small infractions and stronger for more serious infractions. The gardens evolved to fulfill more social needs: food pantries, community organizing, stages for performances, classrooms.

“Letting nature do the work.” Plants were chosen that grew well in New York without intensive artificial inputs. Manure from police horses and compost from local households provided natural fertilizers, ensuring high soil quality and making it unnecessary to use chemical fertilizers. While starting a garden is labor-intensive, once nature took over it produced many benefits that might have cost even more labor: reducing crime; providing food; improving environmental quality and the appearance of the neighborhood; creating a community meeting place.

Rapid results.  Removing the garbage from a vacant lot and creating a green space took only a few weeks or months. Small, early successes, such as delicious food and attractive flowers, stimulated further efforts toward success. One growing season was enough to have an impact on the local neighborhood. A prominent article in the newspaper spread the idea, and other gardens began to spring up through local community effort. These in turn inspired others. The community garden movement spread to other U.S. cities (e.g., Boston and Chicago) and even to European cities (London, Paris, Rome).

A powerful symbol. Liz Christy, a charismatic and energetic leader, became a powerful symbol of the Green Guerilla movement. The gardens became sacred spaces with an emotional attachment for the people who created them. They also became symbols of community pride and self-sufficiency.

Overcoming social obstacles. Initially the “guerilla gardeners” were threatened with trespass charges and evictions for occupying vacant lots. To the city government, the concept of the public taking over property was alien. But the gardeners were able to rally public opinion and eventually to negotiate very affordable leases. Years later, when property values increased, developers began to eye the “vacant” lots, and the city started to sell them, the gardeners were able to form a coalition to secure the long-term status of most of the gardens. Later, federal funding and the city’s Green Thumb program strengthened the community gardens movement.

Social and ecological diversity. Because the gardens were managed by neighborhood organizations, they reflected the great diversity of cultures in New York City. The Hispanic gardens had chickens and goats; the Chinese gardens had religious symbols. The neighborhoods also developed various approaches to problems such as garden pests. Ecologically, a more diverse landscape is more pleasing for the urban residents. Besides introducing a variety of useful and colorful vegetation where once only weeds grew, the gardens attracted birds and insects that served as pollinators for plants throughout the city.

Social and ecological memory. The early gardens in low-income neighborhoods in particular reflected a diversity of cultural heritages. Immigrants from the Caribbean and African Americans from the South put their “social memory” to work, recreating gardens that featured the flavors of home. Not only farming techniques, but also skills that the gardeners brought from varied backgrounds – such as public relations, fundraising, teaching, law, and other professions – contributed to the gardens’ success. Ecologically, the soil, which had been used to produce crops in earlier centuries, may have retained some of its agricultural capacity from earlier years

Building resilience. The gardens were sacred public spaces, where (unlike a vacant lot) it was “taboo” to dump trash. The community solidarity and social cohesion that developed around them allowed residents to defend their gardens and to take action on other issues affecting their neighborhoods such as crime and trash. A positive feedback loop developed in which better neighborhood quality led to more community pride and commitment, and attracted more residents. More people on the streets reinforced control of crime, illegal dumping, etc. and stimulated more shops to open, which in turn improved neighborhood quality. As some of the neighborhoods evolved from low-income to higher-income districts, the gardens evolved to include low-maintenance plants as a place to relax rather than grow food. When the city government started to sell off garden lots to developers, the gardeners had the experience, neighborhood pride, organization, and confidence to engage successfully in the public opinion and legal battles that saved most of the gardens.

Community Mangrove Management (Trang, Thailand)

Outside stimulation and facilitation. Yadfon, a small organization that works with impoverished coastal villages in Trang Province, provided the initial stimulus for villagers to improve their situation. The organization donated materials, and the villagers designed and built a well to improve water supply during the dry season. Next, Yadfon helped them form a cooperative buying program and a revolving loan fund to reduce reliance on usurious middlemen. When the villagers came up with the idea of reviving the coastal mangrove forests, Yadfon served as the go-between with provincial forestry authorities to get permission to create a community-managed forest.

Strong local democratic institutions and enduring commitment of local leadership. Yadfon and its leader, Pisit Charnsnoh, remained committed to the long-term efforts of coastal villages in Trang Province. Bu Nuansri, the local imam, led the effort of organizing Leam Markham and several neighboring villages to establish a 235-acre community-managed forest and seagrass conservation zone. An inter-village network began meeting, sharing information and exchanging ideas. Similarly, the 10 community-managed forests that were later modeled after Leam Markham are also managed by a group of villages surrounding or depending on these forests. The regular meetings and information sharing are very important in participatory planning and protection of the forests. This in turn has helped to transform the passive, apathetic attitude of villagers to a newfound sense of engagement, solidarity, and confidence for action. School children are involved as well, surveying and documenting the regrowth of plants and planting seedlings.

Co-adaption between social system and ecosystem. The villages organized themselves to manage the restoration of their common resources. They now feel it is their duty to conserve the resources for the next generation. Replanting mangroves and seagrass was a shared effort. Boundaries for conservation zones were clearly marked, and the rules were clear. Community organizing also gave villagers the manpower and confidence to defend their resources against outside commercial interests. For the first time, fishing trawlers that ventured into local waters were challenged. A local corporation was successfully sued for a palm oil spill that killed a large number of fish. Yadfon is also working at higher levels of government for legislation for community forestry and coastal zone protection.

“Letting nature do the work.” Mangroves function as a “nursery” for marine life, protection against coastal erosion, and source of many products useful to local residents. They serve as a buffer to filter sediment out of rivers flowing to the ocean, thereby protecting coral reefs in the nearby ocean from sedimentation. Seagrass provides “pastures” for fish, crabs, prawns, mollusks, and dugongs. Thus the replanting of mangroves and seagrass led to wide-ranging benefits, including revival of the coastal fishery. Fishermen spend less money on gas and less time in their boats to make a greater income than before. Even children can easily catch crabs in the mangroves. In recent years, the movement has extended from the coast to cover the entire watersheds feeding the mangroves, in order to ensure not only healthy landscapes for villages in upland areas but also an ecologically healthier water supply to the mangroves and adjacent ocean below.

Rapid results.  Estuary products came back fast after community restoration work. The price of seafood also increased, leading to an amplification of the economic benefits. Leam Markham’s model spread to other areas; Yadfon went on to participate in national and international movements to preserve mangroves and stop shrimp farming.

A powerful symbol. A powerful symbol—the dugong—emerged unexpectedly in a regenerated seagrass bed. Because of fishing, pollution, noise, and habitat destruction dugongs had not been seen in the area for a long time. Media attention on the first dugong, nicknamed Tone, was instrumental in consolidating government support for seagrass protection zones. The dugong became a symbol for Yadfon and Trang Province, and eventually a national symbol for coastal conservation. Successful villagers consider themselves be a powerful symbol as well. The media, delegations from other villages, domestic and foreign NGO’s, and government officials have come to visit the villages, bolstering their pride and image as models of success.

Overcoming social obstacles. During the “negative tip,” coastal villagers became increasingly impoverished and indebted, forcing them to work on charcoal harvesting, aquaculture ponds, and commercial trawlers that further damaged mangroves and artisanal fisheries, reduced their capacity to earn a living from those resources, and increased their dependence on the destructive jobs. During the positive tip, it was not easy to break away from entrapment in the destructive jobs, devoting time and commitment to community projects. This may have been helped by the fact that this was a Muslim community and the local imam took an active role. Normally, 40-60% of villagers participate in community projects, enough to ensure satisfactory results. Village women’s cooperatives began income generation projects using forest products to make handicrafts.  Some of these products are sold through Yadfon’s marketing channels, thus creating a viable economic alternative.

Social and ecological memory. Villagers are rediscovering their traditional ways of working together. They are also sharing their knowledge about plant uses, benefits, where they are found, and most importantly, their status.  In this process, villagers develop their own insights about disappearing resources, or rebounding ones, and are able to connect these changes to activities in the village or in the surrounding areas. Once the coastal ecosystems are set on a course of restoration, the nature’s “memory” does the work to achieve complete ecological recovery.

Building resilience. Resilience has been improved in various ways: (a) the villagers are empowered to protect their community property; (b) mangroves protect coastal areas against storms and protect coastal waters from upland pollution; (c) mangroves provide additional sources of income for the monsoon season, when fishers cannot go out in their boats.

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