ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOOD DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES IN SUNDARBANS
Sundarbans, located on the southern part of the Bengal Delta, is the single largest deltaic tidal mangrove forest in the world, with an area of 10,200 km2 area, spreading over4, 263 km2 in India and 5,937 km2 in Bangladesh. Agriculture is the major livelihood in this region and Fishing along with aquaculture forms the second largest livelihood of the coastal communities in Sundarbans. However, due to severe effects of climate change, sea level rise and coastal flooding, these two livelihood options are under threat in this region. Hence, SEED (Society for Socio Economic and Ecological Development) has been working since last one decade in this region to develop different alternative livelihood in Sundarbans.
Agriculture practices are influenced by fresh water availability, rainfall, soil salinity etc. of the region. Sea level rise, saline water intrusion, erratic rain fall and increase in intensity of natural disasters pose serious threat to the natural condition required for agriculture. Again, in islands like Ghoramara, Mousuni and some areas of Sagar like Muriganga, the agricultural lands are decreasing every year due to breaching of embankments and saline water intrusion. Large section of the community is landless labours. So, they are the poorest and in the worst socio-economic condition.
SEED is building up capacity to reduce economic vulnerability of climate change by following activities in different sectors of livelihood generation. We are working with more than 700 women SHGs (self Help Groups) and 10 FPGs (Fish Production Groups) covering more than 10000 families in Sundarbans who have been given capacity building trainings in different livelihood activities which are discussed below-
Climate Adaptive Agriculture
- Provided capacity building trainings to the farmers on organic farming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to a great extent. Organic agriculture is being considered as one of the appropriate farming systems that could serve the twin objectives of climate change mitigation as also adaptation. Workshops on sustainable agriculture were organized with technical guidance of eminent agricultural scientists from Central Integrated Pest Management Centre (CIPMC), Government of India.
- Introduced SRI method of paddy cultivation which requires low water and is labour intensive. Precision farming and low carbon agriculture practices were introduced with technical support from Food and Agriculture Engineering Department, IIT, Kharagpur, West Bengal.
- Capacity building training on Integrated Pest Management, scientific use of Bio-fertilizers, preparation of vermin compost etc. The farmers were also taught the soil testing methods before applying water and fertilizer to their fields.
- Betel vine and vegetable cultivators were trained in organic method of betel vine cultivation to increase the quality and yield of their product. Provided trainings on water conservation and use of appropriate quantity of water usage in the betel vine (Paan) farm as excessive use of water was causing damage of a huge amount of crops every year. Regular expert visits to the beetle vine farms and vegetable farms were arranged so that they receive inputs from them based on their individual field problems.
- Salt tolerant variety of paddies was given to 28 farmers of Sagar Island and 12 farmers in Mousuni Island for introducing the species for commercial farming. It was organized in association with Rice Research Institute, Government of West Bengal. The paddies were given to the farmers whose cultivable lands turned sterile following salt water intrusion during the huge coastal flooding in July 2014.
Pond Excavation and Community Kitchen for the Lodha Community
A small group of the primitive Lodha tribe community is living in Sagar Island. Being primitive, they were unskilled in any other livelihood activities than hunting and honey collecting. They were involved in excavating 6 ponds in their village Radhakrishnapur and trained in aquaculture as alternative livelihood. Now, around 14 Lodha families are involved in integrated fish cultivation in these ponds. They were also encouraged to grow vegetables to add to their nutrient value in daily diet. The Lodha women were trained in Kitchen gardening. This has changed their food habits and malnutrition level has lowered among their children. Earlier, they used to eat only meat and rice which they couldn't afford on daily basis. So, they turned to local made alcohol to avoid the pain of hunger.
Climate Adaptive Aquaculture
The climate change is posing a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of the fish farmers as there is a great change in the ecosystem on which they depend. Climate change has reduced growth rate of certain fishes in natural habitat mainly due to increased salinity level and cost of fish cultivation has also increased. SEED is providing support to the local fishermen community and those CBO members who are having their own ponds but are not skilled enough to make it a meaningful livelihood. Several activities have so far been carried out to build up the capacity of the local fishermen and provide alternative livelihood in Sundarbans-
- Group and Samsad level meetings were organized to motivate the community to take up aquaculture and fishery as sustainable livelihood in the changing climate condition and offering technical and theoretical training by Aquaculture experts.
- 10 Fish Production Groups were formed in Rudranagar GP of Sagar Island and they were imparted capacity building training on preparation of their ponds for aquaculture and fishery, choosing appropriate species of fishes to be cultivated, fingerling density, harvesting etc. within their limited water bodies. These 10 FPGs were then linked with Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY) and they are getting support under the programme for their aquaculture activities. This programme has benefited 145 fish farmers of the island in developing a better livelihood.
- The prawn seed collectors including women were informed about the ill-effects of the practice on biodiversity and they were motivated to undertake aquaculture as alternate livelihood. They were imparted trainings on homestead aquaculture with scientific method. They were also provided training on culture and crab fattening in tidal fed ponds as an alternate livelihood option.
Capacity Building through Training on Nature based Handicraft Item preparation
Agriculture and to some extent aquaculture and fishery are usually seasonal in nature and a considerable section of communities look for an alternative livelihood in Sundarbans during the lean seasons. To cater that need, a number of handicraft and entrepreneurship development trainings were organized to such women who have also a basic aptitude of learning and taking art as a profession during leisure time in additions to their main livelihood.
Training on preparing Clay Dolls and Batik Printing
Followed by a need assessment and skill assessment, SEED provided training on preparation of nature based handicraft Items to 18 CBOs of Sagar Island. Thus, more than 250 women were trained in preparing photo frames, lamp shades, handbags, pen stands, mobile holders etc. made of water hyacinth, clay dolls, jute bags, paper bags, batik printing on cloth items and embroidery etc.
Capacity Building training on Low methane emitting Animal Husbandry
Animal Husbandry is a major livelihood option for the rural coastal communities of Sundarbans. Many households do not possess enough cultivable land so animal husbandry comes handy and lucrative for them. But, they are not aware of the fact that methane from cattle is an important factor leading to climate change. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more powerful than CO2.
So, SEED provided them training on practicing low methane emitting Animal Husbandry. The experts imparted 3 days training to 24 SHGs in 3 batches thus covering more than 350 households.
Removal of methane from exhaust air of animal houses and manure storage has a large potential for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from animal husbandry. They were taught proper management of animal husbandry to reduce significant amount of methane gas emission in the environment through 'Zero waste Management'.
The suggestions offered to them included - increasing the efficiency of production by improving animal health, reproduction and genetics. The methane is produced by decomposition of livestock manure, under anaerobic conditions. They were taught to prepare bio gas from livestock manure. This will also add to their energy supply without paying extra for the grid electricity. The cattle farm owners were advised to use feed additives and use grass which lowers methane release.