Taming the Tide
Local women join the effort to revive the mangroves
Sabita Sardar, Malina, Malati Haldar and scores of other womenfolk in Garankhatti village in the Sundarbans had watched with horror as Cyclone Aila washed away their homes and fields on May 25, 2009. Eight years on, they are part of the Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), an agency working with some 18,000 local women to regenerate mangroves over 5,000 hectares of land in the Sundarbans. The aim is to revive mangroves as a ‘bioshield’ against the vagaries of the high tides.
Before Aila, NEWS was working with funds from the British government on a small project over 100 hectares of land in Mathurakhand in 20072008. The scope of their work increased dramatically after the cyclone. Garankhatti and Sonagaon, two villages worst hit by Aila, had virtually no mangrove plantations. So when the cyclone struck, back flows of seawater into the Matla and other rivers in the area inundated the entire area. An estimated 80,000 people lost their homes. “The damage of Aila is a festering memory for them. So it wasn’t difficult to rope in the locals, especially women, to join us,” says Ajanta Dey, programme director at NEWS.
The locals plant saplings and watch over them as they grow. Woman workers are paid 0.20 paise to Rs 1.50 for a seed and Rs 3.50 per sapling grown in home nurseries. Women mangrove sevaks are paid Rs 3,000 a month to guard the plants.
“Initially, the vil
lagers signed up as it was an incomegenerating proposition,” says Dey, adding that over time they understood that it would also be protection for their homes. Regenerating 20,000 sq. km of the Sundarbans delta needed equally generous funding. Danone, a Frenchowned global food company on the lookout for carbonneutralising and carbonoffsetting strategies, tied up with 11 other French corporate entities to fund the project. With global majors like Schneider Electric, Hermes, SAP etc, they established ‘Livelihoods’. Launched in 2010, the project has already brought 5,000 hectares of the delta plains—from Raimangal to Sagar—under mangrove cultivation. That’s 16 million plants, which add up to a most impressive 14 per cent increase in the area under mangroves. NEWS is now collaborating with a German company, Global Nature Fund, to link the mangrove planters to smart, climateintegrated family farming. Explaining the concept, Dey says: “Those who take an active part in protecting the mangroves will get startup assistance to develop organic and poultry farms on land close to their homes.”
New mangrove plantations in the Sundarbans TAKING ROOT SUBIR HALDER