Tam­ing the Tide

Lo­cal women join the ef­fort to re­vive the man­groves

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

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

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