Knowledge for Resilience: A Case Study

24 September 2010 | News story

What happens to traditional fishermen’s multi-generational knowledge when the young people do not follow the tradition? CEC member Andrea Déri presents a case study on how young people revitalised and re-contextualised intergenerational learning for biodiversity conservation in the Lakshadweep archipelago, India.

Case Study

What happens to traditional fishermen’s multi-generational knowledge when the new generation, young people do not follow the tradition? Lost? and found! Those elements of the knowledge are’lost’which are not used, and those aspects are ‘found’ which are transformed for a new use. This is happening in Kavaratti, the capital atoll of the Lakshadweep archipelago, India where six young people, in their twenties, interested in biodiversity conservation and committed to support their families, work with local fishermen to raise awareness of marine biodiversity through community-based environmental education.

Like all youth in Lakshadwep, Sameer and his friends had three career options: continuing traditional pole and line tuna fishing, pursuing higher education for a government job or experimenting with a local business. Having tested several ideas they opened a ‘beach café’ which met only scepticism in a traditional fishing community, especially for its location, Sandy Beach, the deserted tip of the 10 km long coral island. Over six years, however, the business has been proven to be successful (serving 400 people a day with a peak of 2,500 on major events like Eid) and also capable of modelling a new type of small, sustainable business that creates jobs, trains young people, strengthens the community’s social capital and monitors its biodiversity.

The beach café, a public place for meeting friends over a cup of tea with traditional snacks around sunset, soon progressed into a registered charity, the Sandy Beach Cultural and Ecotourism Society, when they realised a keen interest in local biodiversity: children don’t learn about their local environment, coral reefs, at school, and women never get to see the reef save the reef-crest where they occasionally collect cowries. So, Sameer and his friends invited elders to help design a glass-bottom boat - ‘Pittiyahala’ - modelled after traditional fishing boats (‘odam’) and equipped with new features like a roof that also supports the solar panels for the sound system. Following local fishermen’s suggestions, they designed an hour long guided field trip to show and explain local community members the reef and its diverse marine biodiversity.

Since 2007 about 3,200 people (a quarter of the island’s population) participated in the glass-bottom trips and provided feedback to the increasingly popular programme which is now attracting the attention of a local primary school as well. The interaction of various age-cohorts, professional and social groups in this new and inspiring context – being in the ‘same boat’ - facilitates the exchange of different layers of local knowledge, e.g. ’empirical knowledge’ on local animals, plants, land- and seascapes, sea-currents, weather patterns, ‘paradigmatic knowledge’ on their interactions, and their role in the community’s social institutions. It also connects local ecological knowledge and western scientific knowledge. Conservation of local ecological knowledge can not happen through detailed description of related practices, rules and beliefs ; it requires motivated social learning context like in Sandy Beach where knowledge construction is an on-going process, part of a dynamic conversion of implicit-explicit knowledge through individual and social learning phases.

Isolation of generations is also an important driver of the local marine resources’ rapid decline in addition to population growth , changing lifestyle and climate change. As generations are getting more isolated, even on a small coral island, communication pattern changes and compromises the opportunities for inter-generational learning which is critical in monitoring local biodiversity change, responding to recurrent disruptions and building resilience to cope with unexpected perturbations.

By re-vitalising and re-contextualising their traditional inter-generational learning system these young people are contributing to the development of a new ‘knowledge-practice-belief complex’ and creating opportunities of making fishermen’s multi-generational knowledge accessible for both current and future generations’ resilience.

This case study has been made possible by the kind and generous cooperation of Rushikesh Chavan, Sameer M.C. and his friends and colleagues of the Sandy Beach Cultural and Ecotourism Society, Kavaratti, India. I am indebted to their support.

Andrea Déri at


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