Pampa Dolui is from Udayan, a small village among the mangroves of Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha, India. Her early childhood memories are of her family’s rice paddy fields and clear water ponds. As a 15-year-old, Pampa also experienced the devastation of the 1999 Odisha cyclone – reckoned to be the most severe storm to ever strike the Indian state.
Besides extreme weather, communities in Odisha also faced other challenges – especially in recent years. “People don’t work anymore. Everyone now is renting out their fields for shrimp cultivation, just to make INR 10,000-15,000 (US $156-233) a year. They don’t realise that this has made our land saline,” Pampa told a team from the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE), a local NGO that visited Odisha in August 2016.
“Both my sons work on fishing trawlers,” Pampa’s mother-in-law lamented, “And I don’t know when they will return. Nothing grows in the fields anymore. Banana trees are turning brown from the salinity.”
SAFE has been working in the region for past three years. In 2016, in collaboration with MFF’s small grant programme, SAFE promoted new technologies for integrated aquafarming to local communities.
Through the 'Integrated Aqua-farming in Inundated Coastal Areas of Odisha towards Alternative Livelihood and Climate Adaptive Community Conservation Program initiative,' SAFE introduced fish cage and pen farming in ponds, a sustainable method for securing livelihoods.
Pampa was the first to offer her pond to the SAFE team for training and demonstration on pen and cage methods for fish farming. Within a week, her father, Kishori Mohan, joined the new venture. He said, “I repeatedly told the other villagers not to lose paddy fields to prawns, and not to lose the mangroves as they protect our coastlines from storms, but nobody cares.”
Kishori had earlier participated in crab fattening programs, but couldn’t start his own business because of acute poverty. Kishori and Pampa worked together. They grew fish and crabs, and cultured algae for fish feed and livestock fodder. Other villagers took a more cautious approach – watching to ascertain the efficacy of the methods.
Alongside the SAFE team, local schoolchildren, forest guards and rangers, Pampa also gathered her friends, relatives and other women from local villages to observe ‘Mangrove Action Day’, to plant a thousand mangrove saplings.
Coming into the monsoon season, and after seven months of work, the success of Pampa’s aquaculture project was beginning to show. As a result, other women from the neighbourhood and surrounding villages came together to help in the venture.
Despite the failure of other crops in the area after exceptionally heavy monsoon rains and flooding – causing saline water to enter the paddy fields – Pampa and her group managed to harvest and sell 278 kilos of fish, and 88 full size crabs, each weighing 400 grams.
Algae trays also provided a bountiful harvest in the heavy rain, providing regular food for her cattle. “The new method has helped my learning,” says Pampa. “We had thought about leaving this place and going far from here, but did not know what we would do for a living. As of now, there is increase in our earnings. I can now spend more on my children’s health and education.” Pampa’s husband also no longer needs to work on the fishing trawlers as there’s plenty of work at home.
Pampa has seen that while there may be the promise of quick profits in prawn farming, the dangers are too great. “These new methods of aquaculture offer livelihood options that are resilient to extreme climate events, and they also help to conserve the mangroves which help keep our families safe,” said Pampa.
This story was contributed by Archana Chatterjee, MFF National Coordinator for India. Archana drafted the piece following the IUCN Asia Strategic Communications for Conservation Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, which took place in July.
Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based regional initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. MFF focuses on the role that healthy, well-managed coastal ecosystems play in building the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. The initiative uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem, but MFF is inclusive of all types of coastal ecosystem, such as coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses and wetlands. MFF is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, and is funded by Danida, Norad, and Sida and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Thailand.