Women in Bhitarkanika join the crusade to save mangroves!

Location: Orissa, India. 22nd Mar 2013

The Bhitarkanika mangrove sanctuary is the life force for the majority of coastal communities living in the Kendrapara district of Orissa, India. Although the sanctuary serves to protect fundamental ecosystem services and diversity, several communities in the region feel disassociated from the mangroves on which they directly and indirectly depended on for their lives and livelihoods. This has forced them, to now rely on the degraded mangroves on the fringe of the sanctuary. When necessary the communities illegally fish or extract wood and other resources from within the sanctuary. Amongst the most vulnerable of the sections of communities to be affected by this state of affairs are women folk in these villages

With the objective of strengthening and sustaining community stewardship in conservation, restoration and management of the mangroves, the MFF India Small Grants Projects with APOWA restored and rehabilitated over 12 hectares of mangroves on community owned land in 10 villages. At the forefront of this drive were sixteen female members of Maa Mangala SHG of Basantpur village, encouraged in part by the reasoning that the mangroves would provide better livelihoods for their children. They participated in the mass mangrove plantations and are continuing to protect and monitor these sites through frequent field visits. This marked the first time in Basantpur village that women members willingly left their homes and gave up time to participate in decision-making meetings and to work long hours in the field to restore the mangroves.

The project further strengthened governance structures at the local/village levels on natural resource management. This was achieved with the development of Village Mangrove Councils (VMCs) in ten villages in the district. The VMCs were charged with the mandate of overseeing the sustainable use of resources and maintaining mangrove ecosystem health. In addition to being capacity built in mangrove management, women in the community succeeded in becoming members of the VMCs. They were furthered empowered to join various decision-making bodies including the Disaster Resilience Committee, which specifically deals with disaster preparedness. One of the first initiatives the VMCs supported was the development of vegetable gardens, which local women adopted enthusiastically as a time and effort efficient supplementary livelihood. Towards the end of the project several families reported an average 10% increase in their monthly income from selling vegetables, as well as increased food security.

Voices of Change

Several communities have relocated their villages in Bhitarkanika a number times with the original locations of the villages currently 2 km in the Bay of Bengal. Urmila (photo above) explained that the only solution the authorities could come up with was to build a sea-wall of mud, which she disagreed with. When APOWA started the Disaster Resilience Committee and the VMCs, Urmila joined as Secretary and as a member respectively. 

 

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Women partake in mangrove plantation, Kendrapara, Orissa, India © APOWA, 2012

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