Bioshields in Tamil Nadu

The Need
The unique geography of the 1,076 km Tamil Nadu coastline makes it one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. In fact, on an average, a moderate to severe cyclone hits the region every two years. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami had shown the extent of devastation that can be caused in this coastal region.

Coastal vegetation, such as bioshields, acts as a buffer zone during extreme events. It can mitigate damage and even save human lives. One such coastal plantation is the bio-shield. This vegetation belt serves as a barrier to sea borne calamities, shore line erosion, storm surges and sand dust. It is useful not only as a shelter, but for ecological services as well.

How we helped
After careful evaluation, SEEDS decided to promote a multi-layered and multi-species bioshield in five villages in Thiruvallur district. Working with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and University of Madras, the aim was to combine ecological security and livelihood security.

During the first phase, SEEDS focused on awareness building, the planting and care of the saplings. Local involvement was one of the critical success factors, starting with what to plant. The community prioritised casuarinas, coconut, pugamia, thespesia and neem for the bioshield area. Materials came from local nurseries and the planting was done by the community themselves.

In the second phase, the villages took on the active role of managing the bioshield, backed with our technical support. Sand bar cultivation was added to enhance economic value and help diversify the fishing community’s livelihood. A mixture of red sand and compost manure was filled in the pits in one village to cultivate brinjal, bhindi, greens and tomato. The yield results were shared among the villagers. The result instilled greater interest among women across villages.

Aside from the bioshield itself, better information management was needed. Fishermen felt access to ‘scientific’ information from the government would be useful.

In the final year, a Village Information and Knowledge Centre (VIKC) was established equipped with two computers, internet access and a range of resource materials on fishing. This was complemented with a voice message-based information system (to address illiteracy issues). The concept built on an existing service used amongst farmers cooperatives across India. The topics varied from wind or wave direction and height to the prices of fish procurement in Chennai’s major markets.

Leaving a mark
The bio-shield has successfully developed, covering an area of 35,721 square metres with healthy trees by the end of the programme. There was also a noticeable change in the perception of the communities towards bio-shields and an interest in increasing the cover.  In fact, witnessing the results achieved here, others villages showed interest in developing similar bioshields along their coastline.

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