Strengthening climate resilience of vulnerable communities with nature-based solutions

Women groups in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district, who have survived cyclones like Aila and Amphan have now taken mangrove plantations to create green embankments. Besides cooking, sending their children to school, taking care of the family and keeping their mud huts tidy, they now get together to plant mangrove trees in the area to create a green embankment that would prove crucial not just to their survival but to their ecosystem as well.

Till a few years back, inhabitants of this rich but vulnerable delta region were cutting the mangroves to clear the land for agriculture and sources of income. They are gradually realizing how these actions have changed their way of life forever, as the slowly rising sea levels have started engulfing the islands, the influx of saline water has rendered the soil unfit for agriculture forcing the men to migrate to cities for work. With support from NVIDIA, Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) has been working with these women to restore life and livelihood of coastal communities in Sundarbans by reviving nature as a solution.

Thirty-five-year-old Namita Samanta, group leader of Forest Protection Self-help group (SHG) of gram panchayat and Village – Laxmijanardhanpur, Block – Patherpratima and District-South 24 Parganas-West Bengal, has been planting the mangroves for many years explains, “We nurture the saplings and then sell them to different NGOs. These saplings are then handed back to us to be planted on the banks to protect the coast from erosion. The reason we have taken up mangrove plantations in our village is that the mangroves will protect the embankment in the future. Otherwise, the saline river water breaches the banks during surges, flooding our fields and destroying the crops. It causes us great inconvenience. “It’s the women left behind who have taken up the responsibility of saving their rapidly eroding coastline. “It is time for us to do something. If we do not plant these trees, we will vanish,” (Shudu Mahila ra aei kaajtar jonne egeye esheche karon Purush ra bayeere kaajer jonno jaye, aei maati kaatno ja hocche oke aamra bachono jonne cheshta korchi nahole aamra shesh hoyejaabo). We have formed an SHG to carry out the mangrove plantation work. Along with the plantation, we also nurture the saplings and protect them from animal grazing. It is easy to identify a women group leader in the area, most often an older woman who has lesser family responsibilities, and then convince her to go door to door to conduct an awareness drive. At first, it had taken a while to persuade women to take out time for planting mangrove saplings but now as the awareness about climate change has increased, we strongly believe that this way we would be able to preserve the environment and our homes.

Namita explained the detailed process of the mangrove plantation. One mode is to collect fruits or seeds and develop them into saplings, while the other is to collect and plant them directly on the river bank, which is an easier process. But the quality of fruits is not predictable. The fruit may produce a mangrove plant or may not grow at all. Monitoring and nurturing is one of the major roles in protecting the mangrove plants in their growing stages, apart from volunteers, villagers also play an active role in protecting mangroves. Women of SHGs take turns to guard the mangrove saplings, shooing away anyone trying to harm them. The women alert the panchayats if anyone uproots trees, as they have realized that to survive in the Sundarbans, they have to protect the mangroves, even though the species are hard to nurture in the current scenario of climate change.

This project is supporting the livelihood of the communities by providing them with work and compensation. By enabling small business of mangrove trading by opening small nurseries and linking them with the market, the community will be able to earn extra income which will help them to support their family and lead a better life.

You can also help to regulate the natural ecosystem and revive dying water bodies by assisting coastal communities with wetland-friendly livelihoods and conserving wetlands.