V2V-ENGAGE Winter field school in Kumimari (India)

V2V-ENGAGE Winter field school in Kumimari (India)

The inaugural edition of the Sundarbans Winter Field School on Transboundary, Transdisciplinarity, and Transformation through Transitions took place in the Kumirmari village of Indian Sundarbans from 19 – 26 January 2024. This year’s theme was ‘Social-Ecological Resilience for Vulnerability to Viability in the Sundarbans’  Riskscape’.

Center for Sustainable Development, ULAB in collaboration with University of WaterlooIndian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, University of Lausanne – UNIL, SAJIDA Foundation and Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch (SJSM) have successfully organized the Sundarbans Winter Field School in Kumirmari, Gosaba Block, Sundarbans, India. Starting on January 19th, 2024, the remote rural setting of Kumirmari have gathered 30 people, including members from the local communities hosts and the SJSM NGO and researchers (seniors, early career researchers and graduate students from academia) to engage in an in-depth discussions, learning sessions, and collaborative brainstorming with the aim of exploring social-ecological theories and their practical uses to foster democratic dialogues and exchanges among participants, creating a conducive environment for understanding and crafting just transitions from environmental vulnerability to community viability in the long run. The field school encompassed a total of six days- concluding on 24th January, 2024.

The versatile and interactive platform of the Sundarbans Winter Field School has equipped the participants with concepts, approaches, and methods through the classroom teaching practices and then they took the learning into the field training while engaging with the community. Sundarbans Winter Field School expects that the theoretical, conceptual, and practical insights and knowledge gained during these six days will enhance the critical problem solving skills and the participants will take this learning further by contributing towards just and equitable vulnerability to viability transitions for sustainable transformation and eventually to the broader goal of sustainable development.

ENGAGE4Sundarbans team arrived a few days before the winter school, starting from the 16th of February in Kumirmari, to benefit from 10 days of intensive field research. We planned to test our survey tools (Questionnaire, FGD, KII), brainstorm on paper outlines and collaborate on the development of a paper on 4T concepts e.g. Transdisciplinary, Transboundary, Transformation and Transition led by the V2V team.

Here is our field diary

16th to 19th of January : ENGAGE 4 Sundarbans Field work before the meeting with V2V

On the 16th of January, we started from Kolkata early in the morning. The winter mist was covering the coastal plain and the large agricultural fields. We could see the large area of wetlands in the east of Kolkata and the large drainage system of waste. Then, we crossed 100km of kilometres of shrimp farms (locally called gher). This inspired us for our manuscript on shrimp farming and supply chains which depend on the global market of shrimp.  

Our small Maruti drove us until the first ghat, where we needed to take a boat to cross a tidal river. We took again a second Maruti, and a second boat to finally reach Kumirmari.  

In the evening, we arrived at Kumirmari and discovered the Sundarban bari. We were struck to see the production of Brinjal (aubergines) and carrots and vegetables. Souradip also showed us the experimental pond on our campus. The Kumirmari Bari campus was created only two years ago. The land was given by our team member Debajyoti and Tapas Mondal helped a lot to develop the site. The village community also joined the effort and was now preparing the camp to host our winter school members. They were also thankfully cooking delicious vegetables and local fish products for us!  

The next day, the 17th of January, we went for a walk to look at the planting of paddy. we were able to observe the entire process, from the burning of the last season’s straw to the preparation of nurseries and the transplantation in the field. When we came back, Mahmuda and Biplob were fishing in the pond.  

On the 18th of January, we woke up early in the morning, without any breakfast, we started our day by running some of our Questionnaires and observing the conditions of the Kumirmari embankment. We could observe the very weak condition of the embankment, even during the dry season. We went to the area where a strong embankment was built in 20XX. But this embankment was damaged by Aila and subsequent cyclones. Only the trees could some patches of embankment. The mangrove remains also strengthen a part of it. After observing the embankment, we went to the house of the veterinary and our team organised an FGD with the inhabitants of the area.  

On the 19th, we went to another embankment to see the condition and run another FGD. The Monda community members explain to us how they used to go to the Sundarbans forest to harvest some small fishes and crabs, but how they feared the tigers. A fence was built along the bank of the Sundarban forest to limit the area of the tiger … 

 In the evening, 15 colleagues arrived at the camp. We worked all together on the concepts of Transboundary, Transdisciplinary, Transformation and Transition.  

20th January: First Day of the V2V-ENGAGE winter field school

The following day began with reflections on the previous day, followed by insightful sessions with Dr. Prateep and Dr. Jenia introducing the concept of the 4 Ts: Transboundary, Transdiscipline, Transformation, and Transition. Divided into groups, each focusing on one T, the day’s task involved household interviews to understand the local perspective through the lens of our chosen theme.

The afternoon sessions comprised presentations and discussions on our findings, setting the stage for the days to come. The day concluded with each participant sharing two elements from their research, fostering a culture of shared learning.

21st January: Biodiversity Walk and Social Walk

The day began with a biodiversity walk, discovering and tallying different species of wild birds. In the afternoon, a social walk explored various aspects of Kumirmari based on each group’s theme, culminating in insightful presentations on the findings.

22nd January: Focused Discussion Groups (FDGs)

Groups worked collaboratively, conducting Focused Discussion Groups with fixed audiences to gather points and ideas for the final presentation on the 23rd. The discussions revolved around the four Ts, uncovering key aspects of Kumirmari’s situation and proposing solutions.

Final Presentation and Conclusion:

On the 23rd, the Winter School reached its climax with presentations based on the findings. Technological advancement, social unity, gender equality through the Panchayat system, and various other factors emerged as highlighted aspects. The final suggestions and reflections by peers guided the formation of comprehensive group papers.

The Winter School concluded with a sightseeing tour of Sundarbans, providing a perfect ending to a knowledge-filled and memorable five-day journey. As we embarked on the 5-hour journey back to Bamun Ghat, the Winter School left us not just with knowledge but with enduring memories and a strengthened sense of community.

 

 

ENGAGE4Sundarbans hosts session on Agro-Ecology at the CSD conference

ENGAGE4Sundarbans hosts session on Agro-Ecology at the CSD conference

The Bengal River delta, with a population of 250 million, relies predominantly on agriculture. In Bangladesh, agriculture accounts for 13 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 40 percent of the total labour force. Despite efforts, agricultural production systems remain mostly traditional and subsistence-based. The progress towards a sustainable and diversified agriculture is crucial for the overall development of the country. However, coastal areas of Bangladesh and India are increasingly exposed to climate variabilities, such as frequent flooding, erratic rainfall, droughts, and salinity intrusion and affects the agriculture sector. Climate change, coupled with unsustainable agricultural practices, like shrimp farming, threatens future agricultural production, natural resource sustainability, and the integrity and quality of ecosystems.

In coastal Bangladesh, where land is only a few centimetres above sea level, large swathes of agricultural land are becoming degraded, and crop yields are shrinking due to increased salinity. This is impacting the livelihoods of millions. Therefore, Ecosystem-based Adaptation is the ultimate solution, as it uses biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to climate change, restores ecosystems while improving food production, and ensuring sustainable livelihoods for millions.

Ecosystem-based agriculture/agroecology (EBA) not only has the potential to provide sustainable livelihoods for millions but also to protect ecosystems, prevent land degradation, restore degraded lands, and support biodiversity.

The aforementioned points were discussed at a discussion session titled ‘Harvesting sustainability: Agro-ecology as climate resilient adaptation practices’ hosted by SAJIDA Foundation and organised at the CSD Conference on October 30, 2023.

The session focused on critical review of current ecosystem-based agriculture practices, considering their impact on livelihoods, ecosystem rejuvenation, and biodiversity conservation.

The welcome addresses were delivered by Rene Veron from the University of Lausanne and Dr. Samiya Selim from ULAB. Dharitri Kumar Sarker, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) was the Chief Guest at the event.

Individual presentations were shared at the session by three different practitioners Mohon Kumar Das, Executive Director of LEADERS; Julfiqar Haider, Programme Development Officer from SAJIDA Foundation, and Debojit Mondal and Shreashi Bhattacharya from Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch (SJSM) and IIT, Kharagpur.

A panel discussion was organised soon after, that explored the opportunities, and challenges Agro-ecology has to offer and the ways forward considering climate change and current policy landscape.

The panellists included Md. Shahariar jaman, Associate professor, Department of Agroforestry and Environmental Science, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University; Dr. A H M Shafiullah Habib, Professor, Department of Zoology, Jagannath university and Shreyashi Bhattacharya, PhD scholar, Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness, IIT Kharagpur.

SAJIDA Foundation co-hosted this session with ULAB as part of ENGAGE4Sundarbans project at the CSD Conference 2023 held at the ULAB premises.

River islands: redefining the anthropocene

River islands: redefining the anthropocene

The proposed two-day conference is organized by the departments of Sociology and Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, and The Australian National University. It is aimed at assembling the river island narratives, discussing and critically interrogating concepts and empirics, and enabling a meaningful conversation between early career researchers and senior, established scholars in the domain. The immediate output will be a special issue/section on river islands in an international, peer-reviewed journal that will include six to eight selected conference papers, with co-authorship being encouraged between junior and senior scholars (also adhering to gender inclusion and geographical representation principles).

The long-term goal however is to initiate a larger, more systematic conversation on river islands, across the global North and South, and promote interdisciplinary scholarly and action research on these hybrid ecologies through global partnership, facilitating cross-sectoral dialogues and collaborations.

Session Themes:
1. Islands, Anthropocene and decoloniality
2. Islands, place-making, and the everyday
3. Infrastructure, “development,” and sustainability of river islands
4. Islands as spaces of disaster and vulnerability
5. Island (id)entities along shifting times
6. Islands in relations: rethinking “islandness” in a globalized world

Monday 16th of October 2023 9:00AM-9:30AM INAUGURAL SESSION: Prof. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt,The Australian National University

9:30AM-11:00AM KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Prof. Jonathan Pugh Newcastle University: Negating Islands: Non-Relational Geographies see the discussion

11:15 AM – 12:45PM ISLANDS, ANTHROPOCENE AND DECOLONIALITY

Chair : Vipul Singh, University of Delhi

Amites Mukhopadhyay and Annu Jalais – Technocratic Plans of ‘managed retreat’ for the Waterscapes of the Sundarbans
Nazifa Ahmed – ‘You can’t brush aside people affected by climate change as Bangaldeshi illegal immigrants’ : The Perils of Misreading Char-life through Climate Reductionism Bhargabi Das – Land Favouring Colonial Politics and the Transformation of Relations: The Case of Boats in the Char-lands of Western Assam Kh. Neil Young – Drifting with the River: A Tale of the Mising on Majuli Island, Assam

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM ISLANDS IN RELATION: RETHINKING ‘ISLANDNESS’ IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD

Chair: Mahesh Rangarajan, Ashoka University

Panchali Ray- Dwelling by/with River: Rethinking Spatiality with Chora
Saad Quasem – Frequency of Fluidity: In Need of Temporality Sampurna Das- Rethinking River Islandness: Home-building among Kaim Brides in Assam Chars
Rahul Kumar Yaduka – Everyday life and People’s Resistance to State-led Flood Control Efforts in Kyoshi Diyara

3:30 PM – 5:00PM ISLANDS AS SPACES OF DISASTER AND VULNERABILITY

Chair : Mitul Baruah, Ashoka University

Kaniska Singh- From Valorization to Misrecognition: Shifting Construction of Kosi River Islanders as Non-Deserving and Implications for Disaster Vulnerability
Niranjan Jaladas – Struggles with (Invisible) Nature: Duba Charas and the Vulnerable Marine Fishers in the Indian Sundarbans

Archana Singh- Living in Flux: Marginalisation, Vulnerability and Everyday Life in the Ganga Diaras
Nabeela Siddiqui and Bharti – Enhancing Disaster Management Laws for Small Island Territories in India: A Case Study

3:30 PM – 5:00PM ISLANDS AS SPACES OF DISASTER AND VULNERABILITY

Chair : Mitul Baruah, Ashoka University

Kaniska Singh- From Valorization to Misrecognition: Shifting Construction of Kosi River Islanders as Non-Deserving and Implications for Disaster Vulnerability
Niranjan Jaladas – Struggles with (Invisible) Nature: Duba Charas and the Vulnerable Marine Fishers in the Indian Sundarbans

Archana Singh- Living in Flux: Marginalisation, Vulnerability and Everyday Life in the Ganga Diaras
Nabeela Siddiqui and Bharti – Enhancing Disaster Management Laws for Small Island Territories in India: A Case Study

5:30 PM – 7:00PM ISLANDS, PLACE-MAKING AND THE EVERYDAY – FILM SCREENINGS AND PHOTO EXHIBITION

Chair : Jenia Mukherjee, IIT Kharagpur

Mitul Baruah – Trailer of a documentary film on Majuli, Assam (A 3CS Project, Ashoka University)
Jenia Mukherjee (On behalf of the IIT-KGP team) – Seeing Like ‘hajira’ Workers: Gendered Renderings from Frasergunj, Sunderbans”

Eklavya Prasad – ‘Saga of the Unsettled’ (Photo Exhibition)

17th of October

9:00AM – 10:00AM KEYNOTE ADDRESS Prof. Arupjyoti Saikia IIT Guwahati Profits, Distress and Speculation: Assam’s River Islands in the Age of Colonialism

10:00AM-11:30AM ISLAND IMAGINARIES IN CULTURAL REPRESENTATIONS

Chair : Annu Jalais, Krea University

Amrita Dasgupta – Sisyphean Resilience: Sex Work on the Eroding Coast of the Sundarbans

Sohini Chakraborty – Nodir Khela and the Entangled Everyday: Crafting Places in the Sagar Island of West Bengal, India

Sayantan Roy Moulik and Souvik Roy Moulik- Vulnerable Islands: Mapping ‘bare lives’ at the Margins via Select Riverine Narratives Swagath Senan – The Island, the Ancestral Waters and the Anthropocene: Reading the Personal, Political and the Planetary in Sarah Joseph’s Aathi

11:45AM – 1:15PM ISLAND (ID)ENTITIES ALONG SHIFTING TIMES

Chair: Eklavya Prasad, Megh Pyne Abhiyan

Hajar Choukrani, Marcel Kuper and Margereet Zwarteveen – Recognizing the Shifting Identities of the ‘merjas‘ through the Lens of Sociohydrology

Shalini Iyengar – Islands in the Stream? A Legal-historical Analysis of the Chars in the Bengal Delta
Anindita Chakrabarty – Living the ‘Transient‘ : Navigating Citizenship in the Chars of Assam Baishali Bhaumik – Under the Canopy of Sundaris : The Everyday Struggle of the Women prawn-collectors of the Sundarbans

2:15 PM – 4:00 PM ‘DEVELOPMENT’, (DIS)POSSESSION, AND SUSTAINABILITY OF RIVER ISLANDS

Chair : Jenia Mukherjee, IIT Kharagpur

Javed Kaisar – Futures built on Sand: Rohingya Refugees on Bhashan Char Island, Bangladesh
Pinaki Chandra – Moral Economy and the Politics of Disposession in Chars in Lower Assam

Manu Bhatnagar and Sumesh Dudani – Need for a Riverine Islands Policy: A Case Study of the Ganga River
Raktim Majumder – Licenses and Operationalisation of Conservation in the Sundarbans: A Suturing of Knowledges Udip Das – Navigating Vulnerability and Resilience : Disaster Risk Mitigation in Kumirmari, SundarbansPlenary Session

4:15 PM – 5:45 PM River Island Studies: Possibilities and Pathways

5:45PM – 6:00PM VOTE OF THANKS

 

For more information click here

Project envisioning

Project envisioning

The discussion on ‘envisioning the project’ was centred on a few points – i) planning for local inceptions, ii) designing research methodology, and iii) research management (data sharing and data management). The Indian team targeted to ensure greater involvement of government officials during the subsequent phase of the project. The methodology section was designed by following an Archival to Ethnographic Exploration (A2E) approach whereas the archival part involves the consultation of the mainstream archive and oral history to have a better understanding of the Sundarbans as a ‘risk scope’. On primary data sources colonial archives (survey reports, district gazetteers, etc.) and revenue records would be consulted. The targeted timeline for the same is from July to November 2023. The country partners also felt the requirement of developing land use and land cover maps of both the study sites. Also, the first six months have been aimed to be invested in a systemic literature (both the academic and grey literature) review to capture many aspects of risks with the social-ecological system of Sundarbans. Based on these, the country teams would design their ethnographic field explorations. The country partners perceived that the targeted interventions must be performed by ensuring the effective participation all the stakeholders in a synergy of local activity, global connectivity, and academic responsibility. As most of the colonial data from the undivided Sundarbans are available at the West Bengal State Archive and other Archives in India, it is decided that the Indian team will take the lead in the archival front.

Figure 9. Project envisioning discussion at Sajida Foundation’s office

The second phase of the ‘Envisioning’ meeting was organized at the ULAB after having fresh insights from the exposure field trip to the Bangladesh Sundarbans. The teams aimed to work on the key themes of 1. experiments, 2. key Issues, 3. risks, 4. social resilience and 5. key indicators from both the Sundarbans. Previously it had been decided to exchange the data and ethnographic research tools like PPI (Probability Possibility Index) and SVA (Social Vulnerability Analysis) as employed by the Bangladeshi implementation partner Sajida Foundation. Later they decided to have an online exchange on the same which has been scheduled on July 10, 2023. It will be instrumental for the country teams (especially India) to design their desirable set of questionnaires which would cover a variety of themes. On the Indian front, it is chalked out to cover almost 450 households in terms of a questionnaire survey at Kumirmari village by mid-September with the joint involvement of the SJSM (Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch) and the IIT KGP team.

Figure 10. Project envisioning discussion at ULAB

The meeting also attempted to trace the desirable avenues to posit the project on the global map of big projects. The partners decided to showcase the insights through story narratives and photo essays. The partners also aimed to put a close eye on the policy ambit, especially in terms of Climate Action Plans both at the national and state level along with the analysis of the MoU on transboundary Sundarbans. Also, targets are fixed on analyzing the policy reports on governance, land use policy, and the political economy of the Sundarbans to come up with a policy review by January to March 2024. The country teams also discussed the data-sharing techniques and resource management in subsequent phases of the project.

Field Visit in Bangladesh

Field Visit in Bangladesh

An exposure to the site

Field visit from the 13th to the 15th of June 2023

The teams were moving over concrete roads that were laid up between large water bodies used for saline water shrimp aquaculture, or gher as it is known locally.

“This area was full of vegetation even during our early youths. We witnessed canopies. After having recurrent saline water intrusion this barren land is left with bare stems of dead trees and marks of salt on the infertile lands.”

Jarina Bibi explained during a FGD (Focus Group Discussion) that was conducted in a courtyard, behind a local mosque. It was a humid summer afternoon. While everyone was eagerly waiting for the rains to come, the local women were told that they are ‘habituated’ to the annual cyclones. Cyclone is not a big deal to them and even this year, they are literally waiting for the same to occur and fill up the annual quota. They do not consider cyclones the dominant risk but the embankment which the government hardly pays any attention to. This makes the residents stay underwater for more than a year. Undoubtedly, Aila (2009) was the single most powerful disaster but that made no change in terms of governmentality. The area gets flooded every 15 days when it is exposed to a new moon or full moon high tide, leading to water intrusion into the farmlands and local ponds. The local deep tube well is the only source of drinking water. After cyclone Amphan (2020), the area encountered one and a half years of waterlogging due to the already-breached embankment. They just constructed platforms inside their rooms and stayed almost more than weeks until the water level dropped down. They mentioned that Aila taught them that an elevated homestead can only save them from gushing floodwater. That they tried to implement it in their own way amid the scarcity of resources. Many people took shelter on the concrete platform located at higher levels. Moreover, there were Covid-19 protocols during the Amphan with physical distancing appearing as one of the major affronts to collectively manage immediate requirements. They had to simply depend on external relief which was not sufficient and irregular. There was an acute lack of access to drinking water and sanitation facilities, especially for women.

Figure 8. Focus Group Discussion with local women at Assasuni

Most of the people from Protapnagar possess homestead only. They severely lack land resources to conduct farming. Water bodies are too small. On top of that, the issue of flood governance and embankment management is a major concern for the inhabitants as it triggers other multiple interconnected risks encompassing frequent water logging, saline water intrusion, and livelihood problems of the inhabitants. To embrace inland fishing as an adaptation measure, they need to fix the embankment issue first. People are keen to adopt bag farming as they are trained by Sajida Foundation. Also, they are interested in rearing poultry birds. Many of them urged to be facilitated with e-rickshaw or toto as it might fetch them at least a decent income as this is the most common mode of transportation.

When they were asked if they wish to leave a place that is full of livelihood uncertainties, they replied that it is their birthplace – how can they leave? Also, one of the women interlocutors, Monoara Begum referred to an anecdote of weather extremities in the area. She explained that a boy from their neighbourhood with a stable job in Dhaka returned to his native place during Amphan to support his former neighbours because he felt his parents were cremated here and thus, he felt obligated to do something for his native place during the adversaries. On the other side, Arjuna Bibi has no one in her family and she is involved with daily waged work in another island. Arjuna stated that she has ample scope for leaving the terrain but her hereditary attachment prevents her from even thinking about the same.