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.