Transitioning towards Green Recovery
By: Dr Geetha Nayak, Senior Advisor, GIZ
Stories from Bhitarkanika, Odisha
In 2020, the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brought Devjani’s life to a standstill. Resident of Kendrapara district, Odisha, she and her husband, a daily wage labourer, began looking for alternate means of income to support their family of six. At the time, Devjani’s work in the local Self-help Group had also slowed down, compelling them to live off little savings. Many of daily wage labourers began returning to their work in the cities after the first wave, but the second wave of the pandemic has endangered lives and means of livelihood again.
Kendrapara is home to the Bhitarkanika mangroves which are recognised as wetlands of international importance. It is also a pilot site of the Indo-German project, ‘Wetland Management for Biodiversity and Climate Protection’ supported by the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety . The Green Recovery initiative for Bhitarkanika was initiated under the Project in January 2021 in partnership with Action for Protection of Wild Animals (APOWA), a not-for-profit organisation based in Odisha to support livelihoods, create avenues for income generation while focusing on conservation and ecosystem restoration in the long term. The project activities were selected after considering the interest of stakeholders, needs of the local communities and local resource availability. In its design it included measures to make it sustainable beyond project duration, inclusive to avoid any future conflicts, and self-driven by the community members.
A rapid assessment of the household income and Participatory Rural Appraisal exercise at the project site revealed the overall socio-economic status of the villages. However, given the limited support the project could provide, the selection of beneficiaries had to be agreed upon democratically—the project engaged with elected representatives and gram panchayat members to initiate a dialogue. The focus was not only to initiate activities that will help in self-sustenance and generate income for the community but also reduce anthropogenic pressure on Bhitarkanika mangroves. The measures would focus on reducing the pressure from natural systems and providing the community with alternate sustainable livelihood opportunities in nursery raising activity, mangroves plantation and protection, pond renovation and aquaculture, natural horticultural practices and biological control of pests and disease.
A general body (GB) meeting in the presence of elected representatives and village residents agreed to create an Executive Committee (EC) that would oversee the execution and monitor the progress of the initiative, and Gram Vikash Committee (GVC), a village-level institution for the day-to-day management of the initiative. The project has facilitated the establishment of three GVCs in Junusunagar, Suniti and Jamboo villages in Kendrapara. Moreover, in consultation with the community, the GB, EC and GVC established a protocol to resolve any conflicts that may arise, and address grievances as well.
Based on the results of the socio-economic survey, families below poverty line, COVID-19 affected families, women, forest-dependent community members, daily wage labourers who lost their means of livelihoods, and migrant workers were prioritised to receive inputs and training under the project. The project involved 17 Community Resource Persons to coordinate with the EC and GVCs, to support the execution of the project and train beneficiaries in the villages. The CRPs are the regular point of contact for the beneficiaries.
The initiative also partnered with Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Kendrapara, for soil testing before undertaking vegetable cultivation and sought advice on the method of cultivation and training the farmers. KVKs are extension centres with a wide network throughout India. The project is working with the Horticulture Department, which offers subsidies and support to the farmers under their schemes, and the Mangroves Forest Division, Rajnagar, for undertaking mangrove plantation and aquaculture.
Coming back to the household of Devjani, her family is now involved in organic vegetable cultivation, one of the selected activities under the project. They grow 13 types of vegetables, a quantity that takes care of the family’s sustenance. She acknowledges zero expenditure on fertilisers and pesticides. With her family’s newly acquired knowledge of organic farming and nutrition, she wishes to motivate her extended family and other community members.
Under the green recovery initiative, 72 households in three villages, Junusnagar, Suniti and Jamboo in Kendrapada are involved in vegetable cultivation. Like Devjyani, all beneficiaries are sensitised for wise use of natural resources, trained in vermicomposting, bio-input preparation, bio-fertiliser and pesticide preparation and neem leaf decoction for soil health improvement and plant protection. All households have installed a vermicomposting unit in their backyard.
A farmer from Junusnagar, Khokan M. succinctly puts it, “BISA MUKTA, PRUSTI YUKTA PARIBA” (in Odiya language, this translates to “My vegetables Full of Nutrition and Free from Poison”), a testimony that these and similar green measures could very well be a solution that we all like to be part of and promote . As we receive many such positive stories from Odisha, a similar project is also initiated in another pilot and Ramsar site under the project – Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu.