A community-created mangrove forest protects a village from eroding away

April 11, 2021
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Image Source: https://india.mongabay.com/

  • Over the past 12 years, the residents of Badakot have converted degraded land into a 25-acre mangrove forest that protects their village from eroding away.
  • Bijay Kumar Kabi led the community to develop the mangrove forest and also negotiated with the forest department and others for seeds, training and other requirements to ensure the mangroves are grown scientifically and the toil of the community doesn’t turn futile.
  • Badakot lies along the periphery of Bhitarkanika, one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in India and a Ramsar site.

Kendrapada district in Odisha hosts the famous Bhitarkanika National Park, home to a mangrove forest which is one among the two Ramsar sites from Odisha. The site, spread in an area of around 672 sq.kms has several species of mangrove plants that act as a protective layer to the land from the harsh oceanic waves emanating from the Bay of Bengal.

Leading the community and authorities toward mangrove conservation

Owing to the contributions of Kabi, the local forest department has given him the designation of Honorary Wildlife Warden in Rajnagar Wildlife Division in appreciation for his work towards mangrove and wetland conservation.

Besides working with the community, the environmentalist also negotiated with the forest department and others for seeds, training and other requirements to ensure the mangroves are grown scientifically and the toil of the community doesn’t turn futile.

Niranjan Mallick, a 52-year-old farmer from the village said the process of forest creation started in 2008 after Kabi’s intervention, but, many people moved to better and safer places in between. “The upper caste people often moved to better places and most Scheduled Caste (SC) community people lived here and fought to make it suitable for living. Most of the village households here are kuccha (temporary) houses while few pucca (permanent) houses are also there. This village has a pre-dominated SC population,” said Niranjan.

Several others who have been living in the area for a long time told Mongabay-India that after seeing their houses getting into the sea, they had learned the importance of mangrove belts. “In the earlier village, we had seen degradation of the mangrove belt and understood its importance. After the mangrove forests came into existence in Badakot we have seen reduction of erosion impacts. Now we have around 50 households and all of us are committed to protect the forest. We guard the forest in rotation from any external threat,” Abhiram Mallick, a 62-year-old villager said.

Kabi also said that the local community had an understanding of mangroves and their role in protecting wetlands from the threats of erosion and that is why slowly the movement of creation of the forest got impetus. Kabi tried to blend his understanding and expertise with the traditional knowledge of the community as well.

Erosion hotspot

Badakot is around three kilometers away from the sea mouth and at the periphery of the swampy waters of Bhitarkanika. Due to its proximity to Bhitarkanika and its swampy waters, crocodiles are also found in the river which runs parallel to the village.

According to Indian government data furnished in Parliament, Odisha has four identified hotspots of coastal erosion and three are in Kendrapada district alone. The three certified hotspots of coastal erosion – Pentha, Gahirmatha and Satabhya lie within half an hour drive from the site and towards the northern and southern side of the village.

A creek also passes from the river to the mangrove forests which has helped some villagers to fetch some fish and prawns from the small water body and boost their livelihood options. Most of the villagers here however are poor and most rely on agriculture. Some fragmented series of houses of the village at a distance belong to some affluent people too.

In addition to the mangrove forest creation by the community, the forest department has also put a series of rocks in the village periphery to give additional protection to the vulnerable village.  The villagers however claimed that no major government funding or assistance was given to the village for the creation of mangrove forest in the wasteland of the village.

Legal experts however claim that due to lacuna in legal frameworks, the legal ownership of the community which created the whole forest and made the village climate resilient cannot legally acquire.

Sankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) who deals with forest issues said, “Earlier there was a concept of social forestry where the ownership of such lands could be given to the community who created it. However, the provision was encouraged by the government earlier but by the end of 2000, it was abolished. Now they cannot legally take the ownership despite their contributions,” he said.

The villagers however had apprised the forest department before the creation of the forest and had given them the village resolution which talked about the movement. The local forest department, the villagers said, told them to go ahead with their resolution as the land was categorised as revenue wasteland. The villagers now plan to scale up the forestation work too.

Story Source: https://india.mongabay.com/2021/03/a-community-created-mangrove-forest-protects-a-village-from-eroding-away/

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