Rural Bengal Biospheric Research Foundation
PROJECT : FIELD (Fisherwomen Identification and Empowerment by Livestock Development)

Some 1700 Fisher Women of Indian Sundarban are leading a miserable life to manage their daily needs. They are compelled to capture fish and crabs on the densely marshy rivulets and cannels which are located at close proximity to the Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR). As ill-fate as the women, are often killed by Tigers or fetched by the Crocodiles! RBRF the first, projecting their inexplicable misery which is a crucial social disparity. Many of them are suffering from several diseases, perhaps due to the submerged condition in saline water for several hours yet not even earning Rs.50/60 a day! Observing the ground reality, the organization has initiated the project FIELD (Fisherwomen Identification and empowerment by Livestock Development) at Gosaba Block. The main objective of the project is to provide site-specific alternative livelihood to the FWS at the internationally famous World Heritage Site! RBRF approaches the responsible companies or individuals to extend their donation and all possible support towards this humanitarian as well as ecological conservation issue to protect the land and people of Indian Sundarbans.

Worst happened in Indian Sundarbans:

History depicts that the mangrove buffer of Indian Sundarban has saved the ‘city of joy’ from severe hurricanes more than 16 times, since 1688. Unfortunately, those valuable forests have been reclaimed ruthlessly, till 1873! The process started since 1775. The massive deforestation continued till 1939. However, it is assumed that the actual forest clearance continued till 1972. In earlier times, the area of Western Sundarbans was 9630 sq.km, now squeezed to just 4266 sq.km! Massive deforestation took place in between 1947-1972 for settlement of a large number of refugees from Bangladesh (then east Pakistan-1971), resulting loss of 5364 sq.km. Mangrove forest. Somewhere around 55.7%!

Impact

Sundarban is immensely picturesque and magnificent with its natural landscape and charming ecosystem. Paradoxically, its inhabitants are financially challenged due to lack of basic needs of life and extremely poor facility it offers. Economic hardship is the key problem at Sundarbans. This is unbelievable that some 5364 sq.km. deforested land holds a bulging human population some around 42 lakhs, belongs to 9 lakhs households as per Indian census report 2011! Resulting, negligible land availability for each family, forcing them to live well below the poverty line. Dire poverty urged them to frequent in forest going and exploitation, to meet up their daily needs. Thus Sundarban suffers huge external pressure and so does the poor villagers too!

Ecosystem apart, considering the human sufferings; most men are unemployed, either landless or irregular or daily labourers. It has been found that the land used for cultivation are mostly single cropped and primarily dependent on rainwater for irrigation. Being surrounded by saline water, deltas are rendered unfit for cultivation. Moreover, owing to communication hurdles with the mainland, villagers find it hard to sell their goods in the market. Sundarban is a place where industry is feeble to non-existent, reason for its backwardness. Considering the limited resource base and increasing population on the other hand, the poverty level goes-up to 38.03% in Gosaba block alone! As per poverty level ranking Gosaba stands on 21st rank, while Thakurpukur stands on rank 1 and Budge Budge lies 2nd etc. The lifestyle standard of Gosaba block is even worse, ranks 19! Increasing poverty leads them to depend on the forest resources to a much higher degree, in some cases, they even rule out the life threatening situations arising in the water or in the forest during their venture for livelihood.

As ill-fated are the women, forcing themselves to collect their livelihood beyond their physical capabilities. They are also taking dangerous risks on their lives. In many occasions either they are killed by tiger, crocodile attack or snake bite! The women and children are mostly affected by poverty. More than 70% of women and children are suffering from malnutrition. It is observed that, monthly income of these families’ are somewhere around Rs. 2000-3000, if not less. This income mostly comes from the male members of the family. Hence the female members have a potential share in helping their male folks for income generation. This selfless assistance from the female members is hardly recognized in terms of income sharing, as a result these women solely depend on the male members of their family. The financial dependence subdues their identity, belittling their existence by implanting various mental tortures coupling with physical violence in some cases. The major share of food is consumed by the males, as they are the sole bread-earners and the remaining portion of the food is willingly fed to the children, neglecting the female members. In most cases the pregnant women or mothers suffer with severe malnutrition. These under nourished women encounter various physical ailments along with premature aging. Beside high birth rate (seldom consented by wife, rather forced by husband and his family, in most cases) frequent pregnancies add up to their physical suffering. Thus, women empowerment around the Indian Sundarbans is immensely essential by providing them alternative livelihood.

Administration and Demography:

The total area of Indian Sundarbans lies with 2 districts, i.e. North & South 24 Parganas. The area is divided into 19 administrative blocks, 6 blocks are under north 24 Pargana district and 13 with south 24 Pargana. The total number of villages are 1035, covering 19 blocks under 191 GPs (Gram Panchayat). The table projects an overall situation of Sundarban.

Gosaba Block (RBRF Project Area):

Out of 19 habitat blocks of Sundarbans one of the prime block is ‘Gosaba’ located in closest proximity to the Tiger Reserve (STR). Demographic statistics of Gosaba block comprises 337.5 sq.km land which processes 2,46,598 human population along with considerable livestock density.

It calculates per capita availability of land is not more than 1 bigha (20 kathas) approximately. This is too low for an agro-based rural area, not even equally available to all the villagers. Resulting, a large number of Gosaba villagers are self-engaged for netting out the shrimp seeds, from the estuaries. Fine mesh nylon net fishing generates their supplementary income. It poses a great threat to the critical mangrove ecosystem of Sundarbans as the block is located closest proximity to the Tiger Reserve. They not only collect the shrimp seeds, at the same time destroy a considerable volume of other fish juveniles by random netting. In earlier period, it was well practiced in Bangladesh Sundarbans, was not so common in Indian part. After partition of 1971, the practice overflowed to Indian part. This is basically introduced by the refugees in Gosaba block. Women are largely engaged in this profession. Their profession appears dangerous as they are often killed by Tiger, Crocodile or snake bite. Besides, constant touch with saline water creates severe health hazards due to immersion in brackish water. Above all, inadequate income does not compensate for the health management. They continue the profession as this is the only way to earn some cash for their subsistence.

As result, some 1500 poor fishing women of Gosaba Block, Sundarbans (Forest Approaching Villages only) are leading a miserable life to manage a square of meal per day! Dire poverty urges them to capture fishes and crabs on the dense marshy estuaries, approaching the biggest mangrove Tiger Reserve of the world (World Heritage Site!). As ill-fated as the women are often killed either by tiger, crocodile or venomous snake bites, in regular intervals! Many of them suffer from severe diseases perhaps due to the submerged condition in saline water for several hours each day! That increases number of still birth or physically challenged ones! Women body system may not permit that!

On the other hand, world's biggest mangrove tiger habitat is under serious disappearing threat due to the over exploitation of natural resources. The tiger habitat has and is still suffering a huge loss and damage due to the human activities, caused the poverty only!

RBRF initiative:

However, this is beyond questioning to restrict such dangerous fishing practices of the poor fisher women, without assigning them the alternative livelihood and adequate financial support. RBRF firmly believes, this is an essential social responsibility not only to the governments, but the civil society too. An urgent need has been felt to rescue and rehab those poor Fisher Women of sundarban (FWS) from such a life threatening profession and to conserve the world's biggest mangrove tiger habitat from its gradual disappearance! Considering ground reality, RBRF initiated first to conduct an intensive survey and research on those FWS at the 20 most remote islands villages of Gosaba block, sharing closest proximity to the Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR). This would be the toughest assignment for any group to identify each FWS as they are living scattered throughout a vast remote territory and the only transportation available is the waterways by small country boats!

A complete database has been prepared by RBRF as per priority selection by a most realistic indexing module. A Site-Specific Alternative Livelihood Program and Financial Support Scheme has already been designed for their community development. The mission of the project is to extend support to the FWS in form of site specific alternative livelihood support. This support is very much conditional that the FWS will leave the practice of natural resource exploitation fully. Initially the project area concentrates on forest approaching villages of Gosaba block where the beneficiaries are numbered 17000 as per RBRF survey.

Benefit of FIELD project:

FIELD is an well researched, multi dimensional and mutual benefit project between the Man and Nature. The project is not only important but appears an essential, considering the following factors:

  • The world's only mangrove tiger habitat will be kept hazard free from human activities.
  • Natural resource exploitation will be minimized by adopting sustainable usage.
  • The poor FWS will get rid of dire poverty, life threats and other health hazards.
  • The project will bring a greater control on Man-animal conflict.
  • Urban people will get an opportunity to participate in a real social work.

The successful execution and implementation of this project is very much subject to the support from the Philanthropists and Donors, as the project requires 5.00 lakhs for each 10 heads cluster of FWS. RBRF approaches to the responsible corporate houses and individuals to extend their help and support to make the goal successful.

PROJECT : BESTWAY (Business Entrepreneurship Support Towards Womenability and Yield)

The Rural Bengal Biospheric Research Foundation (RBRF) has undertaken the project BESTWAY (Business Entrepreneurship Support Towards Women Ability and Yield) in mission to facilitate support both ton the rural and urban women for self dependence and to mitigate the gender disparity in Indian society. The RBRF family believes that the project w3ill be the most powerful vehicle foe empowering the w3omen, better health and child care. The project will also aid the national GDP (Gross Domestic Produce) as it is estimated that such a project can boost 10–15% growth rate per annum. Concentrating on the focal point, the organization has planned to bring the women under multi disciplinary applied training programs and support them in selling their products through various digital platforms. Section LEAD (Livestock Entrepreneurship Acceleration and development Initiative)is an integral part of the project BESTWAY which will facilitate super-technical production and sales support, not only to thr rural women but the small and marginal farmers for shifting from agriculture to livestock framing. For big livestock farms, men will get priority because of hard labor factor. Women will be encouraged in small livestock farms. The RBRF is giving extra attention on this part of the project because of rapid change in urban dietary pattern and increase in market demand for animal protein and its various products. ICMR recommended poultry meat requirement in India is 11 kg per head per year, whereas the present poultry production in India is only 2.9 kg per head per year. Similarly, the Production-Demand Gap (PDG) can also be observed in case of Hatchery, Dairy, Goatery, Piggery, Fishery and few other livestock production. Considering the above market opportunity, project LEAD has been initiated as an important part of the project BESTWAY. The organization considers basic parameters fior the LEAD section are:

  1. Non-aggriable smaller land
  2. Environmental protection
  3. Entrepreneurship development
  4. Techno-economic norms of different livestock farms
  5. Marketability and sales support

The section of the project has already selected 9 windows of livestock farming which are mentioned here:

Project: Multi Disciplinary Assistance for the Urban and Semi-urban Women (MDA)

The main objective of the project MDA is to facilitate support and complete assistance to the urban and semi-urban women in multi disciplinary need base. From our long experienced it reveals that the traditional family concept and social enforcement on women turns out the foundation grounds for dependence, dowry, domestic violence, psychological problem, career compromise, separation, so on and so forth! The problem is coupling much more in urban and semi-urban areas, in comparison to the rural belt. Considering the ground reality, RBRF has launched the project MDA which appears a most powerful single window platform for the distressed women with full of their safety and security. The four pillars of the project MDA are:
(a) Nature based non-clinic Psychological Counseling
(b) Secured Shelter Assistance for Single Women
(c) Skill Development, Placement or Business Assistance
(d) Promotional assistance for the Creative Women

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