Post-Cyclone, Indian Women See Hope in Seaweed

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 2009 cyclone that hit the world's largest river delta drove many men out of the region and left the women in eastern India with few livelihood options. But seaweed plants and mangrove trees provide some hope for the future.

SUNDERBANS, India (WOMENSENEWS)--Cyclone Aila hit parts of eastern India and Bangladesh in 2009 and never really went away. The flooding and aftermath devastation in the villages caused a large-scale migration of the men to larger cities.

Here in the world's largest river delta, Panchanan Das, a local forestry official, says the soil was spoiled for growing by the salinity of receding waters.

"Forget paddy, even fruits and vegetables refuse to grow," says Das. "Prawn and fish cultivation is also at a standstill, as the ponds in which they were reared were filled with saline water. Incidence of viral disease in fish, post-Aila, has gone up as well."

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Das says that with few livelihood options left, 90 percent of the male youth and about 20 percent of the young women in the Sunderbans moved to cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and even to the Andamans and Gujarat.

"In most villages," Das says, "only women are left behind with young children."

Ishika Mondal, 34, is one of them.

For two hours each day she works in waist deep water, trying to keep alive the fragile seeds of seaweed plants--Gracilaria or Seola--at a small experimental seed bank in her village of Harekrishnapur.

"This is our hope for the future. Selling the seaweed every 40 days will bring money for our families," Ishika Mondal says.

This agricultural rescue project was initiated by the Kolkata-based Nature Environment and Wildlife Society on a trial basis in four plots in three villages.

"We had seen a similar project at Mandapam in Tamil Nadu, where there is a seaweed processing factory as well," says Barnita Dasgupta, a coordinator for the group. "Seaweed needs both saline and sweet water to flourish and the Sunderbans is ideal for this, as saline water regularly flows in during high tides."

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