Climate Resilience in the Sunderbans

Diya Banerjee
Paddy sown
Uttarayan Wildlife
Post treatment with husk formulae, farmers started sowing and reaping paddy successfully after a month

Cyclones Amphan and Yaas, which occurred in May 2020 and May 2021 respectively, severely impacted the Sundarbans. Local people who survived the immediate aftermath of these catastrophic weather events found themselves robbed of their self-sufficiency and livelihood as paddy fields and fish ponds were contaminated by extra-high salinity levels from the storm surges. Farmers believed that growing crops on their lands would be near impossible for at least 2-3 years. Life in the Sunderbans is tenuous at the best of times, and when their main source of survival was wiped out by the cyclones, local people turned to the forest for more of their everyday needs. This took the form of over-fishing in the mangrove creeks, deforestation to meet daily needs, and increased honey collection, all of which put people in conflict with their environment and its wildlife.

So, in order to alleviate human suffering – and reduce the collateral ecological impact on the surrounding forests – we, from Uttarayan Wildlife, along with our logistic partner, Nature Mates, decided to step in with a specially (and scientifically) developed organic formula to de-salinize the paddy fields. This, first-of-its-kind experiment on roughly 10 bighas of land (1 bigha = 0.61 acres), was implemented in Sonaga and Gosaba Islands in the Sundarbans. The de-salinizing substance was mixed into the saline soil of the farmlands, which were then tilled and left to soak in the mixture for about a month.

Subsequently, after consulting with our soil scientist, Dr. Sen, from Uttarayan, farmers decided to sow paddy on the treated land. The good news is that not only did the paddy grow successfully, but the fields have now been replanted for a second time on the treated land. The success of the experiment has given immense confidence to local farmers, who are now asking for our support to rejuvenate the other lands in the region. We are now also helping with planting salt-resistant fruit trees.

This initiative has been a part of our post-Amphan ecological and livelihood restoration project in the Sundarbans. Given that there will be more cyclones in the future, and in the face of the earth’s changing climate, there is an urgent need to actively strengthen capacity to restore degraded lands, and create more ecological resilience. To this end, we are in now the 3rd phase of our project and are helping to build a model village in Songaon, which, if successful, can be scaled up.

Uttarayan Wildlife extends a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to our local partners – the farmers, fisherfolk and honey collectors – for believing in us and participating in this effort.

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