Victoria Solbert

international sustainable development professional

Intro to the Southern Region

By vicsolbert | June 24, 2014 | 1 Comment

A glimpse of the Sundarbans
Sean, where are you when I need you and your car skills!

Sean, where are you when I need you and your car skills!

First full week in the field. Though in reality a lot more time was spent in the car than in the field. Traveled from Dhaka to the south region, first stop the district of Satkhira and the village of Munshigonj on the edge of the Sundarbans National Park. It already would have been about a 10 hour drive, but our final stop for tea in the town of Satkhira turned into a four and a half hour wait trying to fix the car battery! Thankfully it decided to give out in the last large town and not in one of the remote villages, so we finally made it to our abode for the next two days for a late dinner.

My adorable cottage - hut and furniture made from local materials.

My adorable cottage – hut and furniture made from local materials.

We stayed at the Joar Eco Cottages, a new and extremely cute guest house with bamboo huts and extra large furnished tents. The food was also delicious! The area is known for various kinds of fish, prawn and shrimp, some farmed and some harvested from the wild. We had a variety of each on our first night! The young staff was also very attentive (a little too much for my taste as they would follow me back and forth from my room – just in case I suddenly needed something I guess). Luckily it had rained a little that evening so it was a cool night and we slept comfortably.

Next day we were not so lucky. It was very hot and extremely humid, but would refuse to rain the whole day. Though the heat was uncomfortable, it was probably lucky it didn’t rain as it would have made field work much more complicated. Everything surrounding Munshigonj was basically mud – the roads, the fields, even the houses. There were much fewer trees then anywhere else I have yet been in Bangladesh as the area is very heavily cultivated – the city of Dhaka has more green. While some of the fields are paddy during the winter, at this time of year almost all fields are converted to ponds for shrimp, prawn, or fish culture. I saw a number of large groups of men and women working to convert some of the remaining fields – they would dig out chunks of firm mud from the field bed and use them to build up embankment walls to enclose and divide the ponds. While the rains have just started, the true monsoon season had

Raising tilapia fingerlings (baby fish) to size before they are sold to farmers for pond rearing.

Raising tilapia fingerlings (baby fish) to size before they are sold to farmers for pond rearing.

not really kicked in so a majority of these ponds were still just muddy depressions. The firm mud – perhaps it has a heavy clay content – was also used to bolster pathways, build up the shoulder of the road, and also for the construction of tin-roofed houses. Once the ponds fill I could imagine the area would look like some sort of magical floating settlement, but that day it did not present a very picturesque view.

The people here are some of the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. While many other agricultural communities can get 2-3 harvests a year, most people here are limited to 1 due to salt water intrusion and lack of fresh water in the winter season. The wild forest of the Sundarbans lies across the river, and so many people turn to the forest to extract natural resources such as wild shrimp, fish, honey, and timber. While rich in such resources, this extraction is harmful for the rare and endemic flora and fauna of the Sundarbans, and extremely dangerous to the people.

The Sundarbans are composed of a constantly shifting series of islands covered in dense mangrove forest. If you have ever tried to walk through a

Fields of mud waiting for rain.

Fields of mud waiting for rain.

mangrove forest you know it is nearly impossible due to their branching root structures and young mangrove pods growing up through the thick mud ready to skewer you with every step. Once the monsoon season starts the chaotic and powerful flow of water makes the forest impenetrable even by boat. This forest serves as one of the last strongholds of the Bengal Tiger. The tigers are one of the main reasons the Sundarbans have been naturally preserved for so long, because they are known man-eaters. Even today nearly 100 people a year are reported to be killed by tigers, and 100 more injured. So while the Sundarbans and their tigers are an amazing and beautiful natural wonder, it is not a friendly place. Somehow despite the tides and the tigers, there is also apparently a population of pirates who live inside the forest, known to attack tourist and locals alike.

Vegetable producer group managing a beautiful demonstration plot.

Vegetable producer group managing a beautiful demonstration plot.

This is why the CREL project I am working with is targeting these communities. As part of (one component of) the project groups of poor individuals who have been identified as dependent upon resource extraction are provided with training for alternative income generation activities. The trainings they receive are mainly around agricultural production. In this region that means improved practices for raising tilapia and carp in small ponds, and how to cultivate high value vegetable crops and prepare planting beds to be resilient to salt water intrusion. Most beneficiaries have just completed their training and their plots and fish are still very young. Too soon to tell what the final impact will really be. They are all optimistic though, and that is a good start.


29 June, 2014

Would you please post a picture of a tiger? Hah! Interesting neighbors, poor farmers and hungry tigers. And pirates, to boot!
Interesting how the farmers take advantage of changing climate to switch to farming fish.

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