The Sundarbans, located in the Southwest region of Bangladesh, is the single largest mangrove forest in the world which provides both ecological and economic benefits to the local communities. Most of the local communities adjacent to the Sundarbans live below the poverty line and depend on forest resources for their livelihood. Not only are they economically insolvent but they are also at high-risk of being directly impacted by climate disasters such as cyclones, floods, heavy tidal surges, river erosion, and increasing salinity levels.
Nomita Mondol is a forest dweller, who lives in the Paschim Dhangmari village under Dacope sub-district of Khulna district. The Dhangmari river divides her home from the Sundarbans. She and her family members live under constant threat of tidal surges and cyclones. Until 2020, Nomita, like other women from her region, used to collect and use seeds from the mangrove forest as cooking fuel. She stopped this when the Bangladesh Environments and Development Society (BEDS), a local NGO, intervened and raised awareness in her community against the use of seeds for cooking fuel as they are important for the natural mangrove regeneration process.
BEDS engaged with local communities to raise their awareness and involve them in conservation and adaptation work. This was rooted in the core belief that conservation initiatives only succeed when the value of participation by local community members is truly grasped. Initiatives are only sustainable in the long-term when they include local knowledge and practices. BEDS’ push for community-based actions inspired Nomita to actively engage with their efforts and establish a community-based mangrove nursery on her own land. Subsequently, BEDS selected five women from Paschim Dhangmari to be trained on how to build their own mangrove nurseries, and how to support themselves and their family members. BEDS provided the women with tools like bamboo and net for fencing and shading facilities. BEDS also installed water irrigation systems in the five nurseries.
Although the technical support from BEDS helped Nomita become successful in her endeavour with the mangrove nursery, this was not easy for her as she faced many challenges during the building process. In the early days, she was met with resistance and ridicule from her community for working in the nursery, but her determination and sharp dedication helped her grow the nursery despite challenging conditions and dry seasons. Her hard work helped nurture the saplings through regular watering and shading practices. In 2021, by selling the mangrove saplings from the mangrove nursery, all the women collectively earned BDT 200,000. Nomita earned 60,000 on her own. An achievement like this was life-changing for her.
The initiative by BEDS proved to be sustainable as Nomita managed to produce mangrove saplings and grow the nursery without their support this past year. She also engaged her family members in her nursery activities. Her success has inspired others from her community to start investing in mangrove nurseries. She has also taught them her mangrove growing skills. Nomita’s influence has led her to become an esteemed and highly respected member of her community.
Nomita is the president of an association created by BEDS. The association focuses on central mangrove nurseries and helps nursery owners coordinate with each other and maintain stable prices of mangrove saplings through regular communication. This has empowered the five women and established them as leaders in their local communities.
“Before, we used to collect the seeds and use [them] as cooking fuel. With the initiative of BEDS, now we use the seeds and produce mangrove saplings and also sell the saplings,” said Nomita Mondol as she shared her experience. “Last year, I earned BDT 60,000 from the mangrove saplings. I use the money for my household activities and my children’s education. This year, I have already produced 30,000 mangrove saplings in the nursery and will sell these to support my and my family’s livelihood.”
Following the success of community-based mangrove nurseries at Paschim Dhangmari, and to meet the high demand for mangrove saplings, BEDS expanded their programme and established another community-based mangrove nursery at Mathurapur village from Shyamnagar sub-district of Satkhira district. The village is close to the Sundarbans. BEDS also established a Central Mangrove Nursery this year at Amtola village under Dacope sub-district of Khulna district, where around 1,000,000 mangrove saplings can be raised at a time. The nurseries are managed by the women groups with 20 families currently being supported through the mangrove nurseries. Most importantly, the mangrove coverage has also consequently grown in the region, with coastal communities benefiting ecologically and economically in the process.
Nomita Mondol’s story is a testament of how women’s empowerment and local ownership of adaptation efforts are closely interconnected. However, societal taboos and pre-disposed biases about gender roles continue to be major challenges. These can only be overcome by capacitating women and community members. BEDS is doing a commendable job but the test for them now is to upscale their work and make it sustainable.
About the interviewer
Sohanur Rahman is the Executive Coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, the largest youth networking organisation in Bangladesh to support coastal communities during humanitarian crises. He advocates globally for youth-based rights, especially in the areas of climate justice, disaster risk reduction, gender equality and human rights.
About the interviewee
Nomita Mondol is a housewife who lives at Paschim Dhangmari village under the Dacope sub-district of Khulna district. She established a locally led mangrove nursery with the technical and equipment support of the local civil society organisation Bangladesh Environments and Development Society (BEDS). She is the president of a local association established by BEDs.