rice farming

Women along the Bengali Coast are being trained in algaculture to support their families, as climate change has driven the rice farming industry further inland.

DW.com reports that a growing number of villages along the Bengal coastline have been plagued by coastal erosion, repeated cyclones and floods — thanks to climate change. As much as 200 meters of coastline have been disappearing annually, according to a 2013 Zoological Society of London study.

This has spelled disaster for rice farming, the main occupation in the region. Some paddy fields are submerged under two feet of brackish water throughout the year, and increasing salinity is poisoning the soil, so nothing can grow there.

As men migrate further west in search of work, their wives and children are left behind to fend for themselves in this dangerous terrain. To make ends meet, many women have taken up the hazardous job of crab fishing, which entails setting off into the estuaries on boats, sometimes for days on end, where they are at the mercy of the region’s unpredictable tides — and tigers.

But now, many women are being trained in a sustainable, safe and empowering alternative to taking to the treacherous waters. The Asia Pacific Network-Global Change Research and the South Asian Forum for Environment, a civil society organization working throughout the Indian subcontinent, are promoting algaculture in fields covered by seawater.

The project, which launched in 2012 with around 100 beneficiaries, involves farming commercially viable algae like Ulva intestinalis and Ulva lactuca. “The ability of women to be major algae producers and collectors cannot be ignored,” Dipayan Dey, a project leader, told DW. “We conducted a series of capacity building workshops at all three project sites. Women in groups were taught about harvesting, identification of the algal species, pond preparation and cultivation management.”

Algae cultivation requires little technical know-how and almost no startup costs, so it is relatively easy to implement. And the product is in demand in India as a raw material for items such as soaps and shampoo. Such algae can fetch around 35 rupees ($0.53 US) per kilogram on the domestic market and up to 70 rupees ($1.05 US) internationally.

Climate adaptation measures such as the algaculture project have improved transport, education and communications in this part of Sundarban, say local officials. And the lives of women have been transformed.

“I always thought algae were some kind of nuisance growing on the pond,” said Bhabasindhu Mondal, returning from seeking work in the west. “I had to see with my own eyes to believe that it can be grown like a crop. I was used to our green paddy fields – and now I come back to a different kind of greenery.”

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This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change.