Vigilant women restore village biodiversity

Puri: The Gundalba village at the Astarang block in the Puri district lies in a biodiversity rich area of Odisha. It lies close to the river mouths of two rivers, next to the Bay of Bengal and along the long stretch of forest land, stretched juxtaposed to the village.

The village which now flashes bright sunflower plants on their farmlands was once a devastated entity when the 1999 cyclone had hit the village. Villagers said most of the houses were uprooted, their livelihood was lost and the local biodiversity went for a toss. However the undeterred commitment of the women from the area has now helped the village to regain its glory.

“When the cyclone came, most of our houses which were kuccha were uprooted, standing crops destroyed and the tall trees which protect the village from winds, tides and moisture were destroyed. Our livelihood options and our lives were badly hit,” said Charulata Biswal, a woman from the village.

The most important devastation was however relating to the uprooting of the mangrove tress in large numbers. Experts say that these plants often work to absorb the moisture emanating from the sea, prevent harmful effects of sea nearby to the crops in nearby villages. Villagers complained that post the cyclone, the agriculture was greatly affected due to devastation of such plants.

“After the trees were uprooted in large numbers, the sands from beaches used to intrude into our villages directly without these barriers. The farming of sunflower plants, growing potatoes and peanuts started becoming tough as the yield sank,” said Rahima Bibi.

However, the vigilant women from the village later swung into action and decided to restore the lost glory. Around 75 women formed a gang and decided to restore the lost biodiversity. Their main objective was to restore all the lost trees, improve their lost soil fertility and also protect the wild animals in their areas from any possible threat.

“Soon after watching the devastation levels, while the men went busy to earn money, the women from the area jumped onto the bandwagon to help regaining the lost things. We formed around 14 groups. We regularly went to protect the new plants, prevent cutting of the trees and also thwart any attempt to harm the animals living in the area,” said Reena Swain

During their spree of vigilantism, they had caught hold of many thieves, wood smugglers and threats and jointly fought against them to safeguard the natural resources whose virtues and cost they had understood after their devastation from the cyclone episode.

Buoyed by the painstaking works of the women, the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) few years back gave the villagers and women the biodiversity conservation award for their maverick works in the sector of conservation of natural resources.

There are around 100 households in the village where most of them earlier were dependent on the fishing business but they claim that post cyclone their livelihood from fishing changed drastically. The fishermen from the village claim that the quantity and quality of fish has dwindled drastically in the water resources near them and many of the fishermen from the area have migrated to foreign countries or other state for a better livelihood option.

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