After Cyclone Aila, which attacked the Sundarban islands in the year 2009, the Sunderbans now is recovering with a new approach of scientific farming and is experimenting on alternative crop cultivations
World’s largest delta, in the Bay of Bengal consisting of nearly 200 islands, is collectively known as Sundarbans. The Sunderban islands came to limelight in the year 2009, when it was gravely hit by Cyclone Aila. Life in the Sundarbans has undergone a sea change after Cyclone Aila, which swept through the area in the year 2009, and almost changed life of the people in the Sunderbans.
After three years, Uday India visited the area and found the situation is changing, so are the farmers, who are altering their farming methods and others rearing non-traditional livestock to cope with the difficult situation. The reason for them to change the farming method was the increase in salinity level in the soil, after the cyclone brought in sea water. To deal with the problem, saline-tolerant paddy strains have been introduced by aid agencies.
Most families in the Sunderbans claim that they have not received any compensation yet for building and repairing their houses. After the devastation, apart from the government, many private parties and NGOs extended a helping hand in the reconstruction of the Sundarbans. Now the change is being seen—slow but on a large scale.
“I still remember the day when the cyclone hit our village, and the whole village fled the area. My family and I too fled the area only to see the devastation the next day. I lost everything—my house, livestock and crops. My life came to a standstill with my family—with five stomachs to feed. Life doesn’t stop, so after a week, we started cultivation after settling down. But adding to our pain, we found that the soil has become saline and no crops can be cultivated. It was more horrible than the cyclone itself. But soon, we came across a representative of Krishi Rasayan, who gave us an easy method of using lime, and a product called “Poushak Green” for enhancing the produce. Three years now, we can say that the association has changed our lives, both economically and emotionally. We are very happy now, as these people still come to us and make us aware of new products and their usage to help our crop grow without disease,” said Sachindranath Das, a farmer who is involved in paddy and potato farming along with his three sons.
Krishi Rasayan is an agro-based company, which specialises in agricultural products and is one among those organisations that are rendering help to farmers with new approach of farming in all blocks of the Sunderbans. Krishi Rasayan reaches farmers to introduce scientific ways of farming for better productivity, bringing happiness and prosperity in their life.
PK Ghosh, General Manager, Krishi Rasayan, said: “Pre-Aila and post-Aila, the situation is totally different. The economy in the Sunderban is agriculture based and the ecology too is fragile, so we are thinking of bringing out solutions from the middle, which can benefit farmers in general.”
When asked by Uday India about the future plans, he said: “We have undertaken a comprehensive plan for next two to three years for the agricultural development of the area. We are now on the evaluation stage, and our technical teams and experts are visiting the area.”
Besides paddy and potato cultivation, the farmers are now cultivating betel leaves, better known as pan. “Apart from land and bhoroj (shed for betel leaf cultivation), we do not require much to invest, while cultivating pan. This produce is good, as in the market, its demand is very high,” said Anjan Maity, a betel leaf farmer. Not only agriculture, people have adopted fish farming and rearing of ducks to improve their economic condition.
When asked by Uday India what initiatives the government is undertaking to develop the Sunderbans, Manturam Pakhira, Minister of State for Sunderbans Affairs, said: “After Cyclone Aila in 2009, till 2011, for three years, the last Left Front government did nothing for the people of the Sunderbans. Now we, under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee, are initiating programmes such as building dams and roads and programmes like rain water harvesting. In the general budget 2013, the Finance Minister declared that there will be a port in Sagar Island, and this declaration can be attributed to continuous effort by our Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.”
The continued impact of Cyclone Aila after three years has taken a heavy toll both on the environment and local communities in the Sunderbans, but the hope and dreams with which the farmers are moving forward is indeed a matter of pride.
After the Aila, with no livelihood options left, 90 per cent of the male youth and about 20 per cent of young women have moved to cities like Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai and even to the Andamans in search of work. In most villages, only women are left behind with young children.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Sundarbans