Mother of all plans to save Sri Lanka’s mangroves

1,500 community groups have been created around Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons, offering job training and micro-loans to women to promote mangrove conservation.


Mangrove forests of Sri Lanka.  Photo credit: Teng Wei

Mangrove forests of Sri Lanka.
Photo credit: Teng Wee

There are inspiring stories. There are stories that draw a nod of approval and a faint smile from all its readers. And then there are stories that make you sit up and take notice. One such story that I came across recently was how in Sri Lanka, a community of women is being mobilised to conserve mangrove plantations.

A national organisation called Sudeesa has been giving microcredit ranging from $20-$2000 dollars each to incentivise the project of taking care of coastal plantation. Recently, it has started working with a small fisherman group comprising women and headed by a local called Michel Priyadarshini to conserve the vast mangrove plantations. According to Reuters, Sudeesa, together with the Sri Lankan government and U.S.- based environmental conservation group Seacology, recently launched a five-year, $3.4 million mangrove preservation initiative.

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Owing to the Sudeesa program, Kristina Jospin from Samadigama village in northwestern Puttalam District received training and financial aid to operate a small bakery, which allows her to support her family. According to Sudeesa credit officer Suvinetha de Silva, the program usually targets the poorest women, who are unable to seek credit from banks.

Bakery-hi-res-photo

With this initiative, Sri Lanka has become the first country to floor a nationwide plan to conserve mangroves. Mangroves grow in marshy lands in salt water and form an important part in the balance of ecological system. The deep roots are used as breeding areas for many of the fishes and prawns dwelling in that area. Douglas Thisera, director for coastal conservation at Sudeesa, formerly known as the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka said, “People who live near mangroves tell us the trees act as a buffer against the wind and heavy rains, breaking their intensity just before they make landfall.”

Sudeesa Chairman Anuradha Wickramasinghe, Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein, Douglas Tisera of the Sudeesa staff, and Seacology field representative Vineeta Hoon review Sri Lanka mangrove project plans.

Sudeesa Chairman Anuradha Wickramasinghe, Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein, Douglas Tisera of the Sudeesa staff, and Seacology field representative Vineeta Hoon review Sri Lanka mangrove project plans.

As reported by Reuters, the new national scheme aims to set up 1,500 community groups around Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons, which will offer alternative job training and micro-loans to 15,000 people. The groups will be responsible for the upkeep of designated mangrove forests. Duane Silverstein, executive director of Seacology has announced that the project shows great promise. Almost 2,000 loans were made to women, with a repayment rate of over 96 percent.“With very small loans of around $100, several of the women were so successful that they already employed additional women,” he said. These loans that are credited mostly to people who are too poor to seek credit from the banks seek to benefit widows, college drop outs and other destitute.

This inspiring event in Sri Lanka is being viewed by some as contributing to the larger discourse of Ecofeminism. Started in the 1970’s and gaining in much popularity during the next two decades, ecofeminism seeks to foster a connection between repression of women with the damage caused to nature and natural resources. It is based on the philosophy that both women and nature exhibit the same values and characteristics like nurturing and hence see it as the responsibility of women to undertake ecological causes. One of the most memorable events of ecofeminism occurred in Kenya when rural women planted trees as part of a soil conservation effort to avert desertification of their land as a part of the Green Belt Movement formed by Wangari Maathai. The women of Greenham Common Peace Camp were instrumental in the removal of nuclear missiles there, a fight lasting for over ten years. Sometimes ecofeminism has also been an avenue through which minority and repressed communities like the Native Americans have found their voice. Mohawk women along the St. Lawrence River established the Akwesasne Mother’s Milk Project to monitor PCB toxicity while continuing to promote breastfeeding as a primary option for women and their babies.

Women who received microloans show their wares to a Seacology delegation.  Photo credit: Seacology

Women who received microloans show their wares to a Seacology delegation.
Photo credit: Seacology

Though there have been arguments that ecofeminism tries to form a ‘mystical’ bond between women and nature and that it is too ‘women’ centric, one cannot turn their back on the immense results it has engendered from the sense of responsibility accrued on these women as a part of the larger matrix of ecofeminism. Now by incentivising the idea as in the case of Sri Lanka, groups are seeking to tap in on it in a bid to conserve the environment. Saving ‘Mother’ Nature or not, this has surely paved the way for many women to find their voices again and return to the solace of nature where they seek to not only find shelter but also benefits to rebuild their lives.

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Literature student. Part time journalist. Harbouring crazy dreams of changing the world since 1993. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Literature student. Part time journalist. Harbouring crazy dreams of changing the world since 1993. more

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