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Understanding the Struggles of Fisherfolk Communities in Odisha

Fisherfolk communities, often marginalized and impoverished, face unique challenges in our nation. Particularly, the majority of fisherfolk communities in Odisha, predominantly belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs – Keuta, Kaiibartas, and Dhibara communities), confront an added layer of vulnerability. Odisha, situated along the Bay of Bengal, grapples with frequent natural calamities such as cyclones and floods, compounding the hardships faced by these coastal communities.

In Odisha, the repercussions of natural hazards like coastal erosion, high power tides, cyclones, and climate change-induced risks, such as floods, tsunami, and sea-wave formations, reverberate deeply in the lives of coastal communities. These challenges seriously jeopardize the livelihoods of the fisherfolk, creating a precarious environment for their sustenance.

Fisheries Conflicts: Navigating the Turbulent Waters

Understanding the Root Causes

The persistent issues of fisheries conflicts significantly threaten the food security, livelihoods, and fishing environments crucial to impoverished fishing communities across India. These conflicts often stem from escalating fishing efforts driven by population growth and economic motivations.

Conflicts as Catalysts for Change

Not all conflicts are undesirable; some serve as catalysts for much-needed reforms in policies and economic structures. However, a comprehensive framework for analyzing fisheries conflicts is imperative. It ensures organized interventions tailored to the nature of conflicts, addressing the needs and capacities of fisheries stakeholders in the region.

Thematic Policy Recommendations

To manage fishing capacity and related conflicts in small-scale fisheries, stakeholders must consider thematic policy recommendations. These recommendations aim to strike a balance between sustaining fishing communities and safeguarding the environment.

Also read: Napier Grass: A Sustainable Solution for Agriculture and Environment

Globalization and its Impact on Fisherfolk Communities in Odisha

The onset of globalization has intensified the crisis in the fishery sector, especially in Odisha. The marine sector, now open to both traditional fishermen and commercial operators, sparks fierce competition for already scarce fishery resources.

Vulnerability of Small-scale Traditional Fishery Sector

Globalization amplifies the vulnerability of the small-scale traditional fishery sector. The majority of small-scale fishermen, prevalent in maritime nations, including India, constitute a significant portion of fishery production and employment. The sector’s future expectations hinge on how small-scale fisheries adapt to the evolving dynamics.

Economic, Social, and Cultural Implications

Historically reliant on fishery resources, the small-scale fishermen community raises critical questions about economic, social, and cultural aspects. The challenges encompass natural and human-induced environmental problems, developmental issues, and socio-economic concerns.

In navigating the challenges faced by Fisherfolk communities in Odisha, it becomes evident that a holistic approach is essential. Balancing the needs of the communities with environmental sustainability requires collaborative efforts and thoughtful policies.

Challenges Encountered by Coastal Regions in Odisha

The coastal regions of Odisha grapple with multifaceted challenges, stemming from both anthropogenic and natural factors. These challenges cast a significant strain on the coastal economy and society, manifesting in the decline of fish stocks, degradation of marine ecosystems, and adverse effects on the livelihoods of marginalized fisherfolk communities.

Factors Contributing to Fish Stock Decline

The scarcity of fishery resources in Odisha is exacerbated by various factors:

  1. Climate-Related Risks: The escalating problems of climate-related risks significantly diminish fish stocks across states heavily dependent on coastal areas for survival.
  2. Competition from Private Sectors: Large and mechanized boats from private and commercial sectors intensify competition, further depleting fishery resources.
  3. Rising Pollution Levels: Increasing pollution levels in seas and marine ecosystems adversely impact fish stocks, posing a threat to the coastal environment.

Shift in Fisherwomen’s Roles

While the number of women engaged in the fisheries sector has increased, their roles primarily involve ancillary tasks such as skin peeling and cleaning. However, this heightened engagement highlights a significant issue, as many women struggle to sustain a livelihood due to the decline in fish stocks over time.

Risk to Sustainable Resource Management

Fishing agreements with tropical developing countries, especially in African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) regions, present challenges to sustainable resource management. The declining sustainability of these agreements poses risks to both economic and environmental well-being.

Role of International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The IMO’s resolutions to enhance the blue economy signal a commitment to environmental protection. These decisions aim to encourage investments, introduce new technology, generate jobs, and foster innovation, fostering a sustainable future for the maritime industry.

Pollution-Induced Challenges in the Marine Sector

Menace of Plastic Pollution

The global rise in plastic production and consumption poses a significant threat to the marine sector. With approximately 269,000 tons of plastic floating in the world’s oceans, addressing marine littering becomes a shared responsibility. Initiatives such as collecting plastic litter, promoting recycling, and encouraging biodegradable packaging need to be instituted in Bay of Bengal littoral states.

Community and Policy Challenges

Evolution of Fishing Community Policies

Government-developed fishing community policies play a crucial role in understanding and managing fisheries in diverse locations. Discussions on societal property rights, coastal natural assets, and the transition from small-scale to large-scale fishing operations are integral to sustainable fisheries management.

Need for Marine Regulatory Acts

The establishment of Marine Regulatory Acts between 1980 and 2008 highlights the importance of creating a future with sustainable fisheries. Adopting a social ecological system framework (SEZ) facilitates a practical approach until comprehensive interdisciplinary research becomes available, ensuring sustainable outcomes.

Coastal Infrastructure Deficiency

The coastal zone in different states lacks essential infrastructure for disaster preparedness. In Odisha, the scarcity of cyclone shelters and shelterbelts/windbreak plantations exacerbates the impact of natural disasters like cyclones, perpetuating destruction.

Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change Impacts on Odisha

Implications of Sea-Level Rise

A rise in sea level is anticipated to displace significant areas, leading to the loss of land and infrastructure. The coastal zone faces threats such as tropical cyclones, increased flooding, and changes in temperature and precipitation, contributing to land loss, population displacement, and economic vulnerabilities.

Coastal Zone Vulnerabilities

Future temperature changes in coastal zones may worsen existing issues, including erosion, flooding, immersion, and the deterioration of coastal ecosystems. Vulnerability depends not only on physical exposure but also on economic activity and the community’s capacity to cope with impacts.

The challenges confronting coastal regions in Odisha demand collaborative efforts, innovative solutions, and sustainable policies. Addressing these issues is pivotal for the well-being of the coastal economy, communities, and the preservation of marine ecosystems.

Challenges Faced by Coastal Communities in Odisha

To delve into the vulnerability issues confronted by coastal communities in Odisha, a small survey was conducted, encompassing a sample size of 25 households. The rapid assessment survey pinpointed the following major problems:

1. Drinking Water Supply Challenges

Coastal communities face persistent issues related to the supply and availability of drinking water, posing a threat to the well-being of inhabitants.

Inadequate water supply provisions contribute to health-related problems among coastal communities, emphasizing the urgency for improved water infrastructure.

3. Impact of Contaminated Water on Treatment Costs

The survey highlighted significant expenses incurred during the rainy season due to the consumption of contaminated or poor-quality water, underlining the health and economic burdens faced by the communities.

4. Sanitation Situation

Sanitation conditions in households emerged as a crucial concern, emphasizing the need for comprehensive measures to address these challenges.

Conclusions and Policy Suggestions

While Odisha boasts significant growth in marine fisheries, the coastal areas grapple with severe environmental challenges arising from developmental activities and climate change-induced threats. Coastal erosion, spanning 480 km of Odisha’s shore, is exacerbated by human activities such as urbanization and harbor expansion.

Addressing Declining Fish Stocks and Climate Change

To safeguard economic and social well-being, infrastructure development programs are imperative. These include:

  • Preventing coastal erosion
  • Regulating high tides
  • Mangrove restoration programs
  • Solid waste management initiatives

Providing Alternative Livelihoods

With declining fishery resource stocks, offering alternative livelihood opportunities, especially for vulnerable groups like women, is crucial. The changing climate scenario has a profound impact on the livelihoods of coastal communities, necessitating diverse income sources.

Promoting Sustainable Fishing Practices

While fisheries are a valuable asset, they require protection. Policies and rules should be implemented to combat threats, excluding natural calamities. The Odisha government’s promotion of fish farming through biofloc technology stands as an exemplary initiative. Fish productivity is significantly higher in biofloc farming, aiming to make the state self-sufficient in fish production.

Odisha’s Remarkable Fisheries Growth and Challenges

Export and Import Dynamics

Odisha has witnessed a fourfold increase in fish production over the last two decades, reaching an annual production of 9.89 lakh metric tons in 2021-22. Notably, around 2.55 lakh metric tons were exported, while 50,520 metric tons of freshwater fish were imported due to local demand.

Impact of Climate Change on Fish Migration

The warming seas are altering fish migration routes, impacting the catch for fishing communities. Combined with unpredictable weather conditions and fishing bans, climate change poses substantial challenges to coastal Odisha’s fishing communities.

Need for Sustainable Practices and Regulatory Measures

Depletion of fish stocks, erratic weather, and the use of banned fishing nets like ring nets necessitate stringent regulatory measures. Sustainable practices, adherence to fishing bans, and awareness about the environmental impact of fishing methods are crucial for preserving marine resources.

Conclusion: Navigating a Sustainable Future for Coastal Communities

As Odisha grapples with the intricate challenges faced by its coastal communities, a comprehensive and sustainable approach is essential. Balancing economic growth with environmental preservation, empowering vulnerable groups, and implementing robust regulatory measures are key to securing a thriving future for coastal inhabitants.

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.
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