Mangroves in Gujarat: State government’s two agencies give an opposite picture of ground realities of mangrove forests

Mangrove plantations used by locals as their means of livelihood
Mangrove plantations used by locals as their means of livelihood

The Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC), a Government of Gujarat outfit, appears to be at loggerheads with its own State Project Management Unit for implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP). A recent GEC-sponsored study, “Socio-Economic and Ecological Benefits of Mangrove Plantation”, carried out by Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDC), Ahmedabad, seeks to “value” direct and indirect benefits of mangrove plantation along selected coastal villages. But a report by the ICZMP speaks of “considerable degradation of mangroves in Gujarat” with reasons ranging from “dependency of the local and nomadic pastoralist communities on the mangroves for fodder and fuel, diversion of mangrove areas to industries, salt pans, and construction of ports, jetties”, to “reduction in natural regeneration and death of the rich mangroves because of decreased influx of fresh water into the mangrove areas, due to construction of dams, both small and big in upstream areas.” Excerpts from the two reports:

Excerpts from “Socio-Economic and Ecological Benefits of Mangrove Plantation”, based on  GIDR survey of seven villages – Lakki, Ashira Vandh, Nada, Kantiyajal, Dandi, Karanj and Tada Talav, covering 6 talukas spread over four districts, viz., Kutch Bharuch, Surat and Anand – where mangrove plantation was carried out. Even as presenting a positive impact, it the study admits of serious problems:

The average size of a household is close to 6 members per family at the aggregate level, with slight variations across villages. The educational status of the respondents shows very disquieting scenario as larger proportion of them are illiterates in four villages, viz., Ashirawandh (94%), Lakki (76.5%), Tada Talav (46%), and Nada (44%). The community status of the households indicates the dominance of Koli Patel (40%), followed by Kharva (20 %), Halpati (6.6 %), Jatt Fakirani (15 %), Devipoojak (16 %), Prajapati (1.3 %) and Rathod / Rajput (0.9 %) communities. Dandi village has the major proportion of Kharva community with 93.6 % respondents, while people from Halpati community are only habituated with mangrove plantation work in Karanj village with almost 100 %. Lakki and Ashirawandh have almost equal number of respondents from Jatt Fakirani community with 94 % and 100 % respectively.

Almost 34 percent of the households depend on mangroves for income and occupation as compared to other occupations, such as agriculture labour (22.6%), agriculture (14%), animal husbandry (11%), fisheries (10%), etc. Among the villages, the household dependence on mangroves is found very high in Dandi (55%), followed by Kantiyajal and Karanj (35% each), Tada Talav (34%), Nada (28%), Lakki (27.6%), and Ashirawandh (25%).

An assessment based on the respondents’ knowledge about the benefits of mangroves reveals that a significant proportion of the respondents are well aware of the beneficial outcomes of mangroves. For instance, 33 percent of the respondents feel that mangrove plantations prevent soil erosion and keeps soil particles intact. About 18 percent of the respondents reported that mangroves are helpful in preventing cyclones and thereby reducing the effect of heavy winds and the tidal waves. Almost 60% of the respondents from Kantiyajal and Karanj villages have appreciated the soil protective role of mangroves. Some of the other important benefits about which the respondents have awareness are: a) green forest and tourist attraction benefits; b) increase in fish stock; and c) increase in rains.

Women pass through the wild weed gando baval carrying mangroves for daily use
Women pass through the wild weed gando baval carrying mangroves for daily use

Prior to the development of mangroves, the village communities have been mainly engaged in farming, fishing, livestock and agriculture labour related activities.

The introduction of mangroves has provided immense opportunities to the communities to enhance their livelihoods by engaging themselves into various activities promoted by the plantation programmes. The community dependence on mangroves is very high in that the level of extraction of mangroves for leaves/fodder and fuel seems to be as high as 46 percent among the communities. While 65 percent of the respondents reported extraction of leaves for fodder, 23 percent use small twigs/ timber from mangroves as fuel wood and another 5 percent collect the seeds from mangroves. The household extraction of mangroves has been notably high in three villages, viz., Ashirawandh (94 %), Lakki (88 %), and Tadatalav (72 %). Mangrove extraction work is done mostly by women members as reported by 62 percent of the respondents.

The study uses the widely accepted total economic valuation (TEV) method for valuation of the tangible and non-tangible benefits of mangroves in the study villages. However, the total tangible and non-tangible values thus estimated in the context of the study villages are limited by the fact that more than 80 percent of the mangrove plantations have been planted after 2005-06 and hence, the plantations are yet to achieve sufficient growth to yield their full potential. In view of this, the valuation as done in the study report may only be reckoned as broad indicators.

Fishermen are one of the important benefactors of mangroves in the study villages. The study shows that even though only 30 percent of the fishing communities are also dependent on mangroves at the aggregate level, the villages, such as Karanj, Nada, Dandi and Lakki have higher share of fishermen communities (67%, 41%, 40% and 29%, respectively). This gives us a chance to empirically validate the claim that mangroves help the fishermen communities with an increase in fish catch in the mangrove grown areas. It has been reported by many scholars that mangrove ecosystems act as a habitat for various marine creatures, especially fish. A significant increase in the fish catch as well as types of species is being noticed in mangrove grown areas.

The study reveals significant increase in the quantity of fish catch as reported by the communities after mangrove plantations. There was an increase of about 21 percent in the total fish catch in all the villages. The highest increase in fish catch was observed in Dandi (144%), followed by Kantiyajal (138%), Tadatalav (110%) and Ashirawandh (54%). Since mangrove plantations are relatively new in Karanj village, the increase in fish catch was rather small as compared to other villages.

The study shows that about 25 percent of the households have their farm lands adjacent to the mangroves. A decrease in crop damage was observed by many farmer respondents as a result of mangrove plantation. This has resulted in a substantial gain in agricultural income. About 72 percent of the farmer respondents reported salinity ingression as a major problem adversely affecting their farmlands which are closer to the coastal areas. The extent of salinity ingression varied from village to village. However, it has been widely reported by the farmer respondents that salinity ingression has considerably reduced after mangrove plantations. In most villages, where the salinity ingression was very high and moderate before mangrove plantations, there was remarkable decline in the level of salinity ingression after the plantations have started growing.

However, though the impact has been positive and visible, we could not gather authentic farm level crop information to substantiate this point further. This needs to be further explored in terms of gathering more farm level information about the crop loss averted by planting mangroves as well as the resultant gain in farm income across the study villages.

Use of mangroves for fodder is considered as of high economic value to the communities engaged in animal husbandry/ livestock rearing. Like many other coastal villages, the communities in the study villages also show a large dependence on animal husbandry/ livestock related activities. It is found that more than 38 percent of the households own livestock of one or the other kinds. Among the villages, households in Ashirawandh reported the highest percentage of livestock ownership (94%), followed by Lakki (82%) and Tadatalav (72%) while other three villages have lower less number of households owning livestock.

A fisherwoman off coatal village Tadatalav
A fisherwoman off coatal village Tadatalav

Almost 92 percent of the households growing livestock reported that they increasingly depend on mangroves for extracting leaves for fodder for the cattle especially during extreme drought months. This also enabled them to make significant savings in their expenditures towards buying fodder from the open market. About 37 percent of the households reported that they were able to save a sum of Rs 2000-5000 per annum from being spent on purchase of fodder from the market. Another 29 percent reported savings of above Rs. 8000 per annum on fodder for the livestock due to the easy availability of mangroves in their neighbourhoods. Maximum gain in savings of above Rs 8000 has been reported by about 57 percent of the households in Ashirawandh village, followed by 36 percent in Lakki village.

At the aggregate level, mangroves helped to reduce the purchase of fodder from the open market by 24 percent. The highest reduction in fodder purchase was reported by households in Lakki village (41%), followed by Ashirawandh (32%), Tadatalav (17%), and Nada (13%). As a result of the increased consumption of fodder from the mangrove plantations, the communities also reflected that there was a notable increase in the quantity of milk production per cattle population which also rendered them income gains from increased sale of milk after domestic consumption. For instance, at the aggregate level, the average gain income from sale of milk increased from Rs 623 to Rs 1068 per household.

Among the villages, the highest gain income from milk was reported from Ashirawandh (Rs 4586 to Rs 5369), followed by Lakki (Rs 3394 before mangroves to Rs 5002 after mangroves), Kantiyajal (Rs 994 to Rs 1299), Nada village (from Rs 971 to 1471), and Tadatalav (Rs 1045 to Rs. 1189).

Inter as well as intra-village migration has been reported as an important characteristic of the study villages as in any other parts of the country in particular. The study reveals that before establishment of mangrove plantations, almost 19 percent of the households used to migrate (with notable differences between villages, Nada village reported 34% and Tadatalav reported 33% labour migration) to other distant villages, including urban areas for work for few months (as revealed by 39%), or for a year (37%) or few days in a year (23%). The development of mangrove plantations has had significant impact on reducing the incidence of labour migration in the study villages.

On the one hand, the work opportunities in mangrove plantations have induced the migrant workers to stay back in the villages and work in the mangrove plantations. On the other hand, it has been reported that in some of the villages mangrove work has already been integrated with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) programme which started providing employment to the village households in terms of guaranteed work in the mangrove plantations.

The study dwells upon the importance of evolving long-term policies and institutional intermediations required for carrying forward the development of new mangrove plantations as well as conservation/restoration of the existing plantations. The local communities and the CBOs need to be more strengthened in terms of increased awareness, skill development, capacity building, etc so as to enable them to conserve/restore the mangrove ecosystems for the future. Though a majority of the communities (91%) do feel that growing mangroves is important for protecting the coastal systems and livelihoods from the adverse effects of cyclones, soil erosion, etc, they still lack the motivation and incentives to conserve the resources on a sustainable basis. This is an important challenge, which needs to be addressed through policies and interventions for creating motivations for conservation and restoration.

It needs a special mention that a major segment of the local communities in Nada and Kantiyajal villages in particular, are apprehensive of the development projects, such as the Kalpasar and setting up of industries, which may hamper the future course of development and restoration of mangrove ecosystems.

The fact that growth of mangrove plantations is adversely affected by industrial pollution as well as garbage deposited into the coastal waters has been identified as a serious environmental issue by the communities in Ashirawandh and Karanj villages which need proper addressing. Besides, oil spill from boats and dumping of plastics were also reported. The discharge of saline water from salt pans is also reported adversely affecting the growth of mangroves. Similarly, the closeness of a cement factory near the mangroves area is also reported as creating environmental problems for mangrove trees. The lack of inflow of freshwater (river water) due to construction of a dam is also reported affecting the growth of mangroves.

Children of a coastal village
Children of a coastal village

Lack of access to infrastructure facilities in the villages has been indicated as a major problem by the communities. It is important to note that the mangrove restoration efforts will have more sustainable impacts if the communities are provided with the public utility services and infrastructure facilities that will keep them connected through increased group interactions and creation of a social space for mangrove development and restoration activities in the village development plans. This calls more efforts from the various stakeholders engaged in promotion of mangroves for launching joint actions plans for providing public utilities, especially, provision of potable water and sanitation facilities on a permanent basis.

The shortage of potable water has been indicated as a major problem by few of the communities. Majority of the households depend on unprotected well water, rainwater, lake, pond and lagoon. Only about 5 percent of the households use protected wells. So is the case with sanitation facilities. In the absence of sanitation facilities, defecation occurs in the open, which leads to contamination of drinking water sources with fecal matter.

The provision of boats for fishing is yet another important need indicated by the fishing communities. The study reveals that only 9 of the 98 fisher communities own boats for fishing (6 boats in Ashirawandh, 2 in Lakki and 1 in Nada village). In the absence of boats or inability to hire costly boats, almost 89 percent of the fishing communities walk on deep waters for catching fish. This situation needs to be addressed through arrangement for provision of fishing boats to the communities who can own and operate fishing boats on a collective basis.

Excerpts from a writeup by the Gujarat Ecology Commission’s State Project Management Unit, set up for the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project in the State of Gujarat titled “Marine Protected Areas”. The writeup presents a completely bleak picture of mangroves in Gujarat:

Gujarat, being highly saline in terms of water and soil salinity has very less biodiversity of mangroves along the coast. Recently over 14 previously extinct species of mangroves have been found to be proliferating in South Gujarat in the districts of Valsad and Navsari by the Gujarat Ecology GEER Gujarat Ecological Education & Research (GEER)  foundation.

There has been considerable degradation of the mangroves in Gujarat over the years. The reasons for this are many, like the dependency of the local and nomadic pastoralist communities on the mangroves for fodder and fuel, diversion of mangrove areas to industries, salt pans, and construction of ports, jetties, reduction in natural regeneration and death of the rich mangroves because of decreased influx of fresh water into the mangrove areas, due to construction of dams, both small and big in upstream areas.

The 1600 km long coastline of Gujarat was once dotted with mangroves, along the Gulfs of Kutch and Khambhat and along the south Gujarat coastline. These mangroves were not only protecting the coastal areas from vagaries of cyclones and erosion, but were also acting as green barriers against saline breeze. In addition, they were providing rich breeding grounds for the marine fisheries. Unfortunately most of these mangroves, except in the Marine National Park and Kori creek areas in Gulf of Kutch, have been severely degraded with disastrous consequences.

Most of these mangrove forests have largely been degraded over the years. The degradation has been both in terms of loss of Mangroves and also loss of species, with Avicennia marina virtually replacing all other species of mangroves. The total mangrove cover in the state at present is about 938 sq. km, which on the face of it is quite impressive. But most of these mangroves are located only in Kutch and Jamnagar districts, 727 and 141 sq. km respectively, which account for more than 90% of the state’s mangroves.

And here too, only one place – Kori creek – situated at the northwestern tip of the Gulf, accounts for 68% (643.3 sq. km) of the state’s mangrove cover. This is an isolated patch of natural mangroves, which has survived all these years as it is very far from any human habitation and directly influenced by the Indus delta. Recently, there have been reports of degradation in these mangroves as well due to biological reasons. The 1999 cyclone too had its effect, by uprooting many mangrove trees in this area.

In the past, the entire coastline from Okha to Navalakhi and Surajbari, i.e. the southern coast of Gulf of Kachchh in the Jamnagar and Rajkot districts was covered with thick mangrove forests. Now one finds only isolated patches of sparse mangroves, restricted mainly to the various bets (islands) which form the Marine National Park and Sanctuary. Most of the coastal mudflats in this region are devoid of any vegetation. In the Gulf of Khambhat, the area has suffered severe degradation in a short span of 25-30 years, with a rapid rate of 32.3 sq. km per decade at places.

Mangroves were present even 30 years ago near villages Sigam, Zamdi, Malpore and Nada. Presently, only Nada has some sparse and scrubby mangroves. The patchy records of mangrove cover by various agencies during the period from 1875 to 1983 show that there was a marked decline in the mangrove cover from 438 sq km to 13 sq km in most parts of the Gulf of Khambhat. In Kutch district rainfall is low, averaging 360 mm per year with very high variation in annual pattern. Intense rains lasting for short duration triggering erosion in the adjacent upland areas are common.

Drought is a recurring phenomenon and the region falls under arid zone with aridity index reaching above 40 in the western parts of Kachchh. Desertification, seawater intrusion and extent of saline soils are also on the increase every year. There has been a progressive decrease in the net cropped area registering a negative growth of around. Similarly, ground water situation is grim with many coastal talukas of Kutch district falling in grey and dark categories. However ground water accounts for 67% of the source of irrigation. There are no perennial rivers in Kutch district. Low annual rainfall, high velocity winds and extreme temperatures result in high rates of evapotranspiration.

Locals employed in planting mangroves in selected villages
Locals employed in planting mangroves in selected villages

Although the population density is less, many of the coastal communities, particularly the fishermen and Maldharis, are directly or indirectly dependent on the mangroves for the sustenance of their livelihood. However, large mangrove areas in this region have been affected by port development activities, notably at Kandla and Mundra.

Varied human activities like run offs and sedimentation from development activities, eutrophication from sewage and agriculture, physical impact of maritime activities, dredging, destructive fishing practices, pollution from industrial sources, and oil refineries etc. are some of the major threats to the fragile marine environment.

Gujarat is one of the most industrialized states in India. The major industries located around Gulf of Kachchh include cement, chemicals, petroleum and oil refineries, shipping, power plants, fertilizers, fishing, etc. The increasing untreated effluents waste discharged into the marine environment severely hamper the marine flora and fauna. Due to major refineries established on the coastline along the Gulf of Kutch, ship and heavy vessel traffic has also increased in the area. Accidental oil spills from various vessels ferrying in Gulf of Kutch is a matter of serious concern as it may also be a potential threat to the coastal flora and fauna.

Destructive agricultural practices using chemicals and pesticides like DDT have caused a lot of damage to the marine ecosystem. Many of the state’s rich fishing grounds, especially in the Gulf of Kutch, are directly or indirectly dependent on mangroves for their sustained yield. Degradation of mangroves poses a serious threat to this resource and to the dependent fishing community. It also leads to increased soil erosion in the coastal areas, as the protective barrier between the sea and the land is lost. The natural barrier to the salt laden winds is also lost due to destruction of mangroves leading to increased spread of soil salinity adversely affecting agricultural production. This leads to declining employment opportunities among agricultural laborers and marginal workers of villages.

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