Postcard from India: Graduate student studies how 400,000 rural fishers adapt to climate change

By Ashok Selvaraj

More than 400,000 fishers, belonging to specific fisher castes, customarily depend upon the lagoon for their livelihoods. For my research project, which was based on Khirisahi Island, I analysed how they perceive and adapt to environmental changes.

My research showed that this particular village is being negatively affected by factors like lack of fishing space, reduction in daily income, conflict with a nearby village, and lack of communication between fisher villages. These factors are brought about by anthropogenic drivers, like the opening of new sea mouth, shrimp aquaculture, change in fishing technique from traditional to synthetic fishing nets, and connection of Khirisahi Island by road. For the lagoon’s long-term sustainability, the voices of this minority fisher group must be a part of policy-making. Other recommendations include the abolition of shrimp aquaculture, connecting the island by bridge instead of road, and a return to the traditional fishing technique.

I thank my home supervisor Dr. Prateep Nayak and co-supervisor Dr. Derek Armitage, of University of Waterloo, Canada for bringing a strong theoretical and methodological orientation to my research work. Their timely feedback on the process and the output of research was invaluable.

I had a great learning experience from my host supervisor Dr. Vishal Narain of the Management Development Institute, in Gurgaon, India. He was instrumental in guiding me while I was in the field and his input on the governance and policy aspect of my research was extraordinary. I also extend my thanks to my language interpreter Mr. Tapan, who assisted me during my three-month field visit.

My field experience with the Khirisahi fishers was amazing. I not only gained academic experience; I also realised how hard is for fishers to live amid a changing social-ecological system while maintaining hope for bright future.

My research project is part of an ongoing research project “Living with Climate Change” (LCC) funded by Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada under its Partnership Development Grant (PDG). I presented the research outcomes at an International Workshop on Living with Climate Change organised in collaboration with Women in Environment, Kathmandu, Nepal, August 17–22, 2014 and at the 2nd World Small Scale Fisheries Congress, September 21–26, 2014, Merida, Mexico.                                     

I thank Mitacs for awarding me Globalink Research Award, which gave me not only financial support but also moral and intellectual support to carry out my research. I also warmly thank the people of Khirisahi for cooperating and considering me as their community member during my time there.

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Globalink Research Award program in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support this award, including Campus France and Inria, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.

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