CONSERVATION AND CONFLICTS IN THE SUNDARBAN BIOSPHERE RESERVE, INDIA
Geographical Review 105 (4)
American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?
Priyanka Ghosh: The main purpose of the study is to explore the impacts of conservation on the local people’s livelihoods living in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. In addition, the study examines the challenges of integrating conservation and development in real world situations in protected areas in India which are often surrounded by dense human settlements.
American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
Priyanka Ghosh: The research in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, West Bengal, India addresses the plight of the local people such as local fishermen who live in the villages located on the northern boundary of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve which is a significant component of the biosphere reserve. Furthermore, it shows how local population’s opinion could be valuable in the resource management of the biosphere reserve which holds the largest mangrove forest in the world along with its counterparts in the Bangladesh. The conservation of Bengal tigers cannot be successful without the cooperation of the local population living outside the tiger reserve and therefore, they should be actively engaged in the decision-making process of the biosphere reserve. Additionally, local people including fishermen and honey collectors should be effectively engaged in ecotourism activities so that they can reduce their dependence on fishing in the STR, which often results in deaths and injuries from tiger attacks. Conservation of natural resources along with economic development is one of the central questions in the world today and the research in the Sundarbans, India addresses such question. The results of the research point out possible solutions to resolve resource management related conflicts around the world.
American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Priyanka Ghosh: This study is closely connected with other studies on protected area management in South Asia. The results of this research are also relevant and applicable to other protected areas in various countries outside South Asia including the United States. The study also has a close connection with literature on forest-based conflicts in colonial and post-colonial India and how those conflicts influence biodiversity conservation in a particular region.
American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Priyanka Ghosh: The study explores the everyday struggles of the Sundarban fishermen in terms of earning a livelihood and how they are affected by the rules and regulations imposed on fishing by the West Bengal Forest Department.
The study also reveals that the conservation practices in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is a combination of top-down and participatory conservation which allows the Forest Department to seek cooperation from the local population to capture strayed tigers from the villages surrounding the Sundarban Tiger Reserve. Furthermore, the current conservation practices provide limited opportunities to the local population to earn livelihoods from ecotourism. Fishermen and honey collectors are not at all involved in expanding ecotourism business outside the Sundarban Tiger Reserve. The majority of the fishermen who were interviewed pointed out that a fixed monthly income of Rs. 2,000-3,000 (about $37-$55 in 2011-2012) as a lodge manager, cook or caretaker would not be sufficient to support their families.
American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
Priyanka Ghosh: Theoretically the study contributes to the field of political ecology which is a branch of human geography. More precisely, the study helps to understand how marginalized social groups often struggle to get access to natural resources on which their livelihood depend. In other words, the research contributes to the field of political ecology by exploring the causes, characteristics and consequences of resource-access struggles of marginalized communities living adjacent to the protected areas such as tiger reserves, sanctuaries, and national parks.
American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?
Priyanka Ghosh: Geography is the study of interaction among place, people, and the environment. This study shows how conservation of physical environment such as mangrove ecosystem influences people’s livelihood in a particular region. On the other hand, the study also demonstrates how interaction among different groups of people such as fishermen and forest department officials influences the conservation outcome in a protected area. Additionally, the study highlights how certain economic activity such as Tiger Prawn seed collection from the rivers and creeks in the Sundarbans is detrimental to mangrove ecosystem as it destroys the overall ecological balance. Thus, the study helps us to think how human activities create environmental problems which is one of the central themes in geography.
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