Farmer's Son Witnesses Climate Change in the Sunderbans, Turns the Island's Fate for the Better
A farmer’s son in the Sunderbans has been single handedly trying to change the fate of one of the biggest mangroves in the world.
Mangrove Man Pranabesh Maiti inspecting land near his residence.
A farmer’s son in the Sunderbans has been single handedly trying to change the fate of one of the biggest mangroves in the world. Born in the island known for the Royal Bengal Tiger, Pranabesh Maiti woke up to climate change sooner than most and decided to do something about the vast biodiversity they were losing out on.
Maiti, 36, realised that many of the things that his land was famous for, were slowly slipping away, be it the juicy watermelons of Sagardip or the fresh produce from the rivers. However it wasn’t until the Aila cyclone that the full extent of soil erosion and devastation was understood by him. He saw land being washed away into the sea, fauna suffering and the mangroves that protected the entire ecosystem getting destroyed.
“Aila taught me something important – in the areas where the mangroves were, the dams didn’t break or get damaged. It was obvious we had to revive the mangroves if we were to ever flourish again. Coming from a family of farmers, I knew we had to begin with planting trees.”
Maiti started by holding dialogues with the tribals, elders and even kids. He discussed the role of the mangroves in the sustenance of the future. “After reading up a lot and talking to several people, I finally started planting mangroves in regions effected by soil erosion in 2013. It was especially tough as mangroves don’t grow everywhere. They need conditions like brackish water to grow,” says the environmentalist who has a masters degree in linguistics from Kolkata University.
At first, people doubted his efforts would bring any fruition. But he slowly gathered a small army, planting mangroves consistently. As time passed, people started to take ownership of the plants, tending to them like their own. With a Changelooms fellowship in 2014, Maiti found even more encouragement.
“We took our discussions to schools, showed the children movies on climate change and the environment and planted trees with them. Also, we saw our rivers littered with plastics and bottles. We collected those and planted in them as well. By 2015, panchayats, school children, youth clubs, forest departments had all gotten involved and the change is here for everyone to see,” he says.
From starting a lonely struggle without any investments to now having planted close to a million plants of several different species (like Sundari, Gorjon, Bain, Keora, Goran, Golpata) all over the Sunderbans, Maiti has come a long way. “We are getting help from many quarters and figuring out ways to use technology in our mission. Any number of gadgets or internet connectivity that we get is invaluable,” he says.
The big picture, according to this idealist, is to make the Sunderbans a model of self-reliance. “I want every family to be self-sufficient in terms of food production and livelihood. We just need to become a generation that understands conservation. There are days that can be frustrating but I rise to the challenge as soon as I fall,” says the man fondly dubbed as ‘Mangrove Man’.
(Photo provided by Runa Mukherjee Parikh)
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