Residents of the Kabartal wetland area depend on it for fuel wood, house material, and other natural resources that provide income. The most common jobs for local people, according to a study published back in 2007, are in agriculture (42.4% of those who work) or fishing (5.2%). It is no surprise that over the years, conflicts have arisen over sharing costs and benefits from wetland conservation or conversion, recognized property rights, and regulations imposed by the Wildlife Act of 1972 and the Environmental Protection Act of 1986.
Inland wetlands in India are often temporary or man-made, and are traditionally used and managed by locals. Kabartal wetland is a natural, seasonally inundated tropical forested swamp. The 6,737 hectare site initially formed from a meandering creek, but increased in size when it became connected to a nearby river and surrounding wet areas. Satellite photographs show that Kabartal wetland has since shrunk more than 700 hectares (1984 – 2002). Like wetlands all over the globe, wetlands here are facing the pressures of agriculture and development. The study that I will be summarizing in this post, linked above, was published in Wetlands Ecology and Management. It is unique because wetland research is limited in this region, especially case studies. The study shares peoples’ attitudes towards wetlands in 3 villages of the Indo-Gangetic plains of India.
Per capita and mean family income were highest for the villages at a medium distance (1.5-3 km) from Kabartal wetland. The village farthest from the wetland had the lowest per capita income despite having the highest percentage of land-owning families. The village closest to the wetland had the most cattle owners, and residents highly valued the grazing and fodder provided by the wetland. Overall, ~66% of people living near Kabartal wetland owned livestock around the time of the study (2006). Migrating herds graze here as well.
Those living nearest to the wetland harvested deepwater rice, but others practiced paddy, wetland paddy, and sugarcane cultivation. Most commonly grown were maize, rice, and wheat. Some people owned land that was technically inside of the bird sanctuary of Kabartal. Total land holding was highest for the village closest to the wetland. Those who fished primarily used it as a source of income during monsoon and post-monsoon season, then transferred to jobs like farm labor, bird trapping, or ferrying during the rest of the year.
Wetland plants were valuable to local people for making plates. Wild plants made up around 28% of locals’ income. Only some fishers had a boat – most used passive methods like barrier, cast, and box nets. When asked about potential management alternatives for the wetland, people commonly supported draining (54.5%) and protecting the birds (83.6%). There were worries about mosquitoes, Leishmaniasis disease, and the impact of flooding on crops.
If access to the wetland was cut off, over half (52.6%) of people would no longer be able to keep livestock. The majority (68.4%) would not accept other land in exchange if they were given the choice, because it would not have the same agricultural value. Income in Kabartal wetland was found to be directly related to land owned and agricultural production. People with more land owned property inside the sanctuary, and more livestock, but did not feel dependent on the wetland. Farmers were more successful than fishermen, but more land owned caused more agitation about policies.
The white-rumped vulture, shown above, is one of a handful of threatened bird species that call Kabartal wetland home.
Research in the study by Ambastha, Hussain, & Badola shows that some action must be taken to not only restore or protect parts of the Kabartal wetland, but also that conservation managers and politicians must realize the socioeconomic factors at play in local residents’ lives. People have certain land use rights in India, such as fishing rights, but as development continues to impact wetland resources without stringent protective policies in place, conflict will arise (think tragedy of the commons). There are also external environmental stressors. For instance, neotectonic activity has changed fluvial processes and sedimentation in the East Ganges.
Some suggestions produced by the authors of the study for conserving and managing Kabartal wetland include:
- Manage the wetland and regulate land use based on core and buffer zone concepts, with insight from stakeholders.
- Protect vital resources more strongly.
- Raise awareness through public education and advisory services.
- Monitor environmental conditions such as water level and flow, and have standards for both.
Read the article for free on ResearchGate by clicking on the link in the first paragraph. What do you think is the best way to protect natural resources in resource-dependent communities? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading and have a great Sunday, Jess 🙂