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Food and Agriculture

Preserving Mangroves Provides Protection and Food Security

CHIDAMBARAM TALUQ, CUDDALORE DISTRICT, India, Nov 13 2015 (IPS) - At the dawn of Indian Independence, Government of India’s commitment to food security – in addition to the impact of the Bengal Famine – was haunted by corruption, hoarding and mismanagement, resulting in ongoing food insecurity among the indigenous people in Tamilnadu and Orissa that lasted for more than five decades,

When the Asian Tsunami struck the coast of Tamilnadu in December 2004, the Irulas, who were teetering on the verge of starvation with their hunter gatherer lifestyle, were stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea on the coastal forests of the Pichavaram mangrove forests in Chidambaram Taluq (11°25’45.55″N 79°47’0.23″E) of Cuddalore district. The mangroves themselves, with their aerial roots, had reduced the power of the killer waves, saving the lives of thousands of Irulas. Despite that, their exposure to starvation widened because the tsunami deluged their rice paddies with salt water and the Irulas’ hunting and gathering skills were unable to produce more than one or two days’ of food each week.

“The aerial roots of the mangroves regulate tides and nurture the silt in the coastal ecosystem thereby sustaining diverse varieties of fish and crops” says Dr. Gyanamurthy, a marine biologist at the Pichavaram field station of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Pichavaram, Cuddalore district. They fix nitrogen in the soil thus supporting cultivation of saline resistant crops like cereals, pulses, lentils and even spawn unparalleled fish diversity in the creeks offering the cleanest mechanism of sustainable eco-friendly food security to the marginalised outcastes. But such scientific documentation nevertheless needed administrative support and legal regimen to administer food security for the impoverished and marginalised indigenous people.


The enactment of the Forest Rights Act the Biodiversity Act Forest Rights Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Food Security Act and the National Disaster Management Act together have trickled down to provide food and livelihood security for the weakest sections of society. In an exclusive interview with IPS, Professor M.S. Swaminathan, a former parliamentarian who is a leader in India’s Green Revolution and founder of the MSSRF, said: “The Forest Rights Act provides an opportunity for combining conservation with livelihood security; the National Food Security Act 2013 which makes the usual access to food a fundamental right for nearly 70 – 80 per cent of our population; and the Biodiversity Act provides a method by which those who conserve biodiversity are given some kind of recognition. We have in the national plan priority protection, the Farmers’ Rights Act. For the first time in the world there is an Act which combines farmers and builders’ rights in the one Act. The National Food Security Act, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and various other Acts which have come (into force) in recent times, they all are reinforcing each other”.

India, as one of the stake holders in the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation’s CFS (Committee on Food Security), was obliged to promote policy coherence in line with the Voluntary Guidelines for the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security, and in that context, reaffirms the importance of nutrition as an essential element of food security. It followed the introduction of the Food Security Bill in the Indian Parliament in 2013 and enactment in September that year.

India is the only country to have taken up a slew of legislative measures to combat hunger. “The Food Security Act in India is perhaps the singular and greatest legislative contribution of India to humanity in terms of food security,” said Prof. M.S. Swaminathan. “The Biodiversity Act propagates plant and animal genetics thereby assuring the farmers’ livelihood security. The Forest Rights Act protects the right to life and livelihoods of forest dwelling tribes assuring the marginalised forest dwellers nutrition and food security along with biodiversity conservation. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act assures the rural populace of a minimum standard of wages and minimum period of employment.”,

“Further, the Disaster Management Act lends state support and allows officers to take expedient legal measures to combat hunger during exigencies, to reduce disaster risk in the aftermath of future calamities,” he said.

Two elements are fundamental in order to make substantial and rapid progress towards global food security: coherence and convergence among policies and programmes of countries, donors and other stakeholders when addressing the underlying causes of hunger, and the recognition of the human rights dimensions of food security.

The Right to Food Team supports government, parliamentarians, civil society organizations and other stakeholders with the implementation of the Right to Food Guidelines in their work. The Right to Food Team provides technical and capacity-building assistance in the areas of assessment, institutional analysis, policy dialogue and monitoring; all of which are relevant for the right to adequate food.

But the Asian Tsunami was quite literally a watershed in many areas of governance. The Collector of Cuddalore district, G.S. Bedi, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service of the Tamilnadu cadre, included these half starving and traumatised survivors of the Asian Tsunami in the Scheduled Tribe List. Once included the Irulas were mentored about the exercise of their rights by NGOs like the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and BEDROC among others. MSSRF also took up livelihoods training programmes to offer alternate livelihood options to the Irulas. MSSRF imparted training in crab trapping, net fishing, sustainable eco-friendly aquaculture, net making, boat building and allied activities making the tribe self- reliant in livelihood security and offering and food security.

Text and pictures by Malini Shankar

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