Speak up and change your life

08 August 2011 | News story

In Bangladesh, IUCN and partners are transforming the lives of women and poor fishermen by giving them better access to natural resources and a louder voice in decisions on how these resources are managed.

The project provides women and fishermen with practical training on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way and allows them to take part in local government committees. It also brings community members and local government officials together and provides poor, excluded sectors of the society with a real voice in local decision-making. As a result, local people have better access to natural resources and government officials have become more accountable towards communities and more responsive to their needs and demands.

"When fishing was prohibited during ban periods, people barely managed to earn a living", says Purnima Rani Das, member of the local community. "We borrowed money from informal money lenders at high interests, felled trees and unsustainably harvested other natural resources. Thanks to this project, this is no longer necessary and our lives have improved in many ways."

The project has particularly benefited women, who constitute around 40% of the committees in the region, and are now able to actively participate in the meetings. Previously, they had little representation in their communities and spent most of their time in their homes.

Bulu Rani Bishash, for example, is a 40-year old woman who is a member of a community-based organization in the Magura District. Thanks to the project, she was able to acquire a fish sanctuary, nursery and a technologically-advanced water pump. She is also planning to start a fruit orchard. She now has substantial savings and her profits allow her to sustain both her and her son’s family.

Thanks to their involvement in local government committees, communities in the Chandpur district have been able to obtain an increase in compensation from 500 to 3,500-5,000 Bangladeshi taka/head (approximately from 5 GBP to 50 GBP/head), that poor fishermen receive during the lean season – time when fishing is banned. A total of 11 fish sanctuaries (protected areas) have been created with land donated by communities. The near-extinct fish larvae has been re-introduced in the area, leading to increased fish stocks and better nutritional security for poor communities living there.

"We are very pleased with the results that we have achieved so far", says Remeen Firoz, from IUCN’s Bangladesh Office. "The project has transformed the lives of more than 1,200 families in fishing communities in haor – or wetland - areas in Jamalganj. It has also helped to gradually eliminate the exploitative leasing system controlled by powerful elites and encourage active participation of all actors living in the area – including women and the poor."

The project’s positive impacts could extend further to include other fishing communities in Bangladesh’s extensive wetlands, benefiting 10,000 families or more. In a country that is among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, changes in the way natural resources are governed are fundamental to help poor fishing communities adapt to the changing climate.

The project is funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development.

For more information, please contact:
Remeen Firoz, IUCN’s Bangladesh Office, e-mail: Remeen.Firoz@iucn.org