Ranit Chatterjee, Kyoto University, reflects on the POLLEN (Political Ecology Network) 2020 conference, which took place virtually earlier this year.
Against the backdrop of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the title of the POLLEN (Political Ecology Network) 2020 conference – Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration – was both apt and forward-looking in addressing crucial issues to adapt to the post COVID-19 era.
I was part of two specific sessions led by the “Transformation as Praxis: Exploring Socially Just and Transdisciplinary Pathways to Sustainability in Marginal Environments” (TAPESTRY) project. While current global policies on climate change, sustainable development and disaster reduction are being driven mostly from “above”, what interested me to join these sessions was to hear about the narratives from “below” and to understand how to build synergies in global policies and local actions.
The session shared ideas of interweaving traditional knowledge and lived experience with scientific evidence. Dr Shilpi Srivastava presented the contested narratives about mangrove growth in Kutch, India, linking the emerging camel milk economy to transformative actions of pastoralists (Unt Maldharis) to overcome uncertainties in the face of climate change and disasters.
The Maldharis (Rabari, Sama and Jat) are nomadic tribes in Kutch herding camels, buffaloes and other livestock. The word Maldhari comes from combining the words maal (animal stock) and dhari (owner/keeper). The Unt (camel) Maldharis are marked by their socio-cultural connections with the camels. Among them, the Fakirani Jats live mostly along the coastal area of Kutch and herd the endangered Kharai breed of camels.
The Kharai breed of camels is possibly the only breed of camels that can swim and are dependent on the mangroves. The Kharai camels are an integral part of the Jats’ socio-cultural identity. Until recently, the camel milk was consumed within the herders’ families. However, facing uncertainties of extreme weather events and the need to keep up with the rising cost of living, the herders have started to sell the camel milk, and it is slowly making its way to market. This transformation will have telling effects on the ecosystem services, socio-cultural and economic condition of the Jat community and linked communities.
It was interesting to learn about the synergistic links between the mangroves, livestock and the Maldharis in Kutch, and to hear how camel milk has been transformed from a cultural asset to an economic asset to sustain livelihoods in Kutch. I was particularly interested to hear about the care economy and increased labour burden on the women due to climate change and the emergence of the milk economy. During the discussion an interesting perspective was shared on how diversification of livelihoods can generate new risks.
Attending this session was very useful for my research, which is on disaster recovery with a special focus on livelihood recovery. I could draw parallels on transforming cultural and social assets to aid economic recovery. Furthermore, the discussion on adaptation and maladaptation, and especially on how an adaptation activity in the short-term can transform into a maladaptive activity in the longer term was an important learning for deciding any such future interventions.
Ranit Chatterjee is a JST postdoctoral fellow at Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University, Japan. Trained as an Architect he has a master’s degree in Disaster Management and PhD in Environmental Management. His work focuses mainly on disaster management while cutting across architecture and heritage, governance, private sector and ecosystem services. He has worked previously with the UN agencies, national and local, local communities, private businesses and NGOs in Asia. Ranit is a recipient of Monbukagakusho Scholarship of Japan government and an IRDR young scientist fellow. He is currently an Advisory Group Member representing the young scientist in the UNDRR’s Stakeholder Engagement Mechanism (SEM) and CEM member of IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity group. Ranit is an amateur photographer with a few publications in the National Geographic.