Aidex Voices

Operating throughout South East Asia, D’Well Research is a market research company with expertise in ethnographic research. They will be exhibiting at AidEx 2016 in Brussels.

Finding effective ways to tackle environmental degradation is crucial for the future protection of key ecosystems. For the local communities around Vembanad – Kole, Ashtamudi and Sasthamcotta lakes in Kerala, on the west coast of India, livelihoods are heavily dependent on fragile wetland ecosystems. 60% of the population is engaged in fishing and paddy cultivation. But local people are suffering from the impact of urbanisation, reclamation and mining activities on biodiversity. The disruption of this fragile balance embodies the clash of social and environmental priorities. There is no simple solution.

Before you can begin to tackle a problem, you have to understand it. And this doesn’t just mean knowing the theory; it means grasping the issues local people are dealing with on a daily basis.

D’Well Research carried out a study into the impacts of environmental degradation on local people, and their attitudes towards potential options for protecting the wetlands in the future using ethnographic research techniques. This involved long-term, in-depth engagement with specific communities, with the end result of an effective method of better understanding complex social interactions.

In communities so dependent on the local environment for their livelihoods, it makes sense that you would find high levels of knowledge around biodiversity. This was certainly the case for the 20 villages included in the study. The study revealed the positive attitudes of local residents towards formal conservation, to the point of wanting to becoming actively involved in sustainable management of the wetlands. It is valuable to know that local people are open to the idea of formal conservation and restoration efforts, as this means there will be little or no resistance to introduction of restoration efforts, especially if they make use of local knowledge and integrate local suggestions.

Research was also carried out into alternative livelihood options, which revealed that, without sufficient support for conversation, local people could be forced to pursue less sustainable practices. For example, residents of the backwaters of the wetlands were considering illegal fishing in order to make a living. If action is not taken soon, we may reach a tipping point situation after which degradation of the wetlands could be irreversible. Local residents were very open to new, more sustainable suggestions for income generation, such as a charge for ecosystem services which would benefit them directly, ecotourism initiatives, and sustainable cultivation.

By understanding the local circumstances surrounding environmental degradations, and gauging how local residents feel about potential alternatives, positive action is far more likely to be successful. It’s clear how vital it is to have the buy-in of local people when it comes to conservation – now it’s just a matter of designing an action plan which reflect their needs and invites their participation.