Managing Extreme Natural Disasters in Coastal Areas (Part 3) by M S Swaminathan

This blog is from the series Science and Sustainable Food Security- Selected Papers of Prof. M S Swaminathan. This particular paper is written by P. C. Kesavan AND M. S. Swaminathan and published on Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

In the previous blogs, we discussed the following:

1. Perspectives on extreme natural disasters

2. Vulnerability to disasters 

3. Vicious spiral between poverty, environmental degradation and natural disasters

In this blog, we will continue to look at the factors that co-relate to natural disasters and ways to manage them.

4. Mainstreaming disaster management into sustainable development

(ii) Operationalizing sustainable development

  • With a firm conviction that the vicious spiral of poverty and environmental degradation could be broken by technological and knowledge empowerment of the illiterate, unskilled and resource-poor rural women and men, the MSSRF initiated in 1998 a programme for fostering sustainable livelihoods in the Gulf of Mannar area with support from the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme. 
  • Earlier, similar work had been initiated in about 20 villages in Pondicherry and a great deal of experience had been gained. The thrust in these projects is the blending offrontier technologies with traditional knowledge in order to provide a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pre-employment orientation to technology development and dissemination. 
  • The resultant technologies, known as 'ecotechnologies' are readily adopted by rural families, because of their economic and ecological advantages. Local natural resources are sustainably managed. 
  • The question of whether the largely illiterate and semi-literate rural women and men could develop knowledge and skills and become capable of handling eco-enterprises had already been answered in the 1970s. 
  • Swaminathan (1972) had coined the term 'techniracy' to describe the pedagogic methodology of 'learning by doing'
  • When learning is through work experience, the poor are able to master new technologies within a short span of time.
  • Groups of women and men separately or jointly organize themselves into self-help groups (SHGs) and undergo training and capacity building in one or more ecotechnologies based on the resources available in the region. 
  • Whole villages are organized into bio villages, where concurrent attention is paid to the conservation and enhancement of natural resources and to on-farm, non-farm and off-farm livelihood opportunities. 
  • In biovillages, the extreme poor (i.e. those earning one US dollar or less per day) are enabled to take to multiple enterprises based on market demand so that the total income of the family is raised to an adequate level. The biovillage paradigm, designed to foster sustainable and equitable rural development and job-led economic growth (Swaminathan 2005a), is represented in figure 2.
  • Location of biovillages in three states of India, numbering 100 at present, is shown in figure 3.
  • In order to build the capacity of rural families to manage the various enterprises on their own, Biocentres are established as integral part of the biovillages. 
  • The organization and functions of the Biocentre are presented in figure 4. 
  • The eco-enterprises shown in figure 4 are just illustrative and not exhaustive. The aim is to provide key centralized services to promote economically viable, decentralized production, thereby combining the benefits of 'mass production' and 'production by masses' approaches to economic activity.
  • Demystification of technologies, especially relevant to sustainable rural development, training and capacity building of the rural communities, provision of microcredit for the microenterprises and establishing market linkages, are all integral components of a biovillage paradigm.
  • The five Es of ecotechnology in the biovillage paradigm are economics, ecology, equity (gender and social), energy and employment. Without job-led economic growth, the poor and the marginalized people will not be able to come out of the poverty trap. 
  • Renewable energy is essential, particularly in the context of an ever increasing price of petroleum-based fuels.
  • Further, the sustainability factor would not be firmly anchored unless social and gender equities are mainstreamed into all the development activities. The actions to be taken today for sustainable development, keeping in view the need to manage climate change, are outlined by Swaminathan (2002) . The coastal communities can access both the land and marine resources for developing ecotechnologies and eco-enterprises. The coastal biovillage paradigm, therefore, takes into its account both the marine- and the land-based natural resources for developing eco-enterprises, as well as training and capacity building of the local communities. 
  • The MSSRF has prepared a toolkit describing the various ecotechnologies and how to develop these. Wherever feasible,'aquaculture estates' are also developed. Individual fishermen can bring the catch of the day to these estates, which are equipped to process and market the fish, crabs, prawns, etc. 
  • While individual fishermen may not have time and resources to process and market their commodities, the centralized aquaculture estates are designed for this purpose. The power of scale is thus provided to the resource-poor fisher communities. 
  • A 'fish for all' movement was also launched in 2003 jointly with World Fish Centre in Penang in order to ensure integrated attention to all steps in the capture to consumption chain.

Marine- and land-based natural resources in the coastal areas for developing on-farm and non-farm enterprises are wide ranging. For example, the brackish water area, especially mud flats and saline-affected areas, largely remain barren or with limited biological productivity due to low soil organic content, low level of nutrients and hypersaline conditions for most part of the year. In the estuaries, mangroves provide detritus that nourish crabs, prawns and fish (Mumby et al.2004). 

  • Developing an enterprise of mud crab fattening is pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-livelihood oriented (figure 5a). 
  • Organic shrimp aquaculture is another community-centred eco-enterprise. Culturing ornamental fish is very remunerative since it has an export market and landless women are given training and initial resources to take it up. 
  • Fish pickle is also a very promising enterprise. Since many of the coastal villages do not have cold storage, the fisherwomen are forced to sell the fish catch of the day to the middlemen at low prices.
  • Introduction of fish pickle technology has resulted not only in value-addition but also in reducing the involvement of middlemen and others who exploit the fishers. Pearl culture is yet another market-driven enterprise. 
  • In the Gulf of Mannar area, the MSSRF introduced local communities to the science and art of artificial coral reefs. This has helped to revive fisheries in small areas. 
  • Coral reefs are an important ecosystem, both in terms of biodiversity and for the invaluable goods and services they provide to millions of coastal dwellers at tropical latitudes (Moberg & Folke 1999).
  • Paddy is a major agricultural crop in the eastern coastal areas of India. The landless women are trained to use the paddy straw as a substrate to culture oyster mushrooms (figure 5b). 


  • Making paper and boards from banana waste is yet another pro-nature, pro-women and pro-poor enterprise.
  • The new paradigm of Evergreen Revolution envisages agriculture to be more biology- than chemistry-based. 
  • What this means is that biofertilizers andbiopesticides would replace the chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides, respectively. 
  • SHGs of women are trained to produce vermicompost/worm compost (i.e. the process of using earthworms to digest kitchen and garden waste to create a faster than normal composting; earthworm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium to enrich the soil (figure 5 c) and biofertilizers and biopesticides such as the Trichogramma egg parasitoid (figure 5d). It must be emphasized that demystification of science and successful standardization of the laboratory-based technologies into ecotechnologies leads to the shifting of assetless families from unskilled to skilled work, thereby adding economic value to their time and labour.
  • The experience with biovillage paradigm shows that people-centric sustainable management of local land, forest and marine resources establishes mutually reinforcing linkages between development and environment. The environmental degradation ascribable to anthropogenic pressures is greatly minimized. As of now, there are 100 biovillages located in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and the union territory of Pondicherry (figure 3).

The blog on Managing Extreme Natural Disasters in Coastal Areas (Part 3) by M S Swaminathanpertains to UPSC papers Gs 2 hunger and malnutrition, GS 3 Agriculture and Food security. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you never miss out on such important and interesting topics. Check out our previous blogs on various topics here.

Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor