What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
There are two. The main one is after working with different projects and seeing how the different partner NGOs each worked with their locations and each project with its locations, to develop community based organizations both in the fisheries and water resource sectors. But none of them really talked with one another, and when project funding ended the community based organizations (CBOs) were left on their own. Because I was regularly in contact with many of the CBOs they would ask me for advice and information, but were unaware of what other CBOs even ones not so far away were doing. It seemed an obvious step to help CBOs network. Initial attempts at this brought interest from the CBOs, but didn’t; sustain and needed a focus. The innovation then came from seeing how several small research projects that we were involved in could fit together – taking an integrated or system view of floodplain natural resource management, an inclusive structured approach to participatory planning, and the potential gains from learning between CBOs and from peer pressure among the CBOs.
The second one is from CBOs inviting to visit Patuakhali and Barguna districts in the coastal region and seeing vast areas dry and devoid of crops in the dry season when most of the country is green with irrigated HYV rice. From what the communities said it was apparent that climate change was already affecting the area and with no suitable groundwater resources and the main rivers too saline, there was little scope for agriculture except for a risky monsoon rice crop. Consequently many poor households there depend on seasonal migration by men to towns, leaving women and families in a vulnerable situation. We had already been working with other communities to test and encourage use of low water demand crops, but here even those crops would need some water. Also some CBOs elsewhere had excavated dried up waterbodies to make fish sanctuaries. So the idea came to merge and revise this into an approach suitable there – excavating some dried up small channels to hold rainwater for crops and fish, and to help the poor organise for collective irrigation and to access land that was lying fallow. Rather than come into conflict with local elites it as better to encourage them to be champions and to offer land to lease to the landless as a win-win solution.
Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.
Parvin Sultana has been working in different aspects of rural development and associated research for 35 years. She has a PhD from Colorado State University, and originally trained in zoology and wildlife management. For 15 years she worked as a scientific officer in the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in areas such as homestead production and vertebrate pest control. Between 1991 and 2004 she worked with a range of projects and organisations, including water and flood management, consultancies, a spell as sustainable development advisor for UNDP Bangladesh, and two years as a research scientist in the WorldFish Centre based in Malaysia. Since 2004 she has been a Senior Research Fellow at Middlesex University’s Flood Hazard Research Centre in the UK, but spending most of her time in Bangladesh in several research projects.
Since the early 1990s she has focused on impact assessment, monitoring, participatory natural resources management (fisheries, water, forests) and gender analysis. Recent work has included enabling, assessing and networking among community organisations of poor fishers and other floodplain users, research and development on integrated floodplain management by men and women, assessing impacts of micro-credit, rural development and water management projects, developing methods for consensus building and participatory planning for natural resource management, socio-economic and agricultural surveys, assessing household consumption patterns, and gender training. She has professional experience in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, India, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, USA, and UK.
In recent years her passion has been action-research working with local communities to organize, plan and take up improvements in their natural resource management. She has published extensively on these issues. In particular since 2007 she has designed and then taken up projects to work with about 250 of the existing community based organizations managing water and fisheries in Bangladesh floodplains, to see how they can network to learn from one another and thereby take a more integrated approach to improving management of crops, water and natural fisheries. This integrated or systems approach, and earlier work on participatory planning are all driven by the view that there are potential win-win approaches that can improve fisheries and agriculture, and that benefit poor people and can encourage support from the not so poor.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
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