Traditional & Sustainable Livelihoods
Andaman Karen Crafts (AKC)
Ever since the beginning of the initial field surveys (that sowed the seeds for ANET) in the 1970s, the Karen community, a settler community originally from erstwhile Burma, has been the backbone of field operations. The multi-faceted nature of Karen knowledge and their openness to new challenges has led to a unique partnership between field researchers and the community. This relationship, as well as motivation from within the local community in response to emerging socio-economic changes eventually led to ANET facilitating the formation of the Andaman Karen Crafts (AKC) cooperative society in late 2014. AKC's objectives include local economic empowerment while reviving Karen cultural heritage as well as conserving local eco-systems and sustainable resource use practices. These efforts are now sustained in partnership with Dakshin Foundation. Currently the team from ANET/ Dakshin facilitating the work is Saw John Aung Thong, Shiba Desor, Dr. Naveen Namboothri, Dr. Meera Oommen and Dr. Manish Chandi. Naw Cecilia, Naw Namu, Naw Rosmi and Naw Sarah are key members of the AKC who are involved in liaising between groups.
ANET is working with the Karen community to develop a set of initiatives that would lead to self-sustaining livelihood opportunities while helping restore cultural connections and generate positive environmental outcomes. Our interest is in co-conceptualising and developing initiatives that are suited to the community's own strengths and are in accordance with its existing worldviews and cultural norms. In 2015, the Andaman Karen Crafts Co-operative Society (AKC) and Women's Centre was formed as a registered society. With support from ANET, one of the key activities of AKC has been the building of a community centre in Webi which has been constructed with generous support from Seacology. This centre is expected to act as the starting point for a holistic programme to revitalise the community.
The approach is multi-faceted, simultaneously focusing on socio-cultural, economic and ecological dimensions of well-being. This implies a manifold strategy. To retain local craftsmanship while enabling generation of some revenue, skill-development and training programmes on tailoring, embroidery, handloom-weaving, bamboo-weaving and small-scale community markets have been run by experts from various organisations. At the same time, for conserving the Karen culture and cuisine, local history and folklore is being documented in a participatory manner and promoted through multi-generational story-telling sessions. The unique cuisine and food culture of the Karen are undergoing a local revival. In response to this, a slow food restaurant focused on Karen cuisine is now operational within the AKC community centre. To revitalise links with land, a nursery has been set up with ongoing conversations on community forestry. During the past year, a weekly market that facilitates the exchange of surplus items and traditional food items made by individual households has also been operational. In terms of capacity-building and community-ownership of the process, much has been achieved in the past year, and it is hoped that this cross-thematic intervention will lay foundations for a long-term strengthening of the community’s bio-cultural connections. This initiative has also caught the attention of the international Karen diaspora who engage with the social media site of the AKC. This has led to significant sharing of information, stories, recipes, etc. which are witnessing a cultural revival.
ANET/ Dakshin's interventions in this sphere stem from the idea that resource dependent communities are typically characterised by close links to land- and sea-scapes, and in most cases, enjoy outdoor lifestyles that are conducive to better consequences for health, fitness and nutritional outcomes. Most significantly, our work shows that initiatives targeting communities such as the Karen need to focus on existing positive linkages communities have with the environment to develop holistic programmes. Among the Karen, inherent strengths include physical and nutritional fitness, especially via a dependence on a diverse array of ocean resources, as well as strong bonds of socio-cultural identity emanating as a consequence of occupational specificities and migration. To build on these positives, in conjunction with our programmes across the country that work on context-specific resource management practices, we aim to develop a holistic programme that incorporates livelihoods, sport, nutrition and fitness that ties into conservation.
Restoration in the Nicobar Islands
Funded by the Department of Science and Technology's 'SEED' program, Government of India, Dr. Manish Chandi from ANET leads a project on restoration and technological intervention in the southern Nicobar Islands. Facilitated by WWF India’s Sustainable Livelihoods Program, the project seeks to restore two species of native flora, Nypa fruiticans and Pandanus leram that were devastated during the tsunami of 2004. The indigenous Nicobarese of the region depended on these two natural resources for customary roofing of traditional houses (Nypa) and as a traditional source of nutrition and food (Pandanus).The islanders in coordination with the Tribal Council of Great and Little Nicobar Islands are restoring these two species in their villages by regeneration. Simple household technologies to diversify utility and add economic value to coconut toddy, a local product, by processing it into organic coconut vinegar and coconut syrup are also being introduced. A simple hydraulic press to extract virgin coconut oil designed by the late Dr. Rauf Ali for the Nicobar Islanders is also being introduced to the islander community of the region. This project is backgrounded by extensive, long-term research carried out by Dr. Manish Chandi who has been working in the Nicobar islands since the late 1990s.