Interventions | Livelihoods

For conservation to be embraced and accepted, and for it to be successful, there needs to be social acceptance and buy in. Successful conservation interventions hinge on the active participation of local communities in problem formulation, knowledge generation and decision-making.

Traditional & Sustainable Livelihoods

Andaman Karen Crafts

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 goal is to develop a set of initiatives that would lead to self-sustaining livelihood opportunities while helping restore cultural connections and generate positive environmental outcomes.

AKC aims at co-conceptualising and developing initiatives with ANET that are suited to the community’s own strengths and are in accordance with its existing worldviews and cultural norms. Its objectives include local economic empowerment while reviving Karen cultural heritage as well as conserving local ecosystems and sustainable resource use practices. These efforts are now sustained in partnership with Dakshin Foundation and ANET. 

Currently Saw John Aung Thong is helping support AKC’s activities with the support and advice of Dr. Naveen Namboothri, Dr. Meera Oommen and Dr. Manish Chandi. Naw Cecilia, Naw Namu, Naw Rosline George and Naw Sarah are key members of the AKC who are involved in liaising between the different groups. AKC has successfully built a community centre in Webi which has been constructed with generous support from Seacology. This centre has acted as the starting point for a holistic programme to revitalise community connections and culture. Multiple skill-development and training programmes on tailoring, embroidery, handloom-weaving, and bamboo-weaving have been initiated in the past with the intention of retaining local craftsmanship while enabling revenue generation. 

Activities at AKC currently fall under three key focus areas:

  • Slow food restaurant: The unique cuisine and food culture of the Karen are undergoing a local revival through AKC which now operates a slow food restaurant that serves Karen food. Post the COVID pandemic, food is being produced at individual Karen homes and AKC promotes the sales of such food products at the restaurant. In the future, the AKC restaurant aims to undertake catering services locally.
  • Wooden crafts: The Karen are highly skilled artisans, particularly in producing various wood-based crafts. Traditional crafts such as various types of bamboo-based products, fish traps, wooden utensils etc. are produced at AKC and sold to local handicraft traders and tourists. Going forward, AKC plans to invite experts to train staff in better bamboo and wood processing techniques to improve the longevity of products, procure carpentry machines that will help speed up the production and diversify products to include non-traditional items like bamboo bottles, wooden cutlery, wooden comb, toys, etc. which has local demand.
  • Weaving: Weaving on a wooden loom is an integral part of Karen tradition and culture, and is usually passed down from generation to generation. Colourful striped patterns and motifs that are characteristic of Karen tradition are hand woven into bags, purses, scarves and sarongs at the AKC. Currently, many women are involved in weaving activities and market their products through the AKC centre. 

AKC also coordinates community markets that have been organised for people from the community to buy and sell home-grown/made or locally sourced products. Recently, AKC collaborated with the Karen Youth Club to organise a community market at the centre in March 2023- the market had Karen food items including traditional preparations, homegrown produce (vegetables, fruits, etc.), fish and other products. The market was attended by more than 50 people. These markets do not just ensure fair price and marketing of local produce but more importantly facilitates social bonding and cohesion.

In terms of capacity-building and community-ownership of the process, much has been achieved in the past years, and it is hoped that this cross-thematic intervention will lay the foundations for the long-term strengthening of the community’s bio-cultural connections. This initiative has also caught the attention of the local administration and 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. 

Current team members: Saw John Aung Thong, Dr. Naveen Naboothri, Dr. Meera Anna Oommen, 

Past team members: Dr. Manish Chandi, Mariam Ali, Shiba Desor, Tasneem Khan, Savita Vijaykumar and Jocelyn Panjikaran. 

Past Projects

Restoration in the Nicobar Islands

Dr. Manish Chandi from ANET, who has been working in the Nicobar islands since the late 1990s, led a project on restoration and technological intervention in the southern Nicobar islands. Funded by the Department of Science and Technology’s ‘SEED’ program, Government of India and facilitated by WWF India’s Sustainable Livelihoods Program, the project sought 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 depend 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 restored 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 were also introduced. A simple hydraulic press to extract virgin coconut oil designed by the late Dr. Rauf Ali for the Nicobar Islanders was introduced to the islander community of the region.