Research | Communities
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have rich terrestrial and marine resources that support a range of natural resource based practices across the length of the islands. Recent settlers and migrants from different parts of mainland India have greatly increased the diversity of fishing and farming communities and complexity of social and economic systems in these islands.
Social and economic aspects of marine fisheries
The islands are characterized by multi-faceted fisheries, and fisheries governance needs to be tailored to balance the diversity of communities, ecosystems and fishing practices. The oldest commercial fisheries for shellfish and bêche-de-mer catered solely to foreign markets and even today, a significant proportion of the landed fish catch is exported to Southeast Asia. The enthusiastic promotion of newer technologies such as the live fish trade and tuna long lining and the unchecked growth of specialized fisheries like that for grouper, threaten to dominate most of the islands’ fisheries. Dakshin Foundation in collaboration with ANET has created the first detailed profile of fisheries in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This includes information on fishing communities, their practices, mechanisms of fisheries governance such as the operation of markets, subsidies in fisheries, implementation of regulations and management approaches for sustainable fisheries development.
Values of fishing communities
Sahir Advani, who is an Adjunct Fellow at the Dakshin Foundation and a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia is focusing his research on the effect of differing cultural and historical origins on the valuation of fish resources and marine ecosystems by fishing communities. Sahir’s research aims to understand how cultural differences, settlement history and involvement in fishing affect the values that communities ascribe to marine resources, influence resource sustainability, and impact vulnerability of social-ecological systems to globalization and commoditisation. Between February and July 2018, 101 respondents ranked and prioritised a set of 12 locally contextualised phrases and artwork that depicted values associated with fishing. The study communities include indigenous Nicobaris, the Karen settlers from erstwhile Burma, Bengalis from the Gangetic floodplains, and Telugu fishers from the Andhra coast who have settled in various sites along the length of the archipelago. Individual’s value prioritisations do not cluster much based on cultural group or geography. And there exists a high degree of variability in the value rankings across and within cultures. However, for some values such as freedom to fish anywhere and its link to rules and regulations, there are clear differences in the value rankings between indigenous Nicobaris and greatly commodity-driven Bengalis and Telugus. Such findings highlight the need for fisheries management and policies to account for the varying priorities of cultural groups engaged in fishing. This will help ensure that fisheries are managed effectively and equitably while accounting for trade-offs within policy decisions.
Histories of marine exploitation
Thinking with Trochus
Export fisheries have driven marine resource extraction in the Andaman Islands, leading to classic boom-bust scenarios like in the case of ornamental shellfish like Trochus and Turbo. An understanding of the social and economic drivers of fisheries in the past can help inform future management and sustainable development strategies. With this in mind, ANET Fellow, Dr. Madhuri Ramesh, aims to trace the shifting status of the Trochus snail (also known as the Top shell or Tecturus niloticus) in the Andaman Islands to identify how changing categorizations privilege certain actors and their concerns at the expense of others and the consequences for marine resources and island communities. This project will help improve our understanding of how ecology and economy articulate with each other in the marine space.
Ethnographies of migrants
Anupama Ramakrishnan has been studying identity politics in North Andamans as part of her doctoral dissertation at the University of Delhi guided by Prof. Sudha Vasan. Her study finds that resource politics in the Andaman Islands is expressed through identity assertions by migrant groups. Groups that have a longer history of settlement in the islands claim their right over the islands’ resources and accuse later, more recent migrants of unsustainable exploitation of social and natural resources. These political struggles over resource access have only intensified in the context of the neoliberal turn of the state and economy. Through an ethnographic exploration of the resource and identity politics of one such group—descendents of Bengali-speaking, agrarian, refugee settlers in North Andaman, also known as ‘Bharti Family’—she investigates the ways in which people in the Andaman Islands make cultural and practical sense of their land, natural resources and environment.
Resource use in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
The success of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) depends on the cooperation of the local community. Knowing the perception of people is important to understand their attitudes towards any conservation policy or actions. Local perceptions are influenced by many factors including the community’s dependence on the park resources, their socio-economic status and how the park influences their livelihoods. Recently, Madhuri Mondal from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and currently a researcher at the Dakshin Foundation, completed her master’s dissertation work at ANET, aiming to assess the level of resource use and dependence in and around Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park (MGMNP) and to determine the perceptions of local communities towards the park.