Migration and adaptation: a case study from the Khulna-Jessore region

by Nazia Bushra, Research Assistant, Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU)

Khulna stands on the banks of the Rupsha and the Bhairab rivers, located in southwest Bangladesh, and it is the geographical mid-point between the ports of Jessore and Mongla. It is also the second largest seaport of the country.

image001In the coming years, the Khulna-Jessore regions are going to become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Khulna is already prone to salinity intrusion and cyclones.  Less fresh water now flows in the adjacent rivers and saltwater intrudes here from the Bay of Bengal.  Also, the local shrimp aquaculture is affected by viruses and other harmful factors related to high salinity and the increase in water temperature.

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In the case of Jessore, the increased salinity, floods, and storms are all major drivers of human migration from this locale.  In order to obtain accurate data on the magnitude of migration and adaptation status of these two regions, we conducted a household survey of the 8 mouzas of these two cities. During the household listing survey, we found that people are suffering here from livelihood crises and related economic challenges. A large portion of household members that we interviewed were educated, which might explain their tendency to migrate to other regions and abroad.  However, some of them are adapting to the present situation by adopting new technologies.  They cultivate saline-resistant rice varieties (e.g. IRRI-11, 23, 54) and vegetables (e.g. water-melon, pumpkin etc.) but most cultivation takes place only during the rainy season; in dry season they usually buy vegetables and crops from neighbouring areas.

In Khulna, some of the most challenging environmental situations are found in Amurkata and Paikgachha. The communication system, mobile networks and food accessibility are all hampered by logistical issues.  Environmental problems such as salinity of drinking water, low diversity of crop varieties, waterlogging, and cyclone-induced tidal surges are pervasive in this area. Local NGO’s such as ASA, BRAC, JJS, NOBOJUG etc. are trying to provide fresh water to these areas and the government is also constructing some cyclone shelters. Because of the prevalence of cyclones, most of the houses are made up of mud and conventional golpata, and electricity is relatively scarce among these types of dwellings.

In Jessore, Bahadurpur village has two areas named Mathpara and Hotatpara which received many migrants from neighbouring areas during times of flood and other natural disasters. These displaced persons are economically vulnerable as they try to adapt to life here. They face unemployment, job insecurity and the lack of other basic facilities, such as a scarcity of clean water. The unhygienic sanitation conditions, combined with the other difficulties, have led to a high incidence of diseases.

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The challenges of living with climate change in Noakhali and Laxmipur Districts

by Aysha Akter Akhi

It is a nice opportunity to work with RMMRU on the DECCMA project. For the purpose of completing this work, I got a chance to visit the Noakhali-Laxmipur region of Bangladesh. This visit enabled me to talk with the people of this remote area. I visited 7 Mouzas in Noakhali and Laxmipur district. The people of these areas are mostly affected by the consequences of climate change. Cyclone, flood, river erosion, scarcity of rain, heavy rainfalls are frequent in these areas. Among 7 Mouzas, I found that the Char Elahi Mouza of Companigonj of Noakhali district is the most vulnerable.

image001I went to Char Lengta of Char Elahi which is very close to the Meghna River. People who live on the bank of the river are at serious risk.  Because of environmental factors like river erosion, many people have lost their houses, lands, and other belongings. They live in bamboo or tin-metaljhupri houses.

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Economic difficulties mean that attaining regular meals is difficult for many people here. Some have responded to these difficulties by becoming migrants. Many are living in the homes of friends and family places, while some have taken shelter in Mosques and Primary Schools. The usual occupations for many of these people are fishing and cultivation, but at present they have no land to cultivate and there has been a drastic reduction in fish populations in the river. Many are not provided with basic human rights, like food and shelter.

For these reasons, people in Char Elahi have a lot of complains against their local representative. They claim that not a single person is ready to hear them or even to talk with them, and that help is far away. When I went to talk with those people, they thought that perhaps I would do some help or provide financial aid to them.  Alas! there was nothing I could to for them except listen to their sorrows and sufferings.  I observed their lives and their needs very closely. They fight with nature early and late with great courage.

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The lives of littoral people in Rehania

by Tamanna Nazneen

Rehania is a coastal village in Bangladesh on Hatiya Island, Noakhali.  Cyclone, coastal flood and water salinity are some of the common natural hazards in Rehania.  Recently, a research survey led by DECCMA (Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and Adaptation), under RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit), has been held in this area.  For this reason, I had the great opportunity of going to Hatiya and observing the lifestyle of the people in the Rehania village.

Most of the people of Rehania are the victim of natural hazards like floods, river erosion and cyclones. They migrated here from other coastal areas of Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Bhola and Sandhwip (Chittagong). They lost everything from river erosion and cyclones. The Government re-housed them on the two sides of river dam and gave them a small amount of land per family but it was inadequate.


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There is a lack of effective livelihoods. At first, people earned their livelihood by farming and fishing but the farming lands in the surrounding areas are also affected by flooding, more than three times per year. Flood water is very saline here and as a result the farming land has become saline. During the dry season, a white layer of salt is visible on the land so farming becomes difficult.  Farmers grow Aaush paddy (a variation of paddy which grows in the summer and is harvested during the monsoon), chilli and ground nut but in most cases crops are destroyed because of flood and water salinity.

Due to global warming, sea levels are rising and salinity of the sea is entering up stream through rivers and feeder canals resulting in most of the farmers changing their livelihood.  In recent years, they earn their livelihood by fishing and doing other jobs through migration.  Seasonal migration is an important livelihood strategy to these families.  More than 70% of their incomes are derived from outside the village.  Most of the seasonal migrants work in brickfields in Chittagong under a contract and after a working season return home with their wages, of which a significant amount is spent buying fishing nets and boats (in share).  They also send some remittances for their family. Fishing is their monsoon season job and during dry season they always migrate for other work (in brickfields).

In Rehania, many women are self-employed doing animal husbandry.  They lease cattle and tend. In exchange, they get some money and can sell milk after giving a specific portion to the cattle owner.  When we went to Rehania village for the survey and wanted to interview them, at first, they thought we were government workers who had come to them for reporting about their life conditions, so that they could get their desired governmental help for materials for building more sustainable houses and a sanitary latrine. They were eager to take effective training about cultivation methods of flood prone areas and also wanted a subsidy for agriculture, saline water tolerant crop seeds and fishing materials.

When they came to know about our research and its aim, they became tamed, but most of them spread their helping hand and cordially responded to our questionnaire. Though their life is afflicted with lots of pain, they never give up their smiles and hospitality.  Whenever we went to any respondent’s house, they treated us with green coconuts, ground nuts, mangoes and whatever they had.  We were amazed with their cordial behaviour and realised again the hospitable nature of the Bangladeshi people.

We were also amazed with the children of Rehania. They were very interesting and curiously stared at us with our tablets and questionnaire papers. They wanted to follow us around but we insisted that they did not and instead go to their school. Whenever it was possible we offered them chocolates, biscuits and juice to have with us. They also gave us red hibiscus flowers. This flower is available in every house and roadside.

Natural disasters are a part of their life.  They always have to face it and struggle against it just like other littoral people. Naturally, they are brave and have adaptational capacities in such a hostile environment. They know how to keep their house safe from cyclones by planting banana and coconut trees around their houses.  For a better livelihood they migrate to other places and try to send remittances. They are optimistic about their life. They just want some help from the government to make their livelihood more sustainable.  The days may be hard, but their hopes and aspirations are never tamed. The always-smiling face is the symbol of their life spirit.

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Trees and tender-heartedness in Borguna

by Shihab

Nowadays, migration and climate change are talked about regularly. When a person goes from one place to another, this is called migration.  My long dream was to work for the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) and these days have been some of the greatest of my life.  During the field trip, as a supervisor, my main task was to supervise and monitor the field.

First of all, RMMRU selected a team which consisted of seven members (including myself).  My first trip was to Assassuni in the Satkhira Districts.  After a long journey, we arrived but when we disembarked from the bus, we faced different types of problems that came one after another. Due to the strong bond of my team, we overcame all the problems.  Every member of the team was kind and our sophisticated thinking allowed us to handle any type of problem easily.  After Assassuni, we went to Kaligong in Satkhira which was an excellent area.  After completing our work in Kaligong, we reached Satkhira Sadar.




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As usual, we awoke early in the morning and after breakfast went to the field but didn’t find anyone.  After searching, we came to the conclusion that there was a listing problem.  So, we came back to Dhaka with the work unfinished.  After four days rest, we went to Borguna which was very enjoyable compared to the other areas.  Every village was covered with trees and informants were so friendly.  Right now we miss those people.  That was the story of two fields, they are Hoglapasha and Borguna Sadar.  Gendamara was a very different field and also difficult.  I have never seen a village as large.  There were no transport systems in the whole village and villagers are used to walking, although we are not!  We worked easily and were enthusiastic about being there.  After completing the Taltoli field, we went to Patuakhali Kalapara, after which we got a one day vacation, which we used to visit Kuakata where you can watch the sunset and sunrise.  We saw some nice nature and water.  In this same way we finished our Patuakhali Sadar and Mirjagong field.  Banajora Boufol in Patuakhali was so different from the other places.  We encountered some folks who held strong views and this created some difficulties. Still, we enjoyed a full moonlit night with the river blows which was amazing. After four days rest, we prepared to go to a new field in Chandpur, which is known for being abundant with fish.  Above all, I like to describe my happy moments, however, I think I hold this memory in the corner of my heart.  Thanks to RMMRU for this excellent trip, I eagerly await the next opportunity.

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Migration & Adaptation: A Short Story of Khulna & Jessore

by Md. Niaz Murshed

Khulna is the third largest city in Bangladesh.  It is situated on the banks of the Bhairab and Rupsha rivers. It is also the centre point of the Khulna division. Khulna is also known for its port. This division consisted of ten districts and it is the gateway to the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.  Mangla is home to an important port for Southwest Bangladesh.  It has fabulous natural beauty but the lifestyle is not so easy here: drought, cyclone and other weather events are a regular phenomenon.  With each day, the risks increase. The local people have to fight for water on a regular basis. Khulna is also in a dangerous point because of climate change. Experts think that the future will be worse than the present.

image001 Phultola is a village in Batiaghata Upazilla near Pashur river. Most of the population is educated. Some people are living in other cities because of their studies and employment, and some are living abroad. People are mainly involved with agriculture. They are producing seasonal fruits and crops including paddy, daal, several vegetables, etc. Most of the houses are made of wood and leaves. Some people are engaged with prawn cultivation. Drought and cyclone are the main natural disasters here. Because of the saltiness in the soil, agriculture is becoming increasingly difficult.

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Saral Ward of Paikgacha Upazilla is situated in the middle of the Upazilla and most of the people are permanent residents. They are mainly engaged with business, though some people are involved with prawn cultivation.

The devastating form of nature can be seen from Amurkata , a village of Soladana Union of Paikgacha. It is situated near the river, Shibsha. The village has poor communication systems. Van, motorcycle and various local vehicles are the main medium for transport.  For 2 pots of water, village women have to go three or four kilometres away from the village.  They don’t have proper drinking water or water for daily use. Most of the people work outside of the village.  Most of them go to Gopalganj or Khulna district for a job. During cultivation, men and women work together in the field.  Amurkata has huge lakes for prawns.  Those who have smaller fields cultivate prawns and crabs. Due to saltiness in the water, they do not have any other option for cultivation. Houses are made of several leaves and soil. Because of the cyclones, there is a school which can also be used as a cyclone centre.

image003Our second place was Jessore beside Kapataksha river which is linked to the poet Michael Madhushudan Dutta.  Jessore is one of the districts of Khulna and one of the oldest cities. It has eight Upazillas. During the British Raj period, Jessore was a “mahakuma”.
Kotoali, Bagharpara , Keshobpur and Manirampur were our workplaces. Bahadurpur of Kotoali Upazila had less risks. Sekandardarpur of Bagharpara and Panjia of Keshobpur are less affected by natural disasters. Only Diganga of Manirampur has the risk of flood, but it is not because of nature, it is because of drainage problems.

After observation on four Upazillas of Jessore we found that people are mainly involved with agriculture but they work in their own fields with different vegetables, paddy, mustard, daal and wheat. They produce fruit for a commercial purpose.

To have a good lifestyle, people work in the capital city, their own divisional city or abroad. For higher education many people live in cities.

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Work with RMMRU and DECCMA: seeing a new side of Bangladesh and feeling a deeper connection to the country as a whole

by Rabeya Bosri Chandni, Research Assistant

While working at RMMRU, it was easy to forget I was in an office. Everyone is very cordial there. Colleagues are often introduced as “senior friends.”

image001We worked in Khulna, Jessore, and Bagerhat Districts. Among the various field-sites we worked at, I remember two names especially – Moralganj and Amurkata. In my opinion, the situation in Amurkata indicates the unequal development that occurs across Bangladesh. Many essential facilities seem to be lacking or in need of improvement. Similarly, people in Moralgonj face difficulties in accessing clean water, while also being vulnerable to getting trapped in the oppressive loan-interest cycle.

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These experiences have certainly impacted my professional life, but they have also made an impression upon my personal life. The culture of teamwork that I encountered in the work especially, has influenced me in a personal way.  Also, I feel even more connected to my identity as a Bangladeshi citizen because of my participation in this work.

Through this work, I have seen my country in a new face, which is not gorgeous and not well-developed.  It is, I think, a sleeping beauty.  The visits to various Upzillas of Bangladesh have created a feeling of real citizenship for me. Living in a particular area gives a person a particular sense of identity, of belonging. However, I feel as if this fieldwork experience has enabled me to go beyond my Dhaka and Gazipur identities, so that I now feel that the whole country is my place.
I would like to thank the DECCMA project and all of my colleagues at RMMRU – I’m grateful that I had the chance to work with them, and learn so many things from them.

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The lengths one must go for drinking water

by Aysha Akter Akhi

image003I went to Noakhali, Laxmipur, Khulna, Bagerhat, Jessore, and Gopalgonj for field surveys for the DECCMA project and gained so many experiences from this journey.  Among them, I can share the place called Amurkata of Paikgacha of the Khulna district where there is a scarcity of drinking water. This area of six or seven kilometres has no internal transport. People paddle from one part to another. The ground in that area is high in salinity. There are also very few trees and the weather is quite rough. People often travel three of four kilometres by foot to collect drinking water from a deep well which is placed in a “Local Bazaar.” Every day in the morning or evening, they go with one or two jars to collect water. In today’s age, this scenario is shocking to see.image001

Working with RMMRU on DECCMA; The memories I will not forget

by Rafiqul Islam, Research Assistant (RMMRU)

Life is full of experiences and I want to share my experience about the journey to perform research with RMMRU and about the memorable time I spent with my colleagues.

First, I want to give thanks to my Lord because I think I am so lucky to work with RMMRU for a few months. In those few months I have learned many things from RMMRU and from my colleagues.



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First, I went to Chandpur, Lakshmipur and Bhola to conduct household listing surveys. We faced some accommodation problems. My colleagues were very supportive and helpful to me as we overcame all sorts of problems regarding staying, eating, and travelling. I was one of the younger members of the team, so I received love from my senior brothers.  I am a jolly-minded person, so I can communicate with my respondents and my colleagues spontaneously but when we had to do the surveys, we had faced some problems because we had no female members in the group. When we reached each household, a few people were reluctant to participate in our survey but generally the majority were very helpful to us in our research. After completing these surveys, we returned to Dhaka.

In April, we left Dhaka again for another round of field work and to conduct interviews with selected respondents. This time I was in a new group. Our journey was good and we had 7 members on our team, including me. My partner was Tamanna Apu. Frankly speaking, at first I was not comfortable with her because her way of thinking and my way of thinking was a little bit different. Gradually we understood each other’s work and we became good friends for the purpose of the work. My other team members including Musabbir Bhai, Saiful and Roni Bhai, Ridita and Popy Apu were too good.  We had two members replacing Roni Bhai and Saiful were Himel and Tanjim Bhai. They were also friendly.  Every morning the females got up early in the morning, got ready quickly and were waiting for us.  All of these moments were so memorable for me and made for a very friendly work environment. This friendly attitude among the team members was not limited to the work but also in all spheres, generally, we got along as a team. I really will not forget those days.

Another memorable day was visiting our field work by Ricardo and Rocky Bhai in Lakshmipur.  I was little bit sick and nervous that day because Rocky Bhai scolded us for our mistake. At that moment I was sad but after, I realised that it was my fault. I always respect and love Rocky Bhai from the core of my heart undoubtedly. A most horrible experience occurred on 28th May 2016.  On that day we started our journey from Lakshmipur sadar to Bhola on a trawler ship, when suddenly a storm began.  All of us had begun to fear for our lives, but by the grace of almighty Allah we made it through. We have finished our journey through some ups and downs but in the end, the experience left me with one of the more significant memories in my life.

It was a great opportunity for me to work with a reputed organisation like RMMRU. Finally, I want to thank all the members of RMMRU.

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Conducting fieldwork in a highly stratified society

 – On the use of participatory visual methods to engage with the marginalised within Indian rural communities

by Tristan Berchoux

Social issues in rural India

Inequalities are omnipresent within Indian rural communities. They are perpetuated by the system of castes, which leads to a social stratification of India’s population. Moreover, vulnerability to external stresses is also driven by gender discrimination, which follows on from the systemic marginalisation of women and the differences of power relationships that exist between men and women, especially in India. In order to get an overview of communities, social scientists have to face the challenge of getting access to the views of such marginalised groups. This blog presents some of the methods I implemented to address this issue during a research fieldwork conducted in the Mahanadi Delta in India during winter 2016.

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Methods to get the voices of marginalised groups out

As part of our work associated with the characterisation of livelihood dynamics under the threat of external stresses, we’ve conducted an in-depth fieldwork in the Mahanadi Delta in India. First, the fieldwork team interviewed members of governmental agencies, NGO representatives and academics in Bhubaneswar. Then, the team spent 6 weeks conducting Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) in 10 rural communities in the Districts of Nayagarh, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara, spending 2 to 3 days in each community. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) was chosen as the main method for creating primary data as it enables rural communities to share, enhance and analyse their knowledge of life and condition. Different activities were used to cross-check the data collected and to cover all the aspects of livelihood systems, such as wealth ranking, seasonal calendar or community mapping. The PRAs were conducted by one researcher with the help of a translator and a facilitator who were trained before conducting the activities. The researcher monitored the evolution of the PRA and provided guidance to the translator and facilitator.

Implementing PRA in a class and gender-based structure

Focus groups conducted for each PRA activity were purposely held separately between men and women to capture gender differences and to give women, who suffer from a lack of recognition in India, the opportunity to express their opinions and issues. It enabled the women to express their opinions in an environment free from the power pressure of men, focus groups being conducted by a female translator. In some communities, implementing such an approach raised discussions amongst men, many arguing that “women should not be consulted because they don’t know anything”. This example of the social pressure existing between genders was also felt between castes and we also conducted PRAs with Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) separately. This enabled us to gain access to the opinions of women and socially marginalised groups.

Photovoice to increase participation during PRAs

However, we were also confronted to the ‘habitus’ of social stratification: even with homogenous groups of socially marginalised groups (women, SCs/STs), it appeared to be sometimes difficult to animate the focus group and to co-create the primary data. This lack of participation can be explained by the fact that such groups cannot express their opinions within the community and this pressure remains during focus groups. In order to get round this issue, we decided to add another activity during the PRAs. This activity, called photovoice (www.photovoice.org), is a participatory visual method that uses photography to initiate discussion within the focus groups. After a one-hour training course and the identification of a theme (“household and community assets that are important for their livelihoods), participants were given a camera each for two days so they could document the theme. After the two days, we met in a focus group to review the photos and discuss them. This method was a real success and marginalised participants (women, SCs/STs) got very involved. It led to very interesting discussions that had not been tackled within the previous activities and was a successful way to get the opinions of such groups out.


As a conclusion, it is necessary to extend the range of methods used in social sciences in order to capture the diversity of opinions that exist across the different social stratum within communities. As an example, we successfully used the visual method Photovoice to initiate discussion and get the opinion of marginalised groups such as women and scheduled castes and tribes. The challenge now is to integrate such methods in vulnerability assessment and to take such groups into account in the design of public policies.

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Motivations and challenges of integrating local peoples views into a deterministic model

by Gregory Cooper

From predicting traffic to budgeting monthly expenses, mental models inform everyday decisions by relating possible conditions (e.g. number of cars) to expected outputs (e.g. delay length). As with computational models, mental models are continuously updated as new information comes to light. Consequently, no two perceptions of the world are the same, shaped by individual experiences of interpersonal relationships, culture and the environment around us.

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Mental models have played important roles in the history of Chilika: a 1000 km2 coastal lagoon in the Mahanadi delta, India. For instance, it was hoped that the legalisation of shrimp aquaculture in 1991 would bring economic prosperity by diversifying local livelihoods and boosting annual fishery production. Instead, benefits were reaped by non-native aquaculture entrepreneurs, triggering cultural and socio-economic instability. The institutional settings soon adjusted, largely due to local pressures and scientific contributions of the newly formed Chilika Development Authority (CDA), leading to the banning of shrimp aquaculture in 2001.
Mental models also prompted studies of Chilika’s sediment dynamics in the 1990s, resulting in the new tidal outlet which has since increased fishery productivity 10-fold. Going forward, a balance exists between the institutional-led discouragement of juvenile catch and the desires of some fishers to maximise hauls.
I (very excitedly) travelled to Chilika in early 2016, hoping that both my mental and system dynamics model (SDM) would benefit from exposure to the system and its people. Until February 2016, my SDM was projecting future fishery production from empirical data and published work only. Interviews could tap into decades of experience working, living and ‘dancing’ with the system, as the pioneering system dynamicists Donella Meadows would say. I concentrated on how Chilika’s fishers, scientists and governors perceive the causes of the 1990s collapse, the subsequent recovery and the lagoon’s future. I also hoped the insights would help model evaluation and provide governance scenarios for simulation.
In practice, various barriers exist to integrating qualitative data into SDMs. For example, SDMs assume lumped populations making the same decisions, different to agent-based modelling which can simulate individual decisions. Yet workarounds exist, like disaggregating populations and/or estimating proportions making a decision for a given condition. For example, the former principle splits Chilika’s fishers into traditional and motorised fleets, associated with different fishing schedules and catch capacities; the latter workaround estimates the proportion of traditional fishers purchasing motorised boats for a given average income.
Furthermore, interviews may provide a quantity of opinions which cannot all be incorporated into the model’s finite structure. Therefore, it is useful to consider the rationale bounds of each stakeholder to understand how each mental model is shaped. Regional scientific experts may possess holistic system understanding, whilst fishers live and breathe the conditions important to their activities. Prior to the interviews, I was debating spatially disaggregating the fisher population into northern, central, southern and outer channel fleets. But from the fisher interviews I learnt northern sector fishers commute south to exploit the relatively abundant fish stock, dispelling my preconceived idea that fishers rigidly stick to their locality.
Overall, the field visit exposed me to different qualitative insights not acquirable from my desk. Understanding that traditional fishing communities may collectively begin using motorised boats when socio-economically favourable has highlighted how fishers adapt to intensify practices. Paradoxically, fishers exhibited environmental stewardship during the 1990s collapse by limiting their days fished, doing their bit to calm extraction stresses.
And finally, discussions with state and district level policymakers helped design feasible management approaches to test within the model (e.g. continued ecological restoration, bans, alternative livelihoods). The issue of policy implementation and adherence was continuously stressed, meaning any policies simulated in the SDM must be framed as ‘if all fishers complied with regulations, the resulting dynamics may be as follows…’, which is important for model design and scope. A big thank you to all who shared their mental models with me!

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