Sylhet, Bangladesh, August 24-29, 2019

Wetland for Food Security & Transdisciplinarity in Fisheries and Ocean Sustainability

The word transdisciplinarity (TD) connects the many branches of knowledge as a mean towards a common goal or a way for solving large-scale societal problems like weak governance, limited livelihood options, poor access to markets, and marginalization of small-scale fishers in decision-making. The TBTI TD training program took place in Sylhet, Bangladesh on 24-29 August in conjunction with the 1st International Conference on Sustainable Fisheries (ICSF), hosted by Sylhet Agricultural University (SAU), with TBTI as one of the main partners. With a focus on small-scale fisheries resource governance, the ICSF 2019 and the TD training offered opportunities for participants in South and Southeast Asian regions to look at the problems of both the inland and marine small-scale fisheries sectors and explore possible solutions to overcome existing situations.

Sylhet is situated in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh and it is blessed with four “haor” systems (low depression of freshwater wetland), which are the most abundant sources of inland capture fisheries. In addition to providing food security to the local population, dried fish industries are lucrative in the area, supplying high quality products to domestic and international markets. Because Sylhet is famous for fisheries and other natural resources, including tea, the Government of Bangladesh established SAU in 2006 to promote full utilization and sustainability of these natural resources.


1st International Conference on Sustainable Fisheries (ICSF) 2019

The ICSF 2019 was the first large gathering of researchers, policy makers, academics, students and non-governmental organizations interested in fisheries in Sylhet, Bangladesh. More than 300 participants participated in the conference, from Bangladesh and 13 other countries. TBTI member, Dr. Mahmudul Islam (Dept. of Coastal and Marine Fisheries at SAU) was in the conference scientific committee, which put together a well-balanced program of oral and poster presentations in nine technical sessions covering a range of issues from aquatic resource management, conservation, blue economy, aquaculture and nutrition, biotechology, livelihoods, gender, value chain, fisheries policy, and climate change.

TBTI member, Prof. Svein Jentoft, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway, Tromso, gave a keynote presentation on “Small-Scale Fisheries in the Blue Economy” where he highlighted the importance of small-scale fisheries, the need to look at “Life Above Water”, and the opportunity to integrated small-scale fisheries in the discussion about blue growth and blue economy, especially through the implementation of the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines. Other TBTI members participated in the conference, delivering session keynote talks, were Dr. Kungwan Juntarashote (Kasetsart University, Thailand), Dr. Alice Ferrer (University of the Philippines Visayas, Philippines) and Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada). The conference concluded with a nice cultural program that highlighted local culture and tradition of the people in Northern Bangladesh.


TD Training Workshop

The TD training workshop started on 24th of August 2019, one day before the ICSF. Thirty-five people from Bangladesh, as well as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand, participated in the workshop. The instructors for this workshop were Drs. Ratana Chuenpagdee, Svein Jentoft Alice Ferrer, Kungwan Juntarashote, and Mahmudul Islam. The emphasis of the first day of the workshop was placed on governance, governability and wicked problems of small-scale fisheries. The discussions focused around the issues of how social and natural systems are governed and what are the governing system and governing interactions within the context of diversity, complexity, dynamics and scale of a particular resource management. The instructors also talked about the linkages between multiple disciplines, such as multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, crossdisciplinary and transdisciplinary as ways to manage a common resource.

Field Trip to Tanguar Haor

The field trip on the 27th August in Tanguar Haor was a very exciting part of the TD training workshop. This haor is one of the two Ramsar sites, after the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh. Tanguar Haor is a vast source of freshwater fish and thousands of communities depend on it for their livelihood, through harvesting and selling of fishes on a regular day basis, producing dry fish when high volume is caught, and sometimes engaging with cage culture and pen culture. Women are heavily involved in dry fish production and value addition during post harvest, more so than men.

Before going to the field, the participants were divided into three groups and each group was tasked to use the governability assessment template to understand the issues and the situation related to the haor fishery. It took two hours by bus from Sylhet and then another 1.5 hrs by boat to reach the village Joypur, one of the 88 villages in the Tanguar Haor. In the village, the participants from each group interacted with the local residents who talked about their livelihoods, the governance of Haor resources, and the problems they face. The latter includes drought/flood, lack of education, lack of electricity, siltation etc., all of which are making them vulnerable. All of this information was compiled for the presentation back at the workshop, which continued for two more days. The presentations were another highlights of the workshop, with each group showing, not only the good understanding about the case study, but also the hidden talents among some of the participants. One group, for instance, was very creative with an integration of a short skit in their presentation to illustrate the wicked problems facing the villagers.


Feedback from the workshop participants

Towards the end of workshop, the participants were asked to reflect on what they learned from the training. Some of them said that before the workshop, transdisciplinarity was just a term to them and now they better understand the inherent meaning of it. They agreed that the problems facing Joypur village needs a TD approach to ameliorate. The past experiences of running projects for the betterment of haor communities may have shown some positive but temporary impacts due to weak governance, and in some cases, corruption, lack of awareness, and climate extreme events. A better coordination and collaboration is needed among all the stakeholders, including governments, if we are to achieve a common goal, like sustainability and viability of the haor systems.


Ruyel (right) next to Dr. Alice Joan Ferrer

Written by Md. Ruyel Miah, who participated in the TD workshop and also in the ICSF where he presented a short talk on the sustainability of Mud crab (Scylla serrata) fishery in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, supervised by Prof. Mahmud Islam. Ruyel recently joined Department of Geography at Memorial University as a Masters’ student under the supervision of Profs. Ratana Chuenpagdee and Gabriela Sabau (Grenfell Campus), through funding from the Ocean Frontier Institute – Module I: Informing Governance Responses in a Changing Ocean.


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