M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) International Conference on Sustainable Development in Hilly and Coastal Ecosystems!

M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) hosted its annual International Conference from August 7 to 9, 2022. The theme – Sustainable Development in Hilly and Coastal Ecosystems, reiterated the significance and importance of vulnerable ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them, as well as the people (tribal and rural communities) who are custodians of these ecosystems traditionally. With the UN General Assembly having declared 2022 as the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development and the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, the conference focused on eventualities in the context of climate change and in finding realistic solutions to the vulnerabilities and livelihood insecurities along the coastline and hilly environments of India.

On all three days, there were more than 1300 participants attention both virtually and in person,

as the Hon’ble Minister Thiru Siva V Meyyanathan, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Youth Welfare and Sports Development, Government of Tamil Nadu, inaugurated the International Conference and MSSRF ‘Every Child A Scientist’ Centre (online) at Poompuhar on August 7th.

The main takeaways from the conference are:
Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) are rich in resources yet people are poor in these regions. GIAHS sites like Kuttanad and Koraput must have biodiversity registers and database of local biodiversity associated traditional knowledge. GIAHS approach can be a strong tool for rural vitalization and rural development based on their ecological characteristics and sustainable agriculture. GIAHS has high scope of rural livelihood development through creation of certificate/labelling system of agricultural products produced in the GIAHS sites and market promotion, promotion of Agro-tourism, promotion of local traditional cultures and exchange programme.

Science and technology has a role to play in bridging knowledge gaps and sustaining ecosystems by making local policy that gain the attention of all stakeholders. More evidence-based research is required to integrate Future Smart Foods, identify agro-ecological zones, improved nutrition, income and other impacts at grassroots level.

Salinization and Agriculture, where adaptation and resilience are essential to manage seawater intrusion in coastal lands causing severe agricultural losses. To combat this, nature-based agro-business development model is required with solutions for flood and sediment capture in flood-based farming upstream, and use of saline resources for salinity-based farming downstream. Solar geoengineering is another approach to increase crop yields, and Farmers Collectives like the model in Kerala, can show how agencies work at the local level to combat the challenge of increased salinization.

Aquaculture and fisheries in hilly and coastal ecosystems need science-based interventions and community involvement to mainstream fish genetic resources for increase in productivity through diversification. Bridging science innovations in fisheries with Government development programmes is very essential for scale and sustainability of marine ecosystems. Focus on developing farmer collectives in hilly and coastal regions to address structural and institutional challenges.

Challenges are many, and achieving Sustainable Development Goals SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) in hilly and coastal regions as they are vulnerable to poor infrastructure, climate change and health care. Integrated landscape management is required to address the SDG goals and a movement of local landscape partnerships by collaborative community engaged dialogue are inevitable.

Gender empowerment to bring gender equality must be more than a crosscut in policies, especially for credit, extension services, inputs, and advisories. Despite some visible structural change, women especially those from tribal communities should experience an enabling environment in all aspects. Gender Equality can be achieved by creating an evidence base through systematic research and documentation, advocacy and convergence of policies and programmes.

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