Barbara writes her blog – November 2013

Barbara writes her blog – November 2013

Coming ‘home’

Last month I paid my fourth visit to Kolkata since our Darwin Initiative project began in April 2012.  It seems no time at all since I first stepped off the plane into a soft tropical morning and pretty much the unknown. At that time the project resided largely in our minds and returning this October I was impressed by what has been achieved by the team in India in just 18 months.  This recent visit was made in the company of John Mauremootoo (http://www.inspiralpathways.com/) who is working with us to develop good practice project management and evaluation.  I was especially excited because John was planning to focus on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) techniques which I am optimistic will be a very useful approach for us.  John will be blogging about the visit from his perspective in a couple of weeks and will explain AI more fully then.

All change!

A harbinger of the progress I was to find at CPS was found at the airport.  In March I arrived at the old ‘Dum Dum’ airport (the local nickname), where I was greeted by familiar, homely, low rise buildings, vintage furniture and friendly customs staff.  The friendly customs staff remain but otherwise everything has changed. This time I emerged into the vast crystal edifice of the new International airport, clad in glass and carpeted with pale marble slabs, cool to the touch.  A remarkable new phase, mirrored in a small way at the CPS and the Ecological Research Unit lab, both of which have been transformed. The CPS was an empty room a year ago but now, under the direction of Dr Parthib Basu, it has become a busy space, equipped with microscopes, laptop stations, bench space and storage for samples.  The walls are adorned with ID crib sheets, details about sites and time-tables for field work. A new course aimed at MSc students means that there are interns coming and going, joining the lab for short periods to get essential work experience.

Students are welcome

The MSc internships are a key part of the programme and the way it has been implemented is a fantastic example of future proofing.  The University has accredited a course in ‘Pollination biology and agro-ecosystems’ as an optional unit for existing MSc students which is taught by the CPS team led by Dr Basu.  On this visit I was invited to give a lecture on Ecosystem services in the Agroecosystem.  I found the students to be thoroughly engaged in their topic and keen to get involved with practical research. This arrangement integrates the CPS into mainstream University courses, adding value for the wider University community.  From our project perspective it allows us to cascade knowledge gains and it encourages students to get involved in the CPS research programmes which enables the team to increase output.

Making it ‘real’

Another key component of the project is mainstreaming the output of the project into policy and practice.  This is easier said than done!  However, there has been good progress in both areas. Field staff at our regional field centres in Odisha and Tripura have been working with farmers to collect long-term pollinator data.  Staff train farmers to set and collect pan traps and teach farmers basic information about the differences between beneficial and pest species.  During my visit I had an opportunity to visit Tripura, where I met local staff who are enthusiastic about farmer engagement and are building resilient farmer networks which will enable farmers to share information and experience.  In addition to discussing pollinators, staff also distribute pheromone traps to control crop pests. This additional interest that the team takes in the day-to-day challenges that farmers face enables good relationships between farmers and the CPS.

To mainstream the knowledge gains made by our project it is essential that policy makers take the findings on board.  The support and encouragement of the Tripura government is phenomenal, from the Dept. of Agriculture through to the Ministry of Biotechnology there has been a willingness to make resources available and form partnership projects. There is now an MOU between the CPS and the Ministry of Biotechnology to share resources and project outcomes.  A special mention must be made here of Baharul Islam , Joint Director of the Department of Agriculture.  Baharul has supported this project from the outset, he has generously taken on the role of our official Rural Advisor and has also made staff available to the project, supported our staff and linked us into the network of famers across Tripura.  His support has been key to our success in the state. Furthermore, his sister-in-law makes the best vegetarian food I have ever tasted!

Team spirit

On the last day we gathered in the CPS lab to discuss communications.  Fourteen of us, from the CPS and the Ecological Research Unit, students and staff, squeezed in and sat on the floor.  The final exercise was a brainstorm to generate ideas for extension materials for farmers and their children.  It was a very animated session with great suggestions for games that could be developed, everyone absorbed in the task, all intent on building an exciting and useful set of resources. There was a great atmosphere in the room and looking round it was evident that in a short time we have become a real team.

Parthib Basu

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