Convivial conservation of Nagdaha, a sub-urban wetland in Nepal

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In a rather unsuspecting corner, nestled in a quiet suburban setting is a wetland called Nagdaha. Nagdaha translates to Serpent Lake with mythical stories of its connection to many different areas that have been lost in time. 

Nagdaha is important to many people for many reasons. For birders it’s a urban refuge to many resident and migrant birds; for restaurateurs and hoteliers its an object of aesthetic appeal bringing in tourists; for housing corporate bodies it is again an object facilitating sales of their property as a Lake View unit; for the residents it’s a place for washing clothes, bathing, and social gathering; while for some its the abode of Nag known for their mystical abilities as rain makers and bestowers of wealth and prosperity. As an environmental researcher, I look at Nagdaha as a provider of varied ecosystem services. 

So, if you ask what Nagdaha represents, you will get varied answers depending on the people you ask. Preserving a common pool resource that serves a lot of people is challenging because cutting access of a certain group of people in the name of protection or conservation is creating a divide much like the history of protection areas itself. But would it be alright to let the deterioration continue?

Nagdaha faces deterioration from many factors from concretization; proliferation of water lettuce, an invasive species; sedimentation amongst others. Multiple and conflicting interests have led to Nagdaha’s  deterioration. Strict protection measures cannot be applied but deterioration should also be controlled. This makes a case for convivial conservation, much like living together.

Water lettuce proliferation, a major problem in Nagdaha

Convivial conservation suggests prioritizing human well-being and social justice, as well as environmental protection. Overall, it seeks to promote environmental protection and human well-being in a mutually reinforcing way. It can involve a range of strategies including promoting sustainable livelihoods, supporting community-based conservation initiatives, engaging in participatory decision-making amongst others. 

For almost a year now, I along with a bunch of youths have been trying to address various issues at Nagdaha. Sedimentation being a prime problem, we wanted to address it by constructing a Sediment Retention Pond but so far have been stalled. Our attempts at reaching Lakeview property have not been successful and this property lies in Nagdaha’s sub-watershed contributing to the bulk of the sediment. 

But on the front of addressing proliferation of water lettuce we have made some progress. We have prototyped a biopesticide called ‘Jholmal’ which makes use of the allelopathic properties of water lettuce for killing pests. We are still in the phase of experimenting and will keep updating on its progress.

We have been fortunate enough to be supported by a lot of organizations along the way. Wageningen University’s student challenge was the first to support kickstarting our group. Then came the ‘In Our Hands’ grant by British Council Nepal and now our group has been selected in the Youth Food Lab program.

Prototyping biopesticide for combating the problem of water lettuce proliferation at Nagdaha

Along the way we have also worked together with Small Earth Nepal, a local NGO that has prototyped Floating Treatment Wetland System (FTWS) for remediation of wetland pollution. Together we organized a wetlands day event, the brief for which will be uploaded soon. It was a good event bringing in people from diverse backgrounds – cultural, religious, environmental, economical etc. talking about their shared interest in Nagdaha and wetlands areas, kickstarting a much needed discussion on Nagdaha’s future.


Participants at the Wetlands Day event organized on Feb 2, 2023 at Nagdaha

In all of these works we are working with the community. The group even got started by a community member approaching my friends and I who work in environmental, ecological, and biological arenas.  As we move forward addressing several wetland issues at Nagdaha and throughout Nepal we hope to more intricately assimilate with the concept of convivial conservation.  Our works can be followed through this link.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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