What Field Research with Solimar Looks Like

Insights from Our First Student Researcher in Bangladesh

The efficacy of our projects – many of which are based in widely unexplored destinations – relies upon the innovative findings of the research community. That is why Solimar is committed to supporting prospective researchers every step of the way. Through our Student Research Placement Program, we guide student researchers looking to conduct field research in our destinations by utilizing our connections with project partners all over the world. We provide students with connections to local research institutions and networks, access to accommodations and transportation, mentorship from an assigned manager from the Solimar team, and so much more.

The research possibilities with Solimar are endless, with opportunities in Timor-Leste, Armenia, Liberia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Tunisia, and more. Whether you’re studying conservation or cultural anthropology, or global health, we can find a research placement for you. Read more below or apply to join us today.

One student researcher’s recent visit to the Sundarbans in Bangladesh

Catherine Padgett recently spent a month as a field researcher in the Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh, working through our student research placement program. As a student at the University of Edinburgh earning her Master’s in Food Security, Padgett reached out to Solimar International interested in completing her thesis in the Sundarbans, interested in exploring the connections between mangroves and food security. 

With our assistance, not only did Padgett successfully collect impactful data, but also encountered a much more intimate exploration of the Sundarbans than she expected when she first began her research journey. 

Project Overview 

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest is a national park in southwest Bangladesh. It is the world’s largest continuous mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With nearly 3 million people dependent upon it and the resources it provides, its conservation is crucial for both nature and communities.

Solimar has recently begun the USAID Ecotourism Activity, implementing the Bangladesh Ecotourism & Conservation Alliance in the Sundarbans to utilize tourism and conservation to generate sustainable development activities that support both the forest and the population living in and around it. The goal is to maximize tourism as a tool for both poverty alleviation and conservation. 

The Sundarbans contains many unexplored facets, and that is where our student researcher steps in. 

“The team at Solimar helped me to navigate the logistics of travel to Bangladesh and equipped me with project support and valuable connections in Bangladesh. BEDS provided accommodation, Bengali translation, local connections, and cultural guidance. This experience has cemented my drive to pursue research as a career path, supporting projects that center smallholder livelihood development, local perspectives, and community-based initiatives. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.” – Catherine Padgett

The Start of Padgett’s Student Research Journey 

Padgett’s initial interest in the Sundarbans began with her fascination for understanding how mature mangrove forests can provide essential tools to strengthen food security in coastal communities. While there is an abundance of literature on how mangrove conservation projects can support livelihoods along the world’s coasts, Padgett noticed the lack of defined evidence on how mangrove conservation interventions can support food security specifically. In order to fill this gap in academia and in practice, she looked to the communities of the Sundarbans. 

How do mangrove conservation interventions increase short-term food security for the Banojibi villages, while working towards long-term regional stability, in the Sundarbans Forest of Bangladesh? – Padgett’s Field Research Placement Question 

To gain insight into local mangrove conservation interventions, Solimar connected Padgett with a core Alliance parter, the NGO Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS). BEDS is a community-based non-profit organization working to solve complex environmental and social issues in Bangladesh by bridging the gap between humans and nature. The Sundarbans mangrove ecosystem is one of their many action areas, which include improving water and sanitation systems, gender equality, workforce development, and more. Their current initiative implements community-centric nature education programs that provide the underprivileged population living in and around the Sundarbans – the Banojibi people – with the opportunity to share their extensive knowledge of the mangrove ecosystem with the rest of the country. This project enhances environmental education while simultaneously providing livelihoods to the local people, who are heavily dependent upon the forest. 

“Through this internship opportunity, I was able to travel to Dacope, a sub-district of Bangladesh’s Khulna district, to research the impact of local mangrove conservation efforts on regional household food security. Here, I worked with one of Solimar’s project partners, the Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS), to conduct in-person fieldwork, including focus group discussions and interviews with local stakeholders.” – Catherine Padgett

Beyond Data Collection: Research Placement Opportunities

Padgett headed to Bangladesh for three and a half weeks to examine the many impacts of the BEDS projects. However, BEDS equipped Padgett with much more than a look into mangrove conservation interventions. During her time in Bangladesh, BEDS provided Padgett with housing in their living facility equipped with A/C, a private bathroom, and delicious Bengali dishes. More so, the organization went out of its way to ensure Padgett was able to navigate cultural barriers and experience the Sundarbans community up close and personal. With the assistance of three, rotating female interpreters, Padgett had the opportunity to visit homes, connect with local stakeholders, and develop strong relationships with the BEDS team. BEDS ensured Padgett’s first experience with field research went seamlessly. 

Enabled with the opportunity to conduct such an intimate investigation, Padgett was able to take a deep look into how mangrove intervention programs contribute to a much more holistic problem. Padgett has found that the impact of these programs not only improves food security but also extends its influence to gender equality. The BEDS initiative has allowed many women to shift from household labor to the workforce, improving the food security for their families while providing women with more agency to control their finances. 

One of the most memorable takeaways Padgett returned home with was the ability to witness the strong connection the people of Bangladesh have with the Sundarbans. Padgett notes how inspired she felt by the palpable respect and protectiveness people had for the forest. Local communities were extremely knowledgeable about habitat conservation needs for the area, underscoring the importance of centering Indigenous ecological knowledge in any conservation endeavor. The Sundarbans directly or indirectly impacts every person in Bangladesh, even those living far from the edge of the forest. The country’s communal sharing of knowledge makes Bangladesh well-suited for mangrove conservation, Padgett says. 

Solimar’s Commitment to Student Researchers and Communities

Padgett’s research equips our project in the Sundarbans with further discernment to extent of the forest’s impact. With Solimar, researchers are able to work directly with the goals of global and local initiatives and witness the real-world implications of their findings. Padgett’s work overlapped with many of our objectives, including capacity development in sustainable landscapes and female participation in intervention programs and the workforce. Her work will directly inform business planning for BEDS, expanding their important work to more areas and directly influencing policy recommendations that the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance will be working for the next three years to achieve.

The student research placement program provides students with the distinctive opportunity to conduct immersive investigations in locations that are undersaturated within the research community but contain an abundance of valuable information. Uniquely, we want to ensure that research projects are crafted in collaboration with–and ultimately benefit–the local communities who graciously host our researchers. As our project moves forward, we will continue to equip scholars like Padgett with a platform to use their brilliance toward the vitality of the Sundarbans. 

Interested in becoming one of those scholars? Learn more about the Student Research Placement Program here

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