In Jhansi, Bundelkhand farmers experience great uncertainties in agriculture due to erratic rainfall. Covering 13 districts of southwest Uttar Pradesh and Northern Madhya Pradesh with a population of approximately 21 million, Bundelkhand is a typical semi-arid region. Around 83% of the area is rural and more than one third of the households are considered to be below the poverty line.
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The region, with its dependence on livestock and agriculture, is extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts such as warmer temperatures, less precipitation and greater weather variability. These climatic uncertainties lead to more frequent spells of extended droughts, which in turn drastically affects its agricultural yields. Reports suggest that in Bundelkhand “there have been around 5000 farmer suicides in the last five years” (1). The Samra Committee report (2) notes that 70% of tanks and ponds have dried up here during the period 2003-08. This has led to severe drinking water shortage as well as increased drudgery of women, who have to fetch water from far away places.
A survey of 300 rural households across Bundelkhand by Development Alternatives, an NGO working on land-water management and afforestation, provided a number of insights on the agrarian crisis.
What did the survey say?
- The average landholding size in the area is 2 hectares.
- 50% of the people surveyed had migrated to urban areas in the last five years. Of these, only the bread winners had migrated in two thirds of the cases while the entire household had migrated in the other one third. The survey also indicated that 72% migrated to meet their basic needs.
- The average credit per household was Rs. 9,000 annually. Around 70% of the population had borrowed money. Informal institutions such as money lenders had lent 52%.
- Almost all respondents (96%) consider that agricultural activities are highly sensitive to weather patterns.
- Poor returns from agriculture has led to people shifting to other occupations like wage labour. High growth in the infrastructure sector in neighbouring areas such as Gurgaon, Delhi, Faridabad, Jhansi etc., were able to absorb the labour.
- In Bundelkhand, farmers practice crop diversification and the survey suggests that around 15% of farmers have stopped taking wheat in the rabi season. They have shifted to cash crops such as sesame, lentils etc. The study brought out the lack of food security in the area.
The survey indicated the need to support and catalyse adaptation to climate change in agriculture within the prevailing agricultural system in the area.
How can communities adapt to climate change?
In the last few years, Development Alternatives has undertaken programmes (3) to respond to climate change through community-led processes. It has worked with communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - farmers, women and building artisans.
Its approach has been two pronged. First, it identifies the technical options and interventions required. Second, it develops and implements educational and public awareness programmes on climate change and its effects.
In its collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI), Development Alternatives has demonstrated the application of “climate information to help farming communities take robust and low-risk agricultural adaptation measures” (4). 280 farming families in 20 villages have benefitted from this. The work focused on disseminating climate change-related information and introducing resource-efficient farming practices through demonstrations like sprinkler/drip-based irrigation, drought-tolerant varieties of crops and others, especially since there could be an increase in the incidence of drought in the future.
A farmers’ federation by the name of 'Bundelkhand Harit Kisan Mandal (BHKM)' with a registered membership of 1000 members has been formed to provide services and inputs right at the farmers’ doorstep. Farmers’ Adaptation Clusters were developed based on low-carbon and resource-efficient agricultural practices.
Development Alternatives has also worked on mainstreaming climate change adaptation and mitigation measures into health and nutrition policies and interventions. It has promoted food security through the development of orchards and agroforestry under the Tribal Development Fund of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Community radio initiative
Shubh Kal, an innovative project using community radio, used the edutainment method of creating awareness using a mix of traditional media and contemporary mass media. The campaign focused on three clusters - farmers, women and artisans and helped them set up and manage green social enterprises. Under this, a rural reality show was launched on community radio for creating awareness and catalysing climate change adaptation in rural areas. Community radio was used to communicate the adaptation messages and influence behaviour change. Doable actions were demonstrated to the community.
A core action point that was stressed was of extending crop insurance to cover more farmers as the current reach of the insurance scheme is inadequate. S. N. Pandey of Development Alternatives feels that “Farmers Adaptation Clubs/Clusters need to be established to connect them to local markets and bring them together to respond to the threats of climate change. It is felt that access to knowledge and information would enable farmers to enhance productivity, reduce input costs and respond to monsoon variability better if it threatened the kharif sowing.” The need to stregthen the present knowledge platforms in Bundelkhand is felt.
The experience of Development Alternatives was that farmers readily adopted drought-tolerant varieties and sprinkler irrigation methods. Sonal Kulshrestha of Development Alternatives is of the view that “no cost options such as change in sowing dates that are known to minimize losses and at times increase the yields of agricultural crops are important”. These measures need to be tested at a pilot level for research purposes and if found feasible, should be scaled up.
Endnotes and references
(3) One of these projects had focused on establishing a baseline climate vulnerability assessment of the region in order to inform future policy decisions and prioritization. The second project, on the other hand, took a direct approach to improving the region’s adaptive capacity to a changing climate through an innovative information-communication system involving community radio stations. (Nick Martin, 2013)
Study on Bundelkhand by Dr Yogesh Kumar and Rakesh Nath Tiwari (Supported by Planning Commission) 2001
Drought by Design: The Man-made Calamity in Bundelkhand, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLV No 5, January 30,2010
Drought mitigation strategy for Bundelkhand
Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Change, UNDP, 2009
Dinshaw, A., Dixit, A. and McGray, H. (2012). Information for Climate Change Adaptation: Lessons and Needs in South Asia. Working Paper. World Resources Institute, Washington DC.
Khan, M. A., Kumar, A.and Lakshmi, K. V. (2012). Applying Information for Adapting the Agricultural Sector in Bundelkhand, India. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.