To adapt or not to adapt - the dilemma between long term resource management and short term livelihoods

The chapter explores the multifaceted social, physical, cultural, policy and economic dimensions of declining groundwater by studying farmer's response to drought in three districts of Gujarat

This chapter from the book 'The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution: opportunities and threats to development' published by CAB International in association with International Water Management Institute (IWMI) sheds light on the deteriorating groundwater situation in the country. This is in the context of the persistent dependence of agriculture and livestock on groundwater resources and the resulting over exploitation of groundwater resources leading to an emerging dilemma between short term livelihoods and long term resource management, between immediate gains and long term human welfare as well as resource sustainability.

The chapter attempts to capture the multifaceted social, physical, cultural, policy and economic dimensions of this dilemma through the study of farmer's responses to drought, as an extreme and compressed example of the general decline in groundwater resources. The study thus discusses the case of three arid and semi-arid districts in the Indian state of Gujarat, which experienced drought over the period 1999-2002.

The study first describes the groundwater situation and the drought in western India. It then describes the differential impact of drought on agricultural production and the adaptations farmers have made to respond to new conditions. Finally, the study examines how the impact of drought varies across the three study areas, the factors behind this differentiation, implications for policy and practical options for groundwater management.

The study finds that:

  • People’s response to such drought conditions is not uniform. It varies from a reasonably well thought out strategy to ad hoc measures, from household to the community level.
  • This variation is found to be dependent upon factors such as social and kinship networks, awareness and education levels, ability to diversify within the primary productive systems and beyond, and non land based income options. This is, in addition to the economic status of the family and the cohesiveness of the particular caste.
  • The presence of a strong and robust institutional mechanism (such as the Dairy, Village and taluka level cooperative societies and a committed NGO) goes a long way in providing a complementary, enabling support to families in their adaptive efforts.
  • Although perceptional differences exist among communities from the three areas as to the causes of drought, a majority believe in the lack of adequate and timely water availability, including from ground water sources, as a key reason for the livelihood woes.
  • The study indicates the need to look at the issue from a livelihoods lens, rather than through a pure economics lens and underlines the dire need for enabling policies and, more importantly, their effective implementation to complement and supplement people’s own efforts and adaptive strategies at the local level.
  • The study also highlights some policies and programmes, which have made positive contribution, intended or unintended, to the adaptive strategies of the people.
  • The study emphasises that adaptive strategies of the people do need to be embedded in the larger conventional resource management systems and welfare measures.

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