How to increase climate resilience in semi-arid farming systems

WOTR study throws important new findings
7 Jul 2023
0 mins read
The study by WOTR and Wageningen University researchers emphasizes the need to prioritize adaptive capacities alongside agricultural productivity (Image: WallpaperFlare)
The study by WOTR and Wageningen University researchers emphasizes the need to prioritize adaptive capacities alongside agricultural productivity (Image: WallpaperFlare)

Researchers from the Netherlands' Wageningen University and the W-CReS (WOTR Centre For Resilience Studies) have undertaken a thorough investigation that has revealed key insights for improving climate resilience in semi-arid farming systems. The study, which spanned 15 years and included two Maharashtrian case studies, looked at the effectiveness of various interventions and how they affected agricultural productivity, water resources, soil health, and community well-being.

The results of the study, which were published in the International Journal of Water Resources Development, show that the examined areas' initial watershed development initiatives led to intensive agriculture and different cropping patterns. The limited success of conventional agricultural growth pathways in semi-arid locations is highlighted by the fact that this strategy eventually resulted in dropping groundwater tables and declining soil health.

The study emphasises the need to give equal weight to agricultural productivity and adaptive capacities. Long-term susceptibility to climate change is increased by ignoring the development of adaptive capacities and concentrating only on irrigation infrastructure without demand-side management. The study emphasises the value of participatory decision-making, capacity building, and community participation in fostering climate resilience.

The study also showed that the adoption of water stewardship programmes, food and nutrition security interventions, and climate-resilient agriculture led to successful results in terms of climate resilience indicators. These interventions aimed to increase local community understanding and capacity for resource management.

The report urges immediate attention to be paid to non-farm livelihoods in strategies for rural development at both the national and state levels. One way to increase equity, diversify income sources, and lessen exposure to and risk from climate variability is to prioritise the needs of small farmers, landless households, and marginalised populations.

The study emphasises the advantages that collectives, such Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), can offer in terms of strategic investments, bargaining strength, economies of scale, and profitability for both large and small landholding farmers.

The study emphasises the significance of having access to technology, services that provide climatic information, and advisories that are helpful to farmers. There are obstacles in the way of attempts to provide regional, crop-specific, and user-friendly advisories, such as technology barriers and the requirement to take into account the behavioural preferences of farmers, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Lead author Arjuna Srinidhi commented on the study, saying, "Our research highlights the complexity of enhancing climate resilience in semi-arid farming systems. It underscores the need for a context-specific and multi-pronged approach that prioritises the health of the ecosystem, participatory and inclusive decision making, diversifying income sources and includes a focus on monitoring, evaluation and learning within the design of all interventions."

For policymakers, development professionals, and stakeholders interested in rural development and natural resource management, the study's conclusions have major ramifications. We can successfully address the issues encountered by farming communities in the context of climate change by incorporating these results into evidence-based policy and encouraging inclusive and adaptable decision-making. A special edition of the journal titled "Water resource management in agriculture for achieving food and water security under climate change in Asia" will publish the study soon.


The study's main goal was to evaluate how agricultural development interventions affected the farming systems' climatic adaptability in semi-arid India. To do this, we first evaluated the climate resilience of two case studies: one in which interventions focused on enhancing agricultural productivity and irrigation infrastructure, and another in which interventions focused on enhancing agricultural productivity and the development of adaptive capacities. After that, we conducted a content analysis of stakeholder interactions to learn more about how interventions affected the resilience of the system to climate change.

We discovered that productivity-focused measures alone had little effect on the farming system's overall resilience. However, when these productivity-enhancing interventions were combined with those related to water management, soil health, livelihood diversification, and food and nutrition security, along with monitoring, evaluation, learning, and adaptive decision-making, improvements in the indicators of climate resilience were observed.

A greater susceptibility to variations in rainfall patterns and increased stress on the few water resources in these semi-arid farming systems have also resulted from the imbalanced concentrate on agriculture. While initiatives like water stewardship, climate-resilient farming, and boosting FPO can guarantee better management of natural resources and greater financial returns, tackling equity concerns to lessen the vulnerability to climate change will require stronger government support to improve non-farm livelihoods.

We also discovered that the 15-year study duration and the evaluation of numerous treatments allowed for a more comprehensive assessment of climate resilience that took into consideration a variety of variables, including water access, soil health, and equity concerns. By evaluating both the positive and negative contributions of the interventions on different system functions and resilience attributes, this approach is also helpful in considering synergies and trade-offs between interventions, providing a nuanced understanding of the contributors to the resilience of the farming systems.

Policy recommendations

  • Agricultural development interventions should be planned considering ecosystem health, adaptive capacities and governance arrangements;
  • FPOs should be promoted to improve profitability and empowered decision-making;
  • Access to climate information services should be facilitated;
  • Income sources should be diversified with a focus on non-agrarian livelihoods; and
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning component should be embedded within all interventions.

These recommendations can support the ongoing efforts of the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) and the Government of India to enhance the ability of farming systems to cope with evolving challenges, including building resilience to climate change (Aggarwal et al.,).

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