Millions of livelihoods dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, forestry, fisheries, livestock etc. are all under threat. Climate is changing and is changing fast. It is no more just about rising sea levels and melting glaciers. It is visible much closer…in the form of heavy downpours, floods, droughts, long dry periods, heat waves etc. Increasing occurrence of extreme weather conditions are already showing signs of their adverse impact on ecosystems, livelihoods, economy and health of the people.
Both agriculture and people depending on agriculture are the most vulnerable to climate change. The vulnerability index developed by CRIDA under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) describes 115 districts across 15 states in India as “highly vulnerable” to climate change effects. Adaptation becomes important in coping with such situations and reducing its impact.
The issue of climate change is gaining a lot of recognition, both at national and global levels, especially among researchers and policy makers. Yet, the farmers and people vulnerable to climate change, at large, are yet to be prepared on impending events and the ways to cope with it.
There are however pockets of innovative excellence, where farmers either on their own or with help of change agents are adapting themselves to changed situations. This issue brings out some ground experiences on how farmers and farmer groups are coping and adapting to climate change conditions using agro ecological approaches.
Agroecology – as an adaptation approach
To build resilience in present agriculture systems, farmers have to alter certain practices. They need to adopt practices that are different from what they are doing now – practices which help in water conservation, which build soil health organically, adopt cropping practices that use less resources like SCI etc.
Improving water harvesting in rainfed regions gains even more emphasis as an adaptation strategy to climate change. Simple structures like farm bunds (Bhamra and Farhan, p.25) and farm ponds (Aadhi Narayanan, p.34) have made a great difference in building resilience on farms.
Farmers have been coping with extreme weathers by following simple practices on the farm. These include enhancing soil fertility through organic means to improve water holding capacity, selecting a stress tolerant or a hardy variety, seed treatment for better germination, change in crops grown and changing the way crops are grown. For example, despite the extreme climatic conditions, System of Crop Intensification (SCI) with its variations, proved to be a promising climate smart technique for farmers in Panna region in not only minimizing their risks but also in enhancing the yields (Seema Ravandale et al., p.5)
Crop diversification is one of the strategies adopted by the farmers in response to climate change. By enhancing biodiversity, the risks in farming got drastically reduced. Biodiversity not only nurtured the ecosystem, it also provided multiple sources of income, thus enhancing resilience.(Aadhi Narayanan, p.34; James and Stebin, p.10).
When people become too vulnerable and nothing sustains owing to repeated disasters, it is time to look for alternative livelihoods. While the coastal farmers in Odisha took up ‘mud crab farming’ (K C Sahu, p.21), the tribal communities in Bundelkhand region adopted agroforestry as an alternative livelihood option (Bhamra and Farhan, p.25).
Integrating people’s knowledge
Farmers’ knowledge and experience on adaptation has enabled them to cope with extreme weather and environmental change, over centuries. Farmers have been innovating, adopting and adapting practices and processes to address the impacts of climate change in their ecosystem. Identifying, harvesting and organizing and scaling up of this growing body of knowledge and grass root level innovations is necessary to be of great benefit to other farmers in building resilience to climate change.
Integrating people’s knowledge with available scientific knowledge on climate change could be one way of building our capacity in addressing the issue of climate change. This can happen when innovative farmers are engaged in developing sustainable solutions.