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Farmers in 23 villages in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh are quite aware of the risks that the changing climate is likely to bring; and in response have started adopting simple yet effective local solutions that stood them in good stead last winter

Farmers preparing their fields for multi cropping in Madhya P:radesh (Image by Development Alternatives)

Farmers preparing their fields for multi cropping in Madhya Pradesh (Image by Development Alternatives Group)

The first two months of 2014 witnessed unseasonal rains and devastating hailstorms in semi-arid regions  of central India. Such weather extremes and unexpected events have increasingly become a norm in the drought prone region. Yet, many farming communities in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh could reduce their losses through timely contingent planning and adaptation measures. Farmers in 23 villages in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh are now aware of the risks that the changing climate is likely to bring. In response, they have started adopting simple yet effective local solutions that stood them in good stead last winter.

Observing deviations from standard weather patterns in recent years, Ramlal Yadav, a farmer in Datia, diversified his crops to mustard and wheat in the Rabi (winter) season. This simple diversification saved him from total loss. Despite serious hailstorms, he got his mustard crop because that ripens early, and that earned him some income.

The diversification in crop types and introduction of agro-horticulture and agro-forestry practices has reduced risks due to freak events. Since the last 25 years, Development Alternatives(DA), a NGO, has been working closely with hundreds of farmers like Yadav across 200 villages in semi-arid Bundelkhand. It has introduced a multi-pronged strategy to help vulnerable communities enhance economic resilience in the region.

Supported by different donor organisations, the initiative has promoted efficiencies in water use in agriculture, low input farming and soil and water conservation practices that have helped enhance productivity, reduce costs and improve incomes of small and marginal farmers.

These adaptation measures also provide mitigation co-benefits such as reduced energy use in irrigation, solar pumping and reduced tillage, leading to lower emissions and higher soil carbon sequestering.

In one such low carbon pathway initiative, 285 small and marginal farmers have shifted to resilient practices of agriculture like using improved seed varieties, line sowing, reduced tillage, drip irrigation and sprinkler systems yielding in savings on irrigation, preventing loss of seed and crop during delayed rains. These farmers now have 30% increased productivity marked with a reduction in production costs.

In another instance of community-driven adaptation, watershed committees from the community have changed the scenario of Nauner village in Datia district. The watershed structures built in the village has helped them efficiently use limited rainwater that usually runs off down the semi-arid hill slopes of the region.

After the efforts of communities to replenish groundwater, farmers are enjoying increased crop production. The construction of a small check dam in the vicinity has helped raise groundwater levels by six to nine feet. For Sri Ram Singh, a small farmer in the village, this increase in water availability has translated into a 20% increase in wheat crop yield and an additional income of Rs 6,000 last winter.

The efforts have also reconfirmed that community based and community led strategies work best for the sustainability and replication of climate adaptation solutions at the grassroots.

Big challenge

But a big challenge has been the communication of the science of climate risks and new, non-traditional adaptation solutions in the language and formats that can easily be understood and assimilated by local community.

Climate risk communication in the local language coupled with co-designing solutions based on easy explanations of scientific knowledge related to observed weather patterns and long term changes, and those that provide both short and longer term benefits ignites interest, facilitates uptake and ensures sustainability of adaptation strategies. This approach is an obvious extension of climate science and socio-economic vulnerability assessments being conducted by researchers across the region.

An initiative called Shubh Kal, aimed at building resilient communities and promoting sustainable livelihoods, has been addressing the issue of behaviour change in communities to understand impending risks of climate change and adopt simple relevant solutions to the emerging problems. Communication strategies have been effective with the use of local language, traditional and new media, varied info-tainment and edu-tainment formats and engaging communities in dialogue, and as co-researchers of solutions. This has created ownership to identified options, with communities becoming active promoters of these solutions.

The participatory communication model of the campaign has, over the last four years, facilitated communities to choose adaptation methods such as new agro-technologies, rainwater harvesting and tapping alternative sources of livelihood. Small household and group based initiatives such as kitchen gardens, vermi-composting, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, poultry farming have brought additional incomes. The short and medium term benefits of these solutions have been widely communicated and there are now changes in behaviours demonstrated through increased uptake.

To facilitate scale-up and to move beyond demonstration of models, DA now works with local panchayat members and district officials to integrate community based adaptation in local planning processes. Community based institution building processes such as watershed committees, community run resource centres and climate adaptive planning core groups are helping to mainstream adaptation solutions and strategies into local development planning processes.

Altogether these are small yet effective solutions with a potential for large scale replication, benefitting small and marginal farmers with lessons for other parts of India and South Asia, Latin America and Africa. Such development strategies from different civil societies and communities provide a strong case for South-South knowledge transfer.


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