Agroecology builds climate resilience in India

Agroecology builds climate resilience in India

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The vulnerability index developed under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) describes 115 districts across 15 states in India as “highly vulnerable”to climate change effects. There is increasing evidence that agroecological approaches help in coping with climate change. The June 2017 issue of LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) India puts together some successful ground experiences of Indian farmers developing climate resilient solutions through agroecological practices.Water harvesting, using simple structures like farm bunds and farm ponds, has made a great difference in building resilience on farms. Other effective farm practices 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, changing the way crops are grown, and enhancing farm biodiversity through practices like inter-cropping and crop diversification. Most of the articles reported finding and using traditional crop varieties which are suited to specific climatic conditions. Biodiversity not only nurtures the ecosystem, it also provides multiple alternative sources of income. For instance, the coastal farmers in Odisha have taken up ‘mud crab farming’ while the tribal communities in Bundelkhand region have adopted agroforestry as an alternative livelihood option.
Key to the successes are farmer innovation, community participation and traditional knowledge. For instance, tribal farmers in the southern Bundelkhand region experimented and modified their practices for System of Crop Intensification operations for three years and improved yields. Meanwhile, farmers in Maharashtra were able to reap a good harvest and improve their nutrition with crop planning. Their change from monocropping to mixed cropping was possible owing to community participation and ownership. In Uttarakhand, the local inhabitants developed adaptation strategies based on their past experience and indigenous knowledge to cope with climate change. Farmers altered their cropping calendars in almost all the climatic zones and identified suitable crops for each.
EDITORIAL
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.
LEISA INDIA
June 2017 Volume 19 No. 2
http://leisaindia.org/magazines/english/climate-change-and-agroecological-approaches-june-2017-issue-19-2/
(Third World Network)

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