Climate Change, one of the biggest challenges of our times, impacts not just national and state incomes but blights the lives and future of millions in India. The recent cloud burst and its tragic aftermath in the state of Uttarakhand is just one instance of the ravages of extreme weather. Women are disproportionately affected by these developments, because the responsibility for keeping families and farms going is increasingly vested with them. It is against this backdrop that the project, 'Gender and Climate Change Adaptation' has been conceived. Alternative Futures, in partnership with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) (www.cdkn.org) is working to encourage governments in the four states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal to incorporate a gender component in their respective State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs) and assess climate adaptation budgets for their gender component. It also sets out to document agriculture-related adaptation practices on the ground in three regions with distinct agro-climatic zones - the Sunderbans-North and South 24 Paraganas (cyclone-prone); Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh (flood prone) and Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh (drought-prone). This series of features documents both the policy-making in the context of state climate action plans and agricultural practices related to climate change adaptation in these regions.
Electoral Promises For A Changing Climate
By Aditi Kapoor
India is in general election mode
in 2014 and 'development' is going to be a key electoral
plank. The recent floods in Uttarakhand and Cyclone Phailin
that ravaged the coast of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, illustrated
how the effects of climate change can erode development gains,
impacting greatly on the lives of the poor, especially women.
India has been witnessing declining per capita availability of
food grain in the recent past and climate vagaries are already
affecting crop production, milk yields and fish harvests.
The 'aam aadmi' wave in recent electoral politics and the sudden
political reverence for an anti-corruption measure like Lokpal
legislation indicates that the climate for change is here.
The bottoms-up adoption of digital economy has also been
successfully used for many a transformative development
initiative. So in 2014, let's move from the obvious to the
substantial, let's address the drivers of change rather than the
consequences of change. Based on the state-level climate actions
plans, state governments can become the engines of resilient
development and far more accountable to its people.
* "With 50 per cent reservations for women across all Panchayat
institutions, it is time to enable women to hold the reins of
decision-making for resilient development on the ground."
WFS REF NO: INDMC18C
By Pushpa Achanta
A Little Water Goes A Long Way For Andhra's Women Farmers
In Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh being a farmer is all about backbreaking hard work and no rewards. Severe water scarcity has ensured that crop failures and debt traps are a part of everyday life here. In fact, ever since 2004, incidents of farmer suicides have been occurring with alarming regularity, although they have failed to move an apathetic government system. There are over 3300 women headed households in this district today and all of them are at the mercy of the parched lands. What these marginalised women farmers desperately need are strategies that can enable them to adapt to the water crisis they are facing. Fortunately, some help is at hand through the Rural and Environment Development Society, a non-governmental organisation, which is facilitating the formation of Women's Water User Groups in Kadiri and Nallamada mandals, and providing them training in the cultivation of Sripaddy, a variety that does not need much irrigation.
* "In spite of relevant recommendations from farmer groups and agricultural scientists, the government does not seem to be taking sufficient proactive steps such as providing credit and infrastructure for water conservation."
WFS REF NO: INDMC19C
By Mehru Jaffer
One Woman Army: Archana Is The Farmer's Friend
Putla Devi, a landless woman
farmer, used to search for a stable livelihood option
that would enable her to keep her family going.
Agriculture was just not proving to be viable in the
drought and flood prone Gorakhpur region of eastern
Uttar Pradesh. A few years ago, this resident of a
small hamlet in the Sant Kabir Nagar district, came to
know of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a scheme that promises 100
days of wage work to adult members of a rural household. But when she went to ask for work she was turned away after being told that women were not eligible. That was in 2008, the year she met Archana Srivastava, 40, a fiery, Bhojpuri-speaking activist, who changed Putla's life by showing her how to demand her rights and entitlements. As an Advocacy Coordinator at Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, Srivastava has, in fact, worked with many women farmers, particularly advocating for their land rights.
* A scheme like the MGNREGA has all the potential of
being a real boon for climate vulnerable communities but
it has been rendered meaningless as people, especially
women, don't really know how to benefit from it."
WFS REF NO: INDMC11C
By Pushpa Achanta
The ‘Go Organic’ Mantra Of Andhra’s Women Farmers
Women farmers, sole proprietors of
their agricultural land, are transforming ground realities
gradually. Take the determined and friendly Malleswari and
Lakshmidevamma, aged 38 and 51, respectively, both from
Vempalle mandal of Cuddapah, a semi-arid district in
south-central Andhra Pradesh. Not only are they and other
women farmers in the area reviving traditional methods of
cultivation, they have switched to natural fertilisers and
vermi-composting. But the one issue that rankles with them is
lack of government support. Most agricultural programmes do
not address their specific requirements. For instance, their
need for tank silt instead of artificial fertilisers is
hardly known or met. The contribution of women through
kitchen gardens and small poultry farms is rarely recognised.
Also, women do not get subsidised seeds or loans easily as
the land is not in their name, generally speaking.
* “Women labouring on farms are considered mere workers and
not as knowledge bearers.”
WFS REF NO: INDMC02C
By Mehru Jaffer
Farmer-Activist Meera Leads A Band Of Earth Warriors
It is no longer possible for
anyone to mess with Meera Chaudhury of Janakpur village
in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Over time, this 50-year-old
has transformed from a loving mother-of-six and a
hardworking farmer to a seasoned trade unionist. Meera
first tasted success five years ago when under her
leadership the age-old tradition of fermenting mahua
fruit to make country liquor was stopped in her village.
The drive against alcoholism earned her the title of
‘commander-in-chief’ of Meera's Sena, a group of rural women
and men that raises voice against all cultural, social and
government policies that do more harm than good. Of course,
the energies of this feisty union of small and marginalised
farmers, which Meera heads, are now singularly trained towards
helping the community overcome a host of climate-related risks
like crop failures, loss of livestock, droughts and floods.
And they are making this happen by ensuring the proper
implementation of key state-run livelihood initiatives and an
active Self Help Group network.
* Meera shook the local bureaucracy when on one
occasion she boldly asked an official, who was demanding
a bribe, whether he hadn’t received his salary from the
government that month.
WFS REF NO: INDMB27C
By Mehru Jaffer
Gorakhpur’s Weather Proofed Women Farmers
Vidyawati, Koali Devi and
Subhawati Devi, from Chikani village in Gorakhpur
district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, are no ordinary rural
women. They are local heroines, having saved their families from
veritable starvation in spite of having to cope with severe
floods and droughts these last few years on account of extreme
weather. Erratic climatic conditions have confused local farmers
and added a new dimension to the many risks they already face as
they try to eke out a living from the land. But these female
farmers are truly exceptional. Although they slave for longer
hours than their male counterparts and do not even legally own
the land they so lovingly till, yet it is they who have converted tiny holdings into lush gardens, called ‘koirad’, which are now yielding abundantly all the year round with a variety of fruits, vegetables and grain. And they have achieved this seemingly impossible feat by surviving an extremely feudal social set up and adopting traditional, time-tested agricultural practices.
* “I am very proud of my mother. She works harder than my father and I want to remain in the village to help in farming.”
WFS REF NO: INDMB18C
By Aditi Bishnoi
Climate Affected Himalayan Women Look For Income Guarantees
What keeps women like Meena Bora,
Rita Bora and Khasti Devi in Almora district of Uttarakhand up all night? After a tough day’s work, they toss and turn in bed worrying about the future. How will they get rations once their meagre, homegrown stocks are exhausted? If the fodder for the cattle is insufficient, how will they replenish it in the winter? What if they need to get repairs done to the home or there is an illness in the family? Ever since climate change has become a lived reality for mountain communities, what with the forests depleting and the varying weather patterns affecting agricultural output – their primary income source – women here are being forced to count every paisa. In this scenario, government livelihood schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and local dairy and horticultural entrepreneurship development programmes, can prove to be effective climate adaptation strategies. But to make a real difference these need to be more gender friendly.
* “Women don’t go in for MGNREGA work as most work sites are far away from home. If there was some collaboration with the Van Panchayats, it would not only help in regenerating the forests but also aid them in augmenting their earnings.”
WFS REF NO: INDMB05C
By Ajitha Menon
Keyword For Sunderbans Women: Eco-Conservation
Rural communities in ecologically marginalised areas in Bengal are being trained to map all land and water resources around their villages and then consent is obtained from local authorities for the optimal utilisation of these resources through lease and rental arrangements. In the Sunderbans delta region, Self Help Group women have undertaken plantation of saplings along the river embankments on a rental arrangement with their local panchayats. They either grow the plants in the nurseries themselves or get the saplings from the administration, which they then sow on the leased land. They protect and care for these plants, which become their main source of firewood and fodder for cattle round the year. In addition, they use the leaves and fruits as food as well as for medicinal purposes, particularly when natural disasters strike. And when these trees are finally cut down on maturity and sold as timber, the women get a share in the profits.
* ‘Besides protection of greenery, preventing soil erosion and strengthening of river embankments, this intervention aims at community resource management not just to benefit the environment but also to create profit for the participants.’
WFS REF NO: INDMB05C
By Anuradha Sahni
Despite Climate Change, Sudha’s Farm Flourishes
The skies are overcast; the hilly countryside is lush. A mist envelopes the tall pines and rain falls as if at will. Families living in the numerous villages that dot Almora district in Uttarakhand are preparing for winter and this is the busiest time for women as they divide time between the home and their widely spread out terrace fields. But it’s been raining almost continuously for the last six months and the prolonged wet spell has thrown normal life out of gear – much of their local lentil and other crops have been destroyed while the fodder grass has not dried up enough to be stored. It’s a looming crisis, one that they are not entirely unused to now. They have noticed the subtle changes in the seasons over the recent years, a factor that has made farming, their traditional livelihood, difficult to pursue. But even as the road ahead for the agrarian communities gets rough owing to the variable weather patterns, there is one woman in Guna village of Lamgara block, who has turned her farm into a veritable hub of biodiversity. Sudha Gunwant has demonstrated how effective adaptation to climate change can change lives.
* “When I came to the village in 1980 after marriage, farming was the mainstay of most families. But erratic rainfall and frequent attacks by monkeys has greatly discouraged people. Climate change is a real threat to our way of life but I have learnt ways to beat it.”
WFS REF NO: INDMA15C
By Ajitha Menon
Banking On Grain To Fight Climate Change
Sofia Bibi, a resident of Goyadham village in the climate hotspot of the
Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, knows what it is
to fight hunger and she never wants to face that situation again. Today,
her Maa Amina Self Help Group runs a successful grain bank that enables the
local community to feed their families even during the lean agricultural
periods and when natural disasters occur. For the 4.5 million people on the
islands of this delta region, dealing with recurrent floods, storms and
other adverse impacts of climate change are a part of life. Within the
larger framework of climate change adaptation strategies, grain and seed
banking are rapidly emerging as acceptable and sustainable counter measures
that can make all the difference between starvation and survival. Of
course, while 80 per cent of the grain banks here are run by women’s groups
– putting them as a central plank for coping mechanisms – it is ironic that
neither the National Action Plan on Climate Change nor any of the State
Action Plans have taken gender issues into account.
* “The work overload on women can be discouraging even though they are part
of adaptation strategies in large numbers. It is essential that there is
effort to increase the adaptive capacities of women through incentives and
WFS REF NO: INDMA15C
By Aditi Bishnoi
Uttarakhand's Forest Protectors Embrace The Earth
They have a profound connect with the forest. From its verdant environs they collect firewood for fuel, the timber is used to build or repair their homes, they pick leaves and grass for their livestock, while the 'naulas' (natural springs) provide them with drinking water… From dawn till last light, hill women in the far reaches of Uttarakhand make several trips into the forest to ensure the sustenance of their homes and families. No surprise then, that they are fiercely protective of this "natural lifeline" - an attitude that makes them ideal leaders for the Van Panchayats (forest councils), which are responsible for nurturing the civil forests and ensuring equitable distribution of forest resources in the local community. Meeting Van Panchayat sarpanch's like Munni Devi and Hema Phartiyal in Almora district's Lamgarha block is reassuring - these strong women run the nine-member council capably, they confidently work with their local Forest Department Ranger, they can enforce the rules of forest produce use in their community. And they do it all despite some very real hurdles they face - no formal authority to set an agenda, tough paperwork to get proposals passed and a permanent financial crisis.
* "Sometimes I wonder why I continue to work diligently as a sarpanch - neither do I get any monetary incentive nor any real recognition, But then I look towards the forest and I feel this pull. This is my forest - I have to save it for the future generations."
WFS REF NO: INDMA07C
By Ajitha Menon
Despite Uncertain Weather,Sunderbans' Women Farmers Keep Sowing
The land surrounding Rita Kamila's house in Rammohun village under Patharpratima P.S. in the Sunderbans delta area of West Bengal is lush with greenery. This 32-year-old proud young woman sits inside her mud house and explains the benefits of integrated farming, organic food, the process of making vermi-compost and the merits of bio-gas, signalling the emergence of a confident, well-trained farmer who has ensured a sustainable livelihood for herself in one of the top climate hotspots of the world. Kamila, who has tirelessly worked for five years to create the right mix of cultivation, poultry, fishery and cattle on her farm, today revels in the food security it provides her family. In a region prone to floods, cyclonic storms and large scale land erosion, integrated farming has brought in food security, economic progress and increased protection against climate change. This is a revolution driven by local women who are working themselves to the bone. What is unfortunate is that in the absence of property rights, they stand to lose the fruits of years of hard work if they get divorced, widowed or when their sons marry.
* "My family now enjoys organic vegetables and grain and healthy fish and poultry. I even have leftovers for sale. I make around Rs 12,000-14,000 by selling the extra boro paddy and another Rs 5,000 from the surplus vegetables every season."
WFS REF NO: INDM909C
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