Written By: Dr.Gayatri Mahar, Assistant Manager, Climate Change
Chhattisgarh,a tribal dominated state, located in the central part of the country is largely rainfed and interspersed with plateau and hill areas which are characterized as barren and un-cultivable due to excessive water run-off.Like the other parts of the country, the livelihood options in this region continue to be predominantly dependent on natural resources such as land, forest and water and also equally on rain and weather patterns. Being an agrarian state, variability in climatic conditions i.e. declining,late or early rains adversely affect the socio-economic and environmental condition of the state.
While there is no dearth of expert data and observation at macro level, the understanding and experience from micro ecosystems, where the impact of the changing climate is most direct, are few and far between. IGSSS under its flagship livelihood programme “Sustainable Options for Uplifting Livelihood (SOUL),” aims at generating insights into the present interface between livelihood and climate change, collecting experiences at community level and understanding the triggers contributing to the impact induced by changing weather patterns. It was done with the goal of identifying existing opportunities and future prospects to reduce the vulnerability of the community and eco-systems. While working in three tribal dominated districts i.e. Koriya, Jaspur and Surguja of Chhattisgarh, IGSSS attempted to collect information on farmers’ perception of climate variability, its impact on livelihood of the community and identifying potential adaptation measures.
Climate variability and its linkages with livelihood practices
While paddy and kodon (Panicum miliare) are grown as main food crops; arhar, sesame, gram, alsi, mustard are grown for self consumption and income generation in these areas. Other sources of income generation include collection of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), such as Mahua flowers, goat rearing and daily wage labour.
Cultivation is done mainly on three types of land such as –
Bagad : Upland, close to habitation- mostly un-bunded and most of the cash crops i.e. paddy, arhar, sesame, gram, alsi and mustard are grown on this land.
Barha : The land holds water and is suitable for cultivation of long duration paddy i.e. cultivation period encompasses from 90 to 110 to 140 days).
Dipra : High dry land and found at the foot hills.
All the farming operations are done in a set pattern and fluctuation in local weather results in loss of production and income. For example – The month of June and July is the period for sowing and nursery preparation, planting of the food grain crops as well as pulses such as arhar. Delay in sowing and transplanting reduces production and hampers the timing and intensity of the second crop.
October and November is another busy and important period for cutting of paddy, varieties of pulses i.e. chana, alsi, peas and sowing of oil-seeds such as mustard. Rain during this period affects harvesting and also leads to delay in sowing. It results in reduced acreage as farmers refrain from sowing multi – crops.
December and January, the months when we usually see the flowering, fruiting and harvesting of pulses and oilseeds, crops are vulnerable to prolonged rain, excess cold, fog and hoarfrost. Farmers face economic loss as it is the time for harvesting of pulses mainly arhar and other crops. It is also the preparatory stage for the economically important forest produce ‘Mahua’ and too much cold affects the formation of its ‘kunchi’ – the early stage of bud root.
March and April is an important period for the forest produce collection. Rain during this period makes the flowers drop prematurely or destroys flowers, and some flowers turn upward and do not even fall.
Climate Variability, Coping and Adaptation Potential: Experience across the Region
The loss of production and income from agriculture and forest resulting from climatic fluctuations and other manifestations, whether big or small, has become routine. The inherent characteristics of the terrain, food and cash insecurity, unsustainable coping practices and socio-economic factors are the contributing factors. Women are the most affected group, who to a large extent, shoulder the farming operations such as transplanting, weeding, cutting, harvesting, storage, collection of NTFPs and taking care of livestock.
To address the impact of climate variability, farmers have mostly switched to short duration crops, High Yielding Varieties (HYV) and hybrid varieties. While speaking about their experiences, the farmers shared that the hybrids are highly susceptible to insects or pests as compared to the traditional varieties and, therefore, the use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides has increased substantially. This along with the mushrooming growth of bore wells, electric motors and setting up of diesel pumps has been spelling devastation for soil and ground water which has gone down by 100 feet in the last 10 years.
While there are unsustainable coping practices adopted by the farmers in the regions, some progressive farmers especially in the Bardih village of Surguja district have engaged themselves in organised farming through flat bean and vegetable cultivation, use of drip irrigation, diversifying livelihood through rearing of mulching cow and small ruminants. In Lundra Block of Surguja district, the community is involved in vegetable cultivation in a big way since 2006. It has now increased by 2 times as 65 villages in the mandal are engaged in vegetable farming.
Looking into the aspects of vulnerability of the community and ecosystem due to the factors resulting from climate change, IGSSS decided to scale up livelihood activities. This is being done by promoting mix-cropping, expansion of climate resilient crops, organic farming, promotion of horticulture activities, land development, optimum utilization of rain water, promoting rain water harvesting and promotion of drip irrigation system.
Another possibility of working with the tribal community of the region could be realized through conducting research on existing local varieties that are adaptable to extreme environmental conditions. It is prominent to note that Chhattisgarh has 200 traditional varieties of paddy which are on the verge of extinction due to excessive use of hybrid seeds. The need of the hour is to identify the landraces which can withstand climate variability and can give good results in the changing situation. Last but not the least, there is also a great need to replicate already existing good practices and adaptation measures to make the community climate resilient.