Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report this week on the increasing impacts of climate change around the world.  While there is really nothing new in the report, it does underscore the urgency of addressing the issue.

India is one country that will be especially hard hit.  An article by Nita Bhalla of Reuters lists ten ways that global warming will affect the sub-continent.  In the face of great poverty, weak gender rights, habitat loss, endangered species and more, climate change will only make things that much more difficult.

As you read over the list below, bear in mind that supporting local communities, recognizing traditional knowledge and empowering women are some of the best ways to adapt, not just in India but everywhere (see my post on women and climate change).  The good news (yes, there is some!) is that many people and organizations are already finding ways to cope.  Check out the work of groups such as the International Development Exchange and Navdanya to get an idea of what’s being done, and be thankful they are out there.

How climate change will hit India:

1. More severe cyclones hitting densely packed cities

[photo credit: cdkn.org]

[photo credit: cdkn.org]

The five most populous nations occupying low-lying coastal areas are developing and newly industrialised countries: Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia

Tropical cyclones will cause powerful winds, torrential rains, high waves and storm surge, all of which can have major impacts on society and ecosystems. Bangladesh and India account for 86 percent of deaths from tropical cyclones.

2. Lower crop yields

A rise in the amount of ozone in the troposphere, the lower atmosphere, since pre-industrial times has probably reduced global yields of major crops, by about 10 percent for wheat and soybean and three to five percent for maize and rice, compared with what they would have been without such a rise.

Impacts are most severe in India and China, but are also evident for soybean and maize in the United States.

3. Changes in breeding of river species

It is fairly clear that in India, changes in a number of climate variables including a rise in air temperature, regional monsoon variation and a regional increase in the frequency of severe storms, have led to changes in the behaviour of fish species in the River Ganga.

As a result, less fish spawn is available for aquaculture in the river Ganga, but the breeding period of carp has been brought forward and extended.

4. Less water, more energy consumption

Due to water shortages, water may require significant amounts of energy for lifting, transport and distribution and for the treatment needed to use it or rid it of pollution.

Groundwater accounts for 35 percent of total global water withdrawal and its use is generally more energy intensive than that of surface water, irrigated food production being the largest user. In India, 19 percent of total electricity use in 2012 was for farming, much of this for groundwater pumping.

5. Higher temperatures in cities

Some Indian cities that are particularly large and crowded will become Urban Heat Islands, markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside, as a result of climate change.

The current trend of increasingly frequent extreme events is expected to increase with climate change.

Some urban centres serving prosperous farming regions are particularly sensitive to climate change if water supply or particular crops are at risk.

Urban centres that are major tourism destinations may suffer when the weather becomes stormy or excessively hot, leading to a loss of revenue.

Indian rice farmer [photo credit: ccafs.cgiar.org]

Indian rice farmer [photo credit: ccafs.cgiar.org]

6. Livelihood pressures in rural areas

Climate variability and change interacts with, and sometimes adds to, existing pressures on living and working in rural areas, affecting economic policy, globalization, environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS, as has been shown in Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and India.

Economic diversity of farming households within communities, in terms of farm and household size, crop choices and input use, will be important in determining the impact of climate change, as will social relations within households that affect production.

7. Tourism and recreation

One study combines a meteorological indicator of exposure with indicators of sensitivity and adaptive capacity, and uses this to rank the vulnerability of beach tourism in 51 countries. India stands out as the most vulnerable and Cyprus as the least vulnerable.

8. Human health

Extra costs will be incurred for treating additional cases of diarrhoea and malaria in India in 2030, depending on how greatly CO2 emissions rise.

9. Labour productivity

Higher temperatures are likely to impact work productivity, particularly in tropical and mid-latitude regions including India, Northern Australia, Southeastern USA.

10. Droughts and floods

More droughts and floods will intensify the pressure to send children out to work, impacting their education.

Indian women born during a drought or flood in the 1970s were 19 percent less likely ever to attend primary school than women of the same age who were not affected by natural disasters.

Studies in India have identified temporary migration as “the most important” coping strategy in times of drought in rural villages.


350.org event in New Delhi [photo credit: www. npr.org]

350.org event in New Delhi [photo credit: www. npr.org]


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Women Farmers Training 2011 (photo: WEA)

Nearly eighty percent of Indian women work in agriculture, and less than seven percent of have land tenure.

Small farmers livelihoods in India are threatened by industrial agriculture, which degrades the environment and negatively impacts the role of women in agriculture. Women have traditionally been seed keepers who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops.

The good news is that many people are working to protect and improve the lives of women farmers. I attended a talk recently given by Rucha Chitnis of the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) on the “Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training” Program, which works to connect rural women farmers and help them overcome the many challenges they face, with climate change and food security at the top of the list. This program focuses on ecological farming, rights education, traditional knowledge, just livelihoods, and adapting to climate change.

WEA does incredible work, and this program promotes the idea that women are not victims but instead are the ones holding down the fort and finding ways to improve lives. Through peer-to-peer/farmer-to-farmer exchanges, women come together around empowerment, self-reliance, and to learn from one another.

One training participant, Manju Devi, is a single mother of three from Bihar who has trained over 144 women in five villages in organic farming and seed saving. She has also set up her own organic kitchen garden site, which she uses for demonstrations.

Another Indian woman farmer’s success story was that of Ram Ratti. A decade ago she was fortunate enough to receive training from the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (and now WEA’s partner in the Women, Food Security and Climate Change program) in sustainable farming practices. Today she grows over 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables and has trained 200 women in organic agriculture and seed saving. Ninety of these women are now smallholder organic farmers with a diverse group of crops cultivated from local seed varieties.

Both of these women understand that sharing women’s knowledge is an integral part of food security, especially in the face of climate change. And they are making use of women’s intimate knowledge of farming, natural pesticides, and medicine. In Rucha’s words, these “women are reclaiming “green” from the green revolution.”

Ultimately, it is women who are the primary caretakers of natural resources. By empowering them with property rights, economic opportunities, and decision-making authority our environment and communities will be better off. I know some of the women farmers I met in Maharashtra a couple of years ago talked about these same things.

The theme of the presentation and of the women’s training revolved around unity, sharing and empowerment. These are concepts that we should all use to guide our lives in light of the challenges facing the planet.

Countries all over the world can raise women’s status by educating girls and by improving women’s access to credit, land, jobs, and training. This is exactly what WEA’s India program is doing, but taking it a step further by bringing women together to learn from each other. And they are having great success.

Watch here WEA’s short video on the training, and get ready to be inspired!

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photo: travelpod.com

If you enjoy food, and really, who doesn’t, then you should be concerned about the impact of a changing climate on our food systems.  Just about anywhere you look, the wild and unpredictable weather is affecting agriculture.  From droughts in Australia to extreme tornadoes in the midwest to floods in Colombia and China, this weird weather is raising food prices and forcing changes in farming.

In India, agriculture is a crucial livelihood and industry.  India could eventually lose more than 5 percent of its growing season as a result of climate change, according to a joint report put out by international agricultural research centers.  Compounding the impact of climate on farming is the economy.  As India experiences economic growth, more people are leaving agriculture behind and migrating to cities for other opportunities.  As the number of mouths to feed is increasing, the number of farmers is decreasing.  That’s good news if you are a big industrial agriculture corporation, such as Monsanto, bad news if you’re a fan of sustainable farming and livelihoods.

Farming here and the world over has long been affected by industrial agriculture; now communities are increasingly being subjected to what is referred to as “land grabs.”  This is when farmland in (usually) poor, developing countries is bought or leased by wealthier governments, corporations and private investors in more food insecure regions to produce crops for export.  Much of this has happened in Africa, but Asia is experiencing land grabs as well. It is displacing farmers and negatively affecting poor communities dependent on the land for their livelihoods.  This is not a new phenomenon, but in an age of increasing food insecurity, along with poverty and climate change, it is fast becoming an issue we cannot ignore.

Indian farmers face not only foreign investors taking their lands but their own government is doing it too.  Taking advantage of an archaic colonial land acquisition law that gives the state broad powers to expropriate land—coupled with neo-liberal investment policies—the government is forcibly acquiring lands in the name of development.  Sleek new expressways in Uttar Pradesh, mining concessions in Orissa, and new cities such as Gurgaon, outside of Delhi, displace rural populations and force people off their lands and often into city  slums.

In the words of activist and physicist Vandana Shiva, “Land is not about building concrete jungles as proof of growth and development; it is the progenitor of food and water, a basic for human survival.”  This is true most every where you look; balancing development and sustainability continues to be a challenge for us all.

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Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, founder of the GREEN Foundation

Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) is an inspiring organization that is hosting a training this week in India on solutions pertaining to women, food security, and climate change. WEA’s mission is to create innovative solutions to issues of water, food, and land through collaborative initiatives that train, connect, and empower emerging women leaders worldwide.  Currently I am doing some research support for the India program and want to excerpt a cross-post with WEA’s India Program Director, Rucha Chitnis, on what’s happening with women, farming, and biodiversity in India:

Let’s start from the very beginning.  And some might say that it all began with the seeds. 

Seed, a symbol of fertility and perpetuity, of culture and sustenance in India, is also becoming a symbol of self-reliance and a key to preserving the biodiversity of indigenous crops on small farms across the country.

In Southern India, GREEN Foundation, a community-based organization that works with small and marginalized farmers, including tribals and Dalits, in semi-arid regions of Karnataka, has immersed itself in this challenge of promoting the conservation of indigenous seeds among farmers since 1996.

During my visit to the Foundation, I learn that women farmers are in the center of their seed conservation efforts due to their roles as the primary seedkeepers in India.  The Foundation began its work with five women farmers and a handful of indigenous seeds. “When we began talking to the farmers, we realized that traditional varieties of seeds had almost disappeared. Without seeds what we were attempting to do would be a non-starter,” notes Dr. Ramprasad, founder and a seed conservationist. 

The Foundation believes that women farmers also hold the key to preserving the biodiversity of the crops and their knowledge systems of seed saving, mixed farming and natural farming are vast, which need to be documented and promoted.  Dr. Vanaja shares an example of an elderly woman farmer, who identified nearly 80 varieties of greens in her field, as well as their uses for medicinal and nutrition needs. “Her knowledge was phenomenal,” she says. “When it comes to food security, women play a key role in identifying food that is available. In lean seasons, they trek to the nearby forests, and they are able to identify roots and tubers for their food requirements and medicinal plants.”

This intimate knowledge of women, believes Dr. Ramprasad is often undermined by the scientific community and biotechnology companies who promote agro-technologies, which might not be appropriate for rural communities, and especially for the economically disadvantaged farmers. Dr. Ramprasad shares that some of the greens on the farms, which poor farmers in India subsist on during lean periods, might be considered as weeds by some agro-companies, which are eliminated by herbicides.

The rest of Rucha’s blog post may be read in full here.

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