Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

I’ve come across two very interesting pieces on India recently that I want to share.

The first is a short set of photos taken by a British man originally born in Kolkata (Calcutta).  His name is Gerry Judah, and he is an artist now working with the international NGO Christian Aid to show how people are dealing with climate change.

In particular Judah attempts to show the every day struggles of poor people.  And especially the plight of subsistence farmers, who make up about 40% of the population, and will suffer the most from climate change.

Click on the link the UK Guardian article here for the pictures.

My favorite is photo number 7, of youth studying by solar lanterns powered by biomass, which in this case is cow dung.  Off-grid electricity is the future for the 400 million Indians living without electrical power (worldwide, a billion and a half people don’t have electricity).

Women of the Self-Employed Women's Association, discussing impacts of climate change

Women of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, discussing impacts of climate change in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Switching gears, the other article I found both interesting and inspiring was in the New York Times, “From Arunachal Pradesh, a Tribe Offers Lessons in Ecology“.  Brian Orland writes about the climate and development challenges facing this rice growing region.  Will the local people  “salvage the system of cooperative leadership and reciprocal labor-sharing that has delivered them such bountiful paddy harvests for the past 500 years? Or should they seize the opportunities of higher education, political party patronage and diversification into cash crops?”  This is a question facing many communities in India and around the world.

Orland mentions the creation of an organization called Ngunu Ziro, or “Our Ziro.” To help adapt to climate changes, Ngunu Ziro supports women’s self-help groups for income generation and organizes eco-camps to teach Apa Tani children about their natural environment. Its current campaign, dubbed “Zero Waste,” encourages ecologically friendly waste management practices like segregating trash into its recyclable components.

The coming environmental and cultural changes will be challenging, to say the least. There is a lot we can learn from tribal, indigenous and native peoples, not to mention artists, if we listen.



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Mention India and many contradictory images are often conjured up – poverty and Rajput castles, rich and exotic foods and begging mothers and children, the Himalayan mountains and Rajasthani deserts.

But there is no contradiction on the importance of the Indian monsoon. Indian agriculture and much of Indian culture are intertwined with the seasonal rains. And the future outlook on the reliability of monsoons does not look promising.

The monsoon months of June to September bring three-quarters of India’s annual rainfall. Yet alarmingly, more experts are predicting that due to climate change, the coming decades will bring erratic monsoon seasons in South Asia. This is bad news for Indian farmers, especially rural farmer communities. It is also bad news for food and water security in a country destined to be the world’s most populous by 2030.

A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters from researchers at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that the monsoons are likely to be 40-70 percent below normal levels and fail more often over the next two centuries. And between 2150 and 2200, the study predicts the monsoons could fail every 5 years.

Specifically, the study’s authors found that rising temperatures and a change in strength of a Pacific Ocean circulation pattern known as the Pacific Walker circulation in spring could cause more frequent and severe changes in monsoon rains.

In 2009 monsoon rains were 22 percent below average and Indians faced widespread drought. The country had to import large amounts of sugar, pushing global prices to 30-year highs.

India is a predominantly rural country, with over 600 million of its 1.2 billion citizens relying directly on agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of Indian fields are fed only by rain.

Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told the Yale University blog Environment360 that in a country where more than half of the population works in agriculture, “Livelihoods, water security, and energy security are all tied to volume and timely arrival of monsoon season.”

Women will feel the brunt of changes to the monsoon the most. In India, nearly eighty percent of women work in agriculture (mainly as smallholder, rural farmers) and will have to cope with droughts, floods, and erratic rains.

Adding to the water scarcity concern is the status of aquifers, a heavily relied upon source of water in India that is at risk. The groundwater is being pumped primarily for irrigating agricultural lands and as a source of drinking water; aquifers are being depleted faster than can be replenished by nature.

The past 200 years of ever increasing reliance on fossil fuels is altering the climate in ways yet unknown. The pattern is not likely to change unless the world commits to renewable, alternative energy sources and less carbon intensive solutions. So much already exists and only needs the will of governments to push new energy policies forward.

The time to act is now. The International Energy Agency just issued its annual World Energy Outlook 2012 report that states the world is failing to move towards a more sustainable path for energy, as it continues its addiction to fossil fuels in the face of climate change and growing water scarcity.

There are organizations in India working to empower communities – especially women – via small-scale and organic farming methods, as well as traditional measures to cope with droughts. One example is the Green Foundation, a grassroots organization that works to empower south Indian women to build resilient communities in the face of climate change and sustain rural livelihoods without damaging the ecosystem.

Another example is GRAVIS, based in the state of Rajasthan. The organization promotes sustainable rural development via capacity building, community and women’s empowerment, social justice, and protecting the environment. GRAVIS empowers rural desert communities via a traditional source of water storage, called taankas.

The consequences for continuing business as usual are great. In 2012 the monsoon came late, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Imagine if it doesn’t come at all. The effects of an erratic monsoon season would be felt beyond India of course, from creating climate refugees to a decline in tea production to threatened global security. Empowering communities and implementing local efforts are a key part of the solution. The overall solution though, is reducing global fossil fuel usage and emissions, which is the challenge facing the whole world.

[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/friskodude/1177241/]

Original posted at 6degreesofpopulation.org


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Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training Program (photo: WEA)

The 101st International Women’s Day is March 8th.  Despite often hearing about existing obstacles to women’s well-being, there is much to celebrate this year.

Climate change, of course, is an enormous threat to just about every topic one could name.  In India, though, people are taking a holistic approach to the problem, including tapping into traditional knowledge, especially that of women.

I’ve written before on the work of the Women’s Earth Alliance(WEA) and its initiative to improve livelihoods and food security of small and vulnerable women farmers.  WEA works with a local Indian environmental organization, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, helping women farmers start or strengthen organic farming practices and diversify their food production.  And just as importantly, they connect women farmers, who share best practices with one another and start campaigns to create change in their communities.

According to WEA, the women they are working with are experiencing much success:

  • Soma and Thumpa in West Bengal have guided women farmers to set up 20 nutrition gardens, as well as install improved cooking stoves that reduce carbon emissions;
  • Manju Devi in Bihar has continued her training on organic farming practices and is encouraging others to plant multi-purpose indigenous trees. “My goal is to see women stand on their own feet and improve their self-reliance,” says Manju who set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site;
  • Kusum Lata in Uttar Pradesh has worked to ensure that rural women have job cards registered under their names. This enables them to get fair wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that provides 100 days of employment to rural households willing to do public work-related work, including water conservation and reforestation.

Compare this to a recent report by the development NGO Action Aid and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, that found that more than 80 percent of smaller farmers – who contribute to half of India’s crop production – will be affected by climate change.  One farmer quoted in the report said that “The pattern of rainfall has changed.  It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry.”

And just last week Indian researchers reported that India’s monsoonal rains are becoming less frequent and more intense.

I heard similar stories from women farmers with whom I met in India a few years back. All over the world we are seeing how changing precipitation patterns are affecting water and food security.    That’s why it’s more important than ever to empower women.

I also saw this news article by Aditi Kapoor, writing on how “Innovative measures by women farmers across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay.”  Kapoor interviewed a woman farmer from Uttar Pradesh, who said “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.”

What is needed in India and around the world, in terms of agriculture, is support for seed and grain banks, ecological farming training, appropriate technology, education, and economic empowerment for Indian women and farmers.  This will enable them to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, build political will, and better their lives.

It sounds to me like we have lots to celebrate this year!

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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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Lately there has been some discussion of the increasing costs of staple food items, such as wheat, being a factor in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month. In a world of extreme weather it is something we need to to prepare for, as climate change has serious ramifications on food security.  And whether you “believe” in climate change or not, the fact is that changing weather patterns are deeply affecting agriculture.

In India many crops are under threat – coffee, tea, mangoes, wheat, rice, apples, cashew nuts.  Organizations are looking at ways of adapting traditional crops to changing weather patterns and lack of resources such as water.  In Tamil Nadu, in southern India,  Oxfam India is working with local groups and the rural poor to revive ancient systems of storing water.   Local communities and the government are repairing and reusing a water storage system that channels water through feeder canals and into man-made water troughs.  This is a system that has been used for hundreds of years, if not millennia, to conserve water during times of drought.

It is important to keep in mind that women are on the frontline of climate and food security.  Women are more dependent of agriculture than men. Depending on the region, women farmers account for 45% to 80% of all food production in developing countries.  In India, women comprise 72% of those employed in the agriculture sector.  Yet less than 10% of women own land and women are often excluded from decision-making processes. Increases in food prices make food more inaccessible to poor people, especially women and girls.  Moreover, it has been documented that female health declines more than male health during times of food shortages.

One way of dealing with the impact of climate change on food production is to empower women, who are traditional savers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity.   Initiatives should support tapping into women’s hands-on knowledge of ecosystems and best practices and supporting them as positive stewards of the land.  According to Berkeley-based Women’s Earth Alliance, when women are no longer marginalized from accessing land, training, markets, and policy recognition, and have the support critical to their sustainability and success, they will be able to improve their food and economic security and improve the health of their farm and natural resources.  Empowering women, especially women farmers, is a win-win for communities the world over.

(In a follow-up to my last post on climate refugees, the Asian Development Bank has a forthcoming report on the increase in migration due to climate change.  “National governments and the international community must urgently address this issue in a proactive manner.”)

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I’ve just come back from a screening of the film Climate Refugees.  It is a documentary about the increasing number of people escaping climate chaos.  Whether you believe global climate change is due to man or is a natural cycle, the fact is our climate is changing rapidly and we really aren’t doing much about it, and certainly not fast enough.  The film itself was decent but not the best out there, and a little too doom and gloom (and really, was it necessary to have Ed Begley, Jr. encouraging people to buy energy efficient light bulbs?  Aren’t we passed that stage?

Cyclone Sidr, photo credit: Save the Children UK

)  But the theme of the movie is something to give proper consideration to, as floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc. force citizens to migrate, sometimes to other countries.


Above all, it is a national security issue, as even our own Pentagon knows and is preparing for, whether it be rescuing people from disasters or attempting to deal with conflicts arising from increasingly scarce resources.

As for refugees, Bangladesh is a country one often hears about in relation to climate change.  Even a minor sea level rise could displace many Bangladeshis, a nation at sea level.  Where will they go?  Perhaps to India, though the Indian government is building a barbed wire fence between them.  Officially, the fence is to prevent smuggling and keep out terrorists and illegal immigrants (already a source of tension).  But the next big cyclone affecting a large percentage of the Bangladeshi population may force migration to safer land, namely neighboring India.  Granted, it is not a high-tech border fence that will be all that successful in preventing crossings, but symbolically it says a lot.

India is not exactly in the best position to accept refugees, be they fleeing disasters or political strife.  Melting glaciers in Tibet that feed the Ganges and Bhramaputra Rivers are starting to disappear, a serious threat to India’s water situation.  Add to that China damming the rivers, thereby reducing the rivers’ flow.  Droughts, floods, pollution, disease, population growth and a host of other climate-related impacts are all being grappled with in India.

Scientists estimate that by 2050 up to 15 million people could be displaced due to climate change.  India may not have contributed to the problem, but it will need to deal with it, as will almost all countries.  Are we all part of the human family, a point raised by a Tuvalu islander in the movie, or will it be every man, or country, for itself?

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