Rural communities face the daily reality of resource insecurity – a combination of scarcity (insufficiency inaccessibility and unavailability), vulnerability (weakness subject to damage and hazards) and stress (use exceeds availability). It is a very real condition of everyday life that relates to the communities’ reduced ability to cope with, anticipate and recover from any further detrimental impact. This vulnerability is further stressed by dependency on an uncertain climate, volatile globalised markets, and unsupportive degenerated ecosystems.
Dry land farmers live dangerously. Their entire income is often dependent on a single season – the unpredictable Indian monsoon. A failed crop affects not just these farmers but also has dire implications for the landless poor. Being dependent on farmers and their ability to provide earning opportunities, an uncooperative climate means migration and disrupted families for them.
But in India’s monsoon-driven weather system, local agro-meteorological conditions, especially rainfall, vary even within a kilometre; and distantly located weather stations at taluka places are not able to provide accurate data that can generate locale-specific knowledge. Also, most indigenous knowledge about weather predictions based on observing surrounding flora and fauna, is now lost.
The image of Indian Agriculture has become rather stereotypical – the poor, thin, debt ridden farmer begging the skies for rain, the suicidal Vidarbha farmer or the rich sugar baron / zamindar. Older people in the village complain that the younger generation is now least interested in tilling the land. They all would rather go in for a city / government job. The future of India as a predominantly agrarian society is no longer such a surety, given the uncertainty of the ‘field’. GM foods, subsidised chemical fertilisers, water logging and salination of soils, madly fluctuating market prices of agricultural produce, grain rotting in godowns, a poor public distribution system are the other side of a now strongly critiqued Green Revolution. While all this and its variants exist, there is more.
So, here is bringing you some good news from the Agricultural Sector, for a change:
A few months ago, the people of WOTR’s project villages saw a large paper with advice on farming adorning walls in prominent places in the village. This paper was not largely ignored or casually torn/ spat on like the usual advertisement, political and cinema posters. Farmers in all the villages actually started reading it, not immediately trusting it, but observing the truth in its weather forecasts.
“Ever thought about how much there is to learn from a glass of water?” This is how the session starts. A graphic is explained, leaving the audience a bit shocked.
Then the facilitator makes 2 columns: Credit & Debit – Income & Expenditure. This Accounts 101 is not for money, but for another kind of liquidity- Water, the mother resource.
This is WOTR’s Water Budgeting Tool.
The Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT) is a unique tool developed by WOTR to assess vulnerabilities of communities in a particular area. It gives ‘indications’ of the vulnerability of communities to the hazard which they are most likely to face. The tool is open-ended and allows constant improvisations. We at WOTR believe that there needs to be a shift in policy and implementation approaches from ‘Development Planning’ to ‘Planning taking into account Uncertainty due to Climate Change’. WOTR has started conducting VAT trainings for implementation teams and development professionals.
In earlier times of rain-fed, single-crop agriculture, there was a strong link between agriculture and livestock as it supported communities in farm operations, enhancing soil fertility (manure), and transportation. All households, depending on their landholdings, kept cattle, bullocks, goats and back-yard poultry. Even though the milk production from indigenous cattle was low, sale of farm animals was a critical source of income. Small ruminants especially goats played a vital role for poor households as a buffer in times of need and. Apart from this, livestock provided nutritional security; the diet of communities was rich in milk, milk products, eggs and meat from local poultry. The livestock was raised entirely on the extensive system of production depending on the village common property resources (CPR), agriculture fallows and grazing lands. There was no system of fodder production and crop–residues were stored as additional feed for livestock.
Climate change and globalization bring uncertainty and risk to many communities across the world – especially those who rely heavily on the availability of local resources and infrastructure. When disaster strikes, a stable, empowered community will respond with resilience and recover quickly. For this reason, disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs are now essential priorities of sustainable development.
As a component of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), WOTR has begun a disaster risk reduction initiative in its project villages. Much like other themes of CCA, such as Biodiversity, DRR is interlinked with all aspects of village life – a complexity that requires a holistic, systematic approach in reducing risk and boosting resilience. WOTR’S chosen approach to achieving successful DRR is called Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM), the central focus of which is community participation. While WOTR staff may help to facilitate the process and act as a liaison between the community and government, it is crucial that the community play the leading role in its own production of resilience. This means the village community is involved in every part of the process: identifying hazards and potential disasters, formulating a plan to mitigate risk, communicating this information with other concerned parties, and both creating and implementing its disaster-management plan when disaster does strike. When the village community becomes self-aware of its own vulnerability, and formulates its own plan to reduce that vulnerability and effectively manage disaster by working together and sharing resources, then the DRR program is complete and the community itself further approaches true sustainability in the face of uncertain times.
Total vulnerability comprises, among other factors, the combination of various hazards within the area of concern. Hazards, which are defined as anything having the potential to cause human or environmental harm, can be physical or conditional, sudden-onset or slow-onset. For example, a broken swing set at a school is a physical hazard, while a thunderstorm represents a conditional hazard. Both are crucial in the assessment of overall vulnerability. The greatest initial challenge to implementing DRR is capacity-building, primarily because this involves the complete reconstruction of a villager’s perception of their landscape. What a visitor observes as a “hazard” is to a villager just a part of everyday life. Villagers sometimes patch their roofs with grass, but if a roof lies under an electrical pole which frequently sparks, then something which they use every day becomes a fire hazard. That villagers see hazards as avoidable disasters is compulsory, if any positive action is to be taken by the community towards overall resilience. Additionally, villagers must understand the options that they have in addressing each individual hazard. In the case of the leaning electrical pole, what is the best choice in eliminating this hazard? Does a community have the capacity to demand a repair from the government, or must they simply build a home elsewhere to eliminate their risk of damage caused by collapse, or electrical fire? Awareness-raising is therefore an important first stage of CBDM for DRR, because in enhancing a villager’s perception of their everyday lives will allow them to better identify hazards and assess vulnerability.
In preparation for the exposition of DRR at the Shiswad Biodiversity Festival, WOTR staff implemented the initial physical hazard-mapping process with the Shiswad community, which was divided into two stages. First a capacity-building session, for the reasons previously discussed, was held on DRR and CBDM, in which critical concepts of Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability, Exposure, and Capacity were introduced. In the second stage, the participants were given time to walk throughout the village area and make a note of any physical hazards they recognized. These included broken or damaged electrical units, a dangerous river crossing, areas prone to landslides, and collapsing or damaged buildings, among others. These sites were then mapped using a GPS and translated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) and Google Earth. A summary and series of images of these hazards, as well as the prepared maps, were prepared in a report that was shared at this Shiswad Biodiversity Festival, to increase awareness about the importance of DRR. Though this was only an initial stage in the overall DRR process, and there are many more vulnerabilities to be addressed that are conditional rather than physical, it was certainly an important one in establishing recognition among WOTR’s stakeholder communities in the importance of assessing and reducing risk in the context of climate change.
Nisarg Utsav was a success because of all the interesting stalls and exhibitions. But the most crowded stalls in the festival were… yes, you guessed it- the Food Stalls. Self Help Groups (SHGs) women from all over Akole- Shiswad, Khadki, Purushwadi, Pimpri… participated big time in the Nisarg Utsav. Something was cooking- Delicious traditional food and also the spirit of enterprise.
The coming together of women to form Self Help Groups has brought out some of their strong and hitherto hidden traits. Now they have the means to contribute financially to give their families a better quality of life, but also the means to grow as entrepreneurs and earn a personal standing in the community. Women have always been the creators and perpetuators of food diversity and culture. Among the various businesses that they have started, food and allied businesses take off the best.
Sita Raut is one of Shiswad’s superwomen. She and her co-SHG members have taken up the responsibility of managing the Food component of Ecotourism at Shiswad. All the guests who come and stay in the picturesque village of Shiswad, also get treated to local delicacies – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Managing the entire enterprise – inventory, purchasing, manufacture and quality control… Not an easy job. In the midst of feeding hungry tourists, Sita somehow also finds time to run a tailoring shop in her home, where she stiches sari blouses and children’s clothes.
The women are busy from dawn to dusk. Of course, there is no respite from individual household responsibilities, but they jumped at the idea of earning extra money from this opportunity. And also it gives them a chance to congregate, do more with their lives. Their windowless kitchens of are now lit up with their conversations and laughter and their courtyards are strewn with grain drying, vegetables being cut and news and opinions being exchanged.
Even in other villages, where Ecotourism has not yet started, women have come together to make different fresh and packaged food products and are trying to find a market for them. The Shiswad Nisarg Utsav was a golden opportunity. Women were serving full a lunch menu and snacks absolutely non-stop! Bhaakri, pithla, daal, mutton and crab dishes, paapads, sweet potatoes, nutritious tubers like Univ, pickles…. There was a fantastic variety of local cuisines, mostly made from locally available ingredients, often from their own farms. In terms of sale, the food stalls were a lip smacking success.
There was also something rare on sale: Traditional rice i.e. rice threshed by hand, not in a machine. Hand threshing is a back-breaking process. Women since olden days have composed many a song to divert themselves while doing this work. Gangubai Kondagle, from Khadki says, “Now the threshing mills are here. The drudgery is no longer needed but the taste of that rice can never match up to that of hand-threshed rice. So, we still sow some traditional rice to be threshed and eaten at home. The ‘package’ rice is sometimes too sticky…kind of bland.”
Hybrid rice (or ‘bag’ rice as the village people call it) does indeed come with baggage. It grows well provided it is given enough water and fertiliser. But Gangubai says that unlike these hybrids, old varieties of rice like Kolpi, Jini etc. give some yield even in low rain. Overuse of chemical fertilisers has had an adverse effect on soil fertility and crop diversity too.
In the face of uncertainty brought about by Climate variability, planting traditional varieties of seeds and using organic manure might be a good adaptive, sustainable solution. There is not much of a market for hand-threshed rice. But some women still exhibited it in the festival. “All this is so that something from our old knowledge and way of life is preserved and taken forward,” says Manu Kondaar from Purushwadi.
Innovatively and deliciously combining traditional ingredients and new market demands, the SHG women have opened up and diversified their kitchen. And who wouldn’t like a taste of it?
Balu Bhangre of Khadki Budruk has a treasure! But unlike most treasures, it is not a secret one. He wants to show and share it with everyone. In fact, he is even exhibiting it to the public in Shiswad’s Festival. This is Balu’s wonderful, assorted Biodiversity Sample Collection and Register.
Balu Bhangre is a young man, who got introduced to WOTR and its ECO course for the village youth sometime back. There he gained exposure to issues of Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Change and soon got more and more involved in working for his village.
Most young people his age are now totally disconnected with traditional knowledge sources of the village- like knowledge of traditional agriculture, the jungle and traditional arts and crafts. But Balu has actually gone the extra mile and collected traditional seeds of foodgrains and other crops, wild vegetables and fruits and medicinal plants; many extra miles, in fact. Due of deforestation and most people turning to hybrid seeds and cash crops these plants have become very rare. At times he had to travel 40 km from the village and convince people from some really remote hamlets, who still practiced traditional agricultural practices, to give him a sample of their seeds!
As Balu says, “People thought we were quite mad, at our age, to be collecting seeds like little children.
Balu is a meticulous collector and record keeper. He has a neat, detailed register with records of 300-350 different flora- fauna and also of the community’s customs and way of life. There is also a herbarium of about 30 medicinal herbs- leaves pressed into a book, with the local names and uses of the plant. Also they have craftwork done by local artisans, snake skins and local fish breeds. “We realised right at the beginning that there is no point only collecting samples. Social Awareness needs to be created and the Shiswad Festival is a great start. People in cities are so disconnected from the rural way of life and even our local youth are often clueless. This is our attempt to reconnect with our roots. Climate Change is a reality and in order to cope with that, we need to preserve traditional knowledge. Many of these plants also have great economic value today with pharmaceutical and other companies. We want our people to be informed and conscious in all ways about their natural heritage and its conservation,” he says wisely.They also were very uncooperative in digging into their memories and giving us information about our own traditions. But now they have seen that we are serious and also have started realising the importance of what we are doing. Slowly their attitude is changing. Children especially tag along with us all the time. That is great, because we are doing all this work so that this knowledge is preserved for future generations.”