Bundelkhand: Although Bundelkhand has been experiencing adverse and erratic weather conditions for several years, the current adverse phase began in February 2015 with untimely heavy rains and hailstorms, which continued with a few breaks for some weeks and destroyed the ripening rabi (winter) crop in most villages. Nearly a year-and-a-half later, in August this year, excess rain and floods have once again caused extensive damage to agriculture in many villages, although the precise extent of the loss will be known only after awhile.
In between these two events of excess rain, there was a prolonged drought that destroyed two successive crops. Over a cycle of four crops, two were destroyed by drought and the other two were ravaged by floods.
This appears to be a manifestation of climate change that has been worsened by local factors. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said in its fifth assessment report that the impact of climate change will depend as much on the volume of change brought by greenhouse gas emissions as on the local socio-economic and environmental factors.
Clearly, in this phase, it has become even more important to implement policies based on socio-economic equality and environment protection, but this has not been happening, and overall social distress is increasing as the weather is becoming more adverse. There needs to be a growing sense of urgency to promote issues of justice and equality, such as providing at least some land to the landless and helping the viability of small farms by reducing costs and providing relief from existing debts. The looming threat of losing land, which many farmers face, should be addressed by appropriate government policies.
Instead, what we see is that the weaker sections are becoming increasingly vulnerable to a few moneylenders and dominant persons. On the ecological side, more protective policies, particularly towards forests and rivers, are needed. Instead, in the same period of worsening weather trends, we have seen the greatest increase in destructive river sand mining. Large scale deforestation has occurred, while the much publicised afforestation schemes have turned out to be a big flop. Also, the highly publicised water conservation projects have not shown desired results due to a lack of adequate attention to proper location, slope and catchment.
Clearly there is a much greater need, now more than ever, for a careful identification of the right priorities and to match these with appropriate budgetary allocations. The allocations for coping with adverse weather conditions, in particular, need to increase significantly. In addition to that, there is a need for a higher allocation for afforestation, water conservation, eco-friendly farming, housing for the poor, health and nutrition. Along with higher allocations, greater care should be taken to ensure optimum results through the better involvement of people, improved governance and transparency, and strengthening of decentralisation.
Within this wider framework, several low cost technologies can be harnessed to help farmers better cope with emerging challenges. A few years ago one of India’s top rice scientists and former director of Central Rice Research Institute R. H. Richharia had demonstrated the high potential of clonal propagation technology for low-cost and eco-friendly improvement in rice productivity, explained in his book Rice in Abundance for All Times Through Rice Clones.
This technology has special relevance in flood situations by allowing for replanting to salvage the damage done in an earlier phase. Richharia, on the basis of his vast experience, said there is no other field technology that can allow seed multiplication as rapidly as this method does.
Similarly, farmers can be helped in the creation of a base for low cost eco-friendly farming by adequate government investment in water conservation and by the establishment of village level seed collection of diverse traditional varieties of various crops.
This can be best achieved through the participation of farmers, including women. Experienced villagers here often point out how traditional water conservation and harvesting practices earlier helped them to grow bountiful crops that were also richer in nutrition and taste. Villagers, who show a talent for reviving such technologies and adapting these to present times, should be encouraged and helped.
An additional relevance of many of these traditional practices for the present is that most of these can also help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, encouraging these practices can also help to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation at the same time.
Mangal Singh, a farmer-innovator of Bundelkhand, has made waves with his invention of the famous ‘Mangal turbine’, which helps in lifting water from streams and rivulets without using diesel and electricity. Many senior scientists have praised this invention and its inventor after examining its on site performance.
Spreading the Mangal turbine across Bundelkhand has been recommended several times, but despite its clear potential in reducing farmers’ costs and greenhouse gas emission, the recommendation has not yet been implemented.
There is an enormous scope for improvement in the ability of people to cope with the fast unfolding situation of adverse and erratic weather, including the worsening cycle of drought and floods. The crucial question is whether this potential will be adequately explored and harnessed before it is too late. As climate scientists give warnings of possible tipping points, we can no longer afford to delay urgent steps.