For many, thinking about India often invokes images of large crowded cities where thousands of merchants sell their wares in teeming markets, ancient temples and tombs stand next to homes and businesses, and auto-rickshaws and cows share space on the loud and dirty roads. A truly representative picture of India, however, would probably not be of a bustling market but of a farmer tending his crops on a small plot of land. In fact in India over 70% of the country’s 1.2 billion people live in rural areas and are nearly entirely dependent on agriculture as their source of livelihood. This reality makes India particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, as agriculture is one of the (if not the) most sensitive economic sectors to a changing climate.
Within the Bundelkhand region of India, the current and potential future impacts of climate change are garnering particular attention due to the lagging development of the area (relative to the rest of the country) and a large reliance on rainfed agriculture in a traditionally semi-arid region. Nearly 90% of income in the region is derived from crop production, livestock rearing, and seasonal out-migration. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Bundelkhand experienced drought roughly once every 16 years, but the past several decades have seen this frequency increase by a factor of three putting increasing stress on inhabitants’ income and food security.
For the past three decades, Development Alternatives (an environmental/development NGO for which I am interning) has been focusing on developing sustainable (both socially and environmentally) livelihoods in Bundelkhand. They are currently implementing a multi-year long project in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to help address the problems of persistent poverty and climate change vulnerability with policy and practice that enhances climate resilient development.
As a first step, the climate variability of the region is being assessed at the census block level with a combination of secondary information (such as demographic and climate data) and primary information through consultations of both rural community members and local government and NGO staff. While the vulnerability assessment is still in the draft stage, Development Alternatives held a workshop in Bhopal (best known outside India for the Bhopal Disaster) that convened officials from the local government departments involved in agricultural and rural development.
One point that was mentioned several times by different officials was that government policies and schemes already exist that implicitly address many, if not all, of the potential impacts of climate change in the region. The main anticipated climate change impacts in Bundelkhand relate primarily to the availability of water resources. Yet, as stated previously, water availability is not necessarily a novel problem in the region, which has periodically experienced droughts throughout the past—climate change is only expected to make water scarce events more frequent. Accordingly, the national and state government have made attempts in the past to reduce the risk of drought-induced disaster through different policies such as the promotion of water resource management techniques like artificial groundwater recharging and the creation of water storage infrastructure as well as improved agricultural techniques such as growing drought-resistant crop varieties and utilizing system of rice intensification.
Unfortunately, while the policies seem good on paper, the reality on the ground is much different. Poor and fragmented implementation of many government schemes to improve water resource management and agricultural techniques has left the precarious situation of many small and marginal farmers unchanged in the region. With the likely increase in frequency of drought and poor monsoons due to climate change, the imperative to address such issues only becomes more critical to the already fragile livelihoods of millions of people in rural India. Accordingly, the next phase of Development Alternative’s climate resilient development project will analyze existing government developmental policies that could be retrofitted to directly address climate adaptation needs—there is no need to reinvent the wheel—and identify the implementation deficiencies of current schemes. Through close collaboration between government agencies, NGOs such as Development Alternatives, and the communities that will ultimately be impacted, Bundlekhand will hopefully increasingly develop in a more climate resilient manner.