03 August 2022, New Delhi: It’s time to build on the gains of a project conceptualized to make rural India climate resilient as monsoons are increasingly going to play truant.
One significant initiative in India’s effort to tackle climate change has been unfolding in Indian villages. The idea of developing ‘climate smart’ villages—first mooted in 2011—has now gathered steam and will strike further roots with the new models evolved over the years, becoming more and more visible in our rural landscape as we race towards meeting our climate goals.
So, what are climate smart villages?
Dr Sreenath Dixit, Cluster Lead, ICRISAT Development Centre and Interim Global Research Programme Director of ‘Resilient Farm and Food Systems’, explains: “A village is considered ‘climate smart’ when it can cope with the ill-effects of climate change. This does not happen overnight–it needs technical support, funding, and above all community participation. The ability of the entire village community to respond to climate change determines whether the village is ‘climate smart’ or not.”
Some sporadic attempts were made during the first decade of this millennium following a significant commitment from the Central Government when the ‘National Initiative for Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA)’ was launched. This project’s coordination was assigned to the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Ever since this initiative was launched many models have evolved for different agro-ecosystems. They include drought management, management of high-intensity rainfall, rejuvenation of traditional rainwater harvesting models, among others. It has been pursued for the last decade in nearly 150 districts that are assessed as vulnerable to climate change.
‘Must change mindset’
But bringing about transformation at the village level is no easy task and requires bringing about a change in the mindset of the local populace.
“There are many challenges. Apart from being a resource intensive exercise, both financial and technical, it is also time consuming, as communities need to be engaged for a certain length of time to appreciate how small and collective actions can help them cope with vulnerabilities associated with climate change,” says Dixit.
The intercessions include science-backed natural resource (such as soil, water, crop and livestock) management; right choice of crop, timely farmland operations and mechanised agri-operations. Also needed are changes to improve timelines and efficiency, integration of livestock farming with crop husbandry and diversification of agri and agri-based enterprises to reduce the risk of crop failure.
Besides these interventions, the prudent use of rainwater for increasing cropping intensity, value addition to agri-produce through aggregation, primary processing and collectivisation are also required. And last, but not the least, institutional capacity among the villagers to access markets—both the input and output markets—must be developed.
“Learning from the experiences of over a decade of work in this sphere, we know the entire agri-extension and agri-education needs to reorient to addressing climate vulnerabilities of different agro-ecosystems. We must also invest heavily in evolving mitigation strategies. This is a more cost and time-intensive option. But, we won’t be left with many options in in future if we need to feed over 1.5 billion people. We need to invest more in preventing post-harvest losses, and primary and secondary processing,” says Dixit.
Drought proofing crucial
India has paid a huge price for being drought prone as its agriculture is highly dependent on monsoon rains. And because of climate change, monsoons are going to play more truant . Droughts are going to be a major threat to agricultural productivity.
A careful analysis of data shows that in recent years the onset of monsoons has been delayed. There are more and longer breaks in between the monsoons, which are also retreating earlier than before. This results in compression in length of the crop-growing period. ‘Climate smart’ villages, however, would be much less affected since they would be prepared for such an eventuality.
Take for instance Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh (AP). Here the onset of monsoons brings heavy rains and then a prolonged period of low rainfall. So, the rice grown here should ideally be water resistant initially, and later drought resistant. Ditto the groundnut crop grown in Anantapur district of AP where over 5 to 8 lakh hectares is grown in an area of scanty rainfall and low water availability. Here farmers would have to adopt to rapid mechanised sowing when the rains set in.
Involvement of States
In the case of livestock, one needs to look at the high yielding cows of Punganur in AP and Malnad Gidda of Karnataka for better returns on investment, says Dixit. He also feels that now that the national project has made significant strides and developed innovative models, it is time to expand its scope and reach by involving state governments because agriculture is a state subject. Drawing from past experience, other states can coordinate their own programmes to make their villages in vulnerable areas climate proof.
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