A real-life story of 9 villages that are coping with variability – variability in climate and markets that have hitherto not been experienced in such magnitude or intensity before.

This story starts with the farmers of villages in the Akole region of Maharashtra, India, losing their standing, harvest-ready, rabi Chana crop in the winter of 2010. The monsoons had continued way past their time, right on till November and the farmers decided to give their Chana another chance and replanted it.

But the farmers lost their wager against the elements.

Normally, people here sow Bajra and Groundnut in January-February. They keep aside a portion of this crop as their food and take the rest to the market. The precious money they get from this sale takes care of their day-to-day living and seasonal agricultural needs for the rest of the year.

But in 2010, due to the delayed harvest of the Chana crop, Bajra and Groundnut was sown only in March-April. 2011 saw an unexpectedly early and unusually heavy onset of the monsoons, leading to disastrous effects on the summer crop.

The monsoon, like a difficult child had stayed up way past its bedtime last time and woken up too early this time. With the Bajra, Groundnut and Chana crops gone, the only hope in 2011 now hung on the monsoon rice crop.

The early, heavy and intense rains in June destroyed the main crops of the whole region- Wanjulshet, Khadki Khurd, Khadki Budruk, Pimpri, Waghdhari, Shishwad and Purushwadi, to name a few of the affected villages.

During the intermediate lulls in the rains, some farmers began to harvest their not-yet-ready Groundnut crop in panic but their hearts sank when they saw that many of the groundnut pods hadn’t ripened, and those which had, had begun to sprout, making them useless.

It is important to note here that farmers in this region use the husks of the Groundnut crop as feed for their livestock. But the husks had rotted too, and now the farmers were confronted with the additional spectre of needing to purchase feed for their livestock, which otherwise would have come from their own fields. Also, groundnuts are used in a variety of forms in cooking and thus meet the protein requirements of the people.

So, the untimely rain ultimately led to substantial loss of nutrition for people as well as livestock.

The Groundnut crop was destroyed underground and high-speed winds and heavy rains didn’t spare the rippling fields of Bajra either. The cobs that managed to survive began to turn black – the rot had begun to set in and the bajra cobs too turned inconsumable and unsalable. Hundreds of farmers began to harvest the now soggy, blackened bajra cobs in the hope of rescuing at least some of them. But the incessant rain would not allow the rescued bajra cobs and groundnuts to dry.

   

But in the best and the worst of times, farmers (the common people) stand as shining examples of resilience. They search for solutions and try to adapt to the situation as best as they can. They never admit defeat easily. The farmers here too tried many ways to counter this disaster.

In Wanjulshet, they used the large, flat and protected spaces within village temples to spread their harvest; they used halogen lamps to dry-heat the harvest. Some lit fires around to smoke the harvest dry. Some even packed their harvests in gunny-bags and sent the produce for drying to relatives living in villages 20-50 km away and which were not affected by the untimely rain.

   

While the farmers were busy rescuing their harvests, the prices in the local trade-centres like Rajur collapsed. Their unhealthy crops would fetch the farmers but a pittance. The farmers now did not have enough money to fund their next rice crop, and a vicious, downward cycle set into motion. A heart-rending sense of desolation and gloom spread in all these homes.

The 9 villages of Purushwadi, Wanjulshet, Khadki Budurk, Khadki Khurd, Waghdhari, Shiswad, Pimpri, Kohane and Ghoti fall within the regional boundaries of the famous Harishchandragadh of Akole Taluka in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Recognising these villages as “hot spots” of climate variability, WOTR along with the village communities has begun preparing for the impacts of Climate variability and change.

As part of its Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) program that is geared towards building resilience and reducing vulnerability, Agro-met stations have been installed by WOTR in these 9 villages. They help quantify and identify weather patterns. Youth in the village are trained in reading data from these Agro-met stations and the village weather boards are updated every day. They are also fed into a larger database to map climate trends in the future. So, for the first time, the community is not entirely at the mercy of the increasingly unpredictable climate and can make informed decisions to better plan their agriculture.

 

The Agro-met revealed some startling figures:

November 2010:

Village Rainfall (mm)
Kohane 155.4
Shiswad 160
Purushwadi 106

This unprecedented and intense rainfall was the reason the standing, ready-for-harvest Chana crop was destroyed and had to be replanted incurring heavy monetary and labour losses for the farmers. Added to this was the degradation in yield and quality of the second crop.

Then in June 2011:

Village Rainfall (mm) Duration
Khadki Khurd 70.8 3-5 June
Ghoti 73 4-6 June
Wanjulshet 107 4-6 June
Waghdhari 112.2 4-6 June
Purushwadi 111.8 4-6 June
Kohane 42 4-6 June
Shiswad 63 9-10 June

All of these figures are way above the normal, expected amount of rain in this region at this time.

WOTR believes that the current climate variability and variability within variability is the beginning of a transition cycle that we will need to cope with. We are in fact experiencing the effects of Climate Change.

We believe, we will need several, multi-pronged, simultaneous approaches that will help local communities combat such variability in the short-term, and adapt to it in the long-term. We will need approaches that will simultaneously strengthen coping mechanisms, reduce vulnerability and build resilience within the communities. The Climate Change Adaptation program focuses on this search for adaptive, sustainable solutions.

One such immediate solution is a new system of rice production – SRI (System of Rice Intensification) that has low input costs and high yields. WOTR has introduced this method of farming in Akole and has provided Pusa Basmati seeds and required micro nutrients to support farmers who were willing to take up the method as a demonstration. The method introduced spaced transplantation of rice in 30-35 cm grids. Organic fertilisers are prepared by the farmers themselves at low cost.

The SRI method has proven to be substantially more resilient to inconsistent weather and ensures a good yield even when the climate fails to behave as expected.

With the help of agricultural experts, WOTR has been exploring such Adaptive Sustainable Agricultural methods with other crops too- like Groundnut, Maize, Onion, Tomato, Wheat and Bengal gram (Chana) and simultaneously setting up live demonstration plots.

We expect that this high yielding and sustainable method will address the food security issues and help improve the economic conditions in these villages.

Included in the multi-pronged approach is promotion of diverse livelihoods to reduce vulnerability that stems from absolute dependence on agriculture. By encouraging local artisans and entrepreneurs, including women’s SHGs, the community has a wide range of income sources and by facilitating a move towards localisation in terms of both, production and markets, WOTR works with the community towards more resilience in a changing climate.