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    Climate Change will Further Strain the Resilience of Small Farmers

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    Climate Change will Further Strain the Resilience of Small Farmers

    The unsustainable nature of farming operations and the escalating climate change have worsened the situation of the Indian farmer. Therefore, these huge populations’ means of livelihood are extremely susceptible to seasonality and exogenous shocks.

    By Anfaz Abdul Vahab

    While visiting villages across Pratappur in Chhattisgarh, a common sight was that a sizable portion of farmland had been left fallow, with most of the farmers contently lying back in their houses and gazing upward in hope. Each village had the same depressing situation. Around this same period last year, farmers were busily seeding or transplanting paddy, but this year they were completely helpless. The rainy season, which was supposed to begin at the beginning of June, hasn’t started until the end of July.

    Indian agricultural sector has experienced impressive growth in the past few decades however, it continues to face a number of serious problems, including low productivity, unsustainable nature of farming, regional bias, and an over-dependence on the monsoons. Around 60 per cent of the Indian population is primarily dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, and more than 63 per cent of the total agriculture area is under rainfed agriculture.  Thus, with the huge population dependent on agriculture, over the years the country has failed to bring transformational changes in the lives of farmers. With more than 82 per cent of farmers being small and marginal (FAO), the vagaries of monsoon emanating from climate change is already wreaking havoc in terms of decreased and instability in crop yield. 

    The unsustainable nature of farming operations and the escalating climate change have worsened the situation of Indian farmers. Therefore, these huge populations’ means of livelihood are extremely susceptible to seasonality and exogenous shocks. 

    Limited capacity

    In the Pratappur region of Chhattisgarh, for instance, sample households had low levels of resilience, with an average value of 0.41777. (This was determined by adopting the sustainable livelihoods approach put forward by the Department for International Development, UK in 1999.) 

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    This low resilience level reflects the farm households’ limited capacity to withstand any external shocks. The small and marginal farmers in the rainfed regions who are already constrained by poor irrigation infrastructure facilities and unsustainable methods of farming, changing climate conditions are further deteriorating their low resilience levels and making their lives more vulnerable. The small and marginal farmers living on subsistence levels, with poor infrastructural and institutional supports, are the most exposed to the rising uncertainties in weather conditions. Thus, climate change further aggravates the divide between the small and rich farmers.

    Carefully planned interventions to encourage livelihood diversification, such as the adoption of poultry, dairy, and pisciculture, can increase the resilience levels of households. Additional irrigation infrastructure improvements, the adoption of high-value crops, and technical training in modern, efficient farming techniques could all benefit the households. 

    Given the high levels of poverty and low levels of resilience, the effects of climate change will only worsen the living conditions of poor farmers. To resolve the current issues and lessen the effects of the impending climate change, substantial measures must be taken. Instead of leaving farmers vulnerable to the whims of climate change and market volatility, there should be clear-cut strategies to increase their income and boost their levels of resilience. 

    There are already a number of carefully thought-out plans and programmes for dealing with these issues, some of which have previously shown promising. However, many of them fell short of expectations due to several issues: including inadequate funding; chiefly, a lack of agreement among government agencies; a lack of coverage; and implementation issues. 

    Resilient rural economy

    The first and most important step should be strengthening these programmes to meet the needs of a larger population and strengthening local-level implementation with the aid of civil society organisations. This calls for a strong commitment from the policymakers and other stakeholders to recognise the local challenges and develop and implement efficient solutions to address these local needs. 

    It is essential to create a robust and resilient rural economy to improve the sustainability levels of the rural population and address the challenges it faces. Such an economy ought to be able to support the well-being of each member of a community, as well as to withstand stresses and shocks and recover from them. In agrarian economies characterised by constant population pressure, ever-declining land-human being ratios, incredibly unequal land distribution systems, and ever-increasing labour-saving agricultural production technology, agriculture alone cannot support rural employment it further requires employment generation outside farm employment along with the strengthening of the agricultural sector. 

    Therefore, it is essential to plan and undertake several strategies to increase the resilience levels of the rural population and adopt sustainable ways of livelihood to have inclusive and robust growth. This will help to significantly reduce poverty and improve the indicators of human development. Given that each region has different characteristics and levels of resilience, it is imperative to emphasise the significance of localised governance and decision-making. Therefore, while making any decisions, this issue must be taken into account. Thus, my research is an attempt to understand the resilience level of an area so that effective solutions can be planned and implemented according to the needs of the particular area, so the people who live there can receive the best possible outcomes.

    Anfaz Abdul Vahab is a student of the BA Hons (Economics) programme at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. This piece has been extracted from his research report following his stint as an Abhijit Sen Research Intern with the National Foundation for India.

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