09Jan2013

Climate Change and Its Impacts: Observations by the Villagers in Mewat

By Satoko Okamoto – Visiting Scientist and Aditya Bastola – Social Scientist, Rural Research Center

In the semi-arid region of Mewat, Haryana, over 75% of villagers work in agriculture. Climatic fluctuations in rainfall and temperature have been significantly impacting crop yields, which in turn are affecting many of these farmers’ livelihoods. Policymakers and researchers are calling for new farming strategies that can help farmers adapt to climate changes. Sehgal Foundation was interested in determining how much climate has changed in Mewat over the past 10 years.

On December 26, 2012, we surrounded a small bonfire fueled by upla (dung cakes) as a grey sky overshadowed us. We had driven one and a half hours from Gurgaon in order to talk to villagers in the region of Mewat. We hastily began talking to two groups—one was a group of a dozen senior males and the other included several of the village’s senior females. Many of the groups’ members were over 60 years old. We asked them what climatic changes they had experienced in the last 50 years and how these changes had impacted their agricultural practices.

During the discussions, villagers said that average rainfall had been reducing, but that when it did rain, it was more intense than it used to be. Villagers conveyed climatic changes consistent with reports on regional climatic changes in India[1]. Villagers reported that in the winter, it used to freeze and that during the monsoon, the temperature was lower[2]. Surprisingly, in the summer, they used to experience heat waves for two months, but this no longer occurs. They also noted that sunshine had become more intense and that soil became sandy due to brackish groundwater.

Over the years, villagers have found that the condition and availability of groundwater has changed. Now, villagers have to dig deep down to reach groundwater, and this water is increasingly saline. As a result, they often buy water from private tankers. One villager said, “The poor have been asking the rich for water for the past 15 years.” The overuse of groundwater and limited freshwater recharging are primary causes of increasing groundwater salinity, but decreasing rainfall is exacerbating the issue.

The villagers also talked about how their agricultural practices have changed over the years. They now cultivate fewer crops due to increased groundwater salinity and lack of rainfall and deforestation has also been a problem. One villager said that, “People destroyed the medicinal herbs and cultivated the land. The land was not uniform then, but now it is uniform in shape.”

Smallholder farmers in poverty-stricken regions like Mewat are most vulnerable to climate changes. Socially, technologically, and financially, these farmers have fewer resources to help them adapt to new conditions. Regardless of their hardships, villagers were cheerful throughout the discussions.

To read more blogs by Aditya, please see the link: http://adityabastola.blogspot.in/

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[1] Mewat, located in the Aravallis range, belongs to northern plains, which is one of the semi arid agro-ecological regions in India. Anna Bruderle et al reported that the semi-arid areas in Rajasthan, a state adjacent to Mewat, Haryana, “will likely face the difficulty of yet more concentrated and variable rainfalls, and higher frequency of dry spells occurring even during the rainy season” citing the work of Kumar et al in 2006. “Climate Change: Vulnerability and Adaptation: Experiences from Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh: Water Resource Management, Case Study India.” The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). 2009. (Page 4).

Similarly, Anna Ranuzzi and S. Richa reported that in the North Indian semi arid regions, the average mean surface temperature is predicted to rise between 3.5°C and 5 °C by the end of this century. The Indian Council for Research and International Economic Relations (ICRIER). “Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture and Food Security” ICRIER Policy Series. No. 16. May 2012. (Page 1).

[2] According to the same report by ICRIER, the temperature rise during the winter and post-monsoon was the main contributor to the warming, which has risen by 0.80°C and 0.82°C in the last hundred years, respectively. Ibid.