Climate perceptions of rural communities in south Rajasthan

A recent study in SPWD’s project location in south Rajasthan looks at the impact of climate variability on agriculture production, food security and livestock. Smallholder farmers here face a gamut of agricultural production risks, which has got further accentuated because of climate uncertainties that present new risks and vulnerabilities. The study ‘Climate perceptions of households and differential impacts of MGNREGA on agricultural outcomes of households in South Rajasthan’ by Charvi Kapoor, TERI University for SPWD assesses farmers’ perceptions of climate change and variability.

South Rajasthan has extreme climatic variations and is classified as an arid region. Agriculture and livestock are the main source of livelihood for the local communities. Livestock serves as a traditional resilience strategy for many rural households in the region. Migration for wage labour is an important livelihood strategy. Owner cultivation is predominant but agriculture labor and non-farm sector based livelihood is also observed. MGNREGA too provides livelihood security to the rural communities by creating economic, social and environment safety nets. Together these options help in building up the resilience of these extremely vulnerable communities.

SPWD’s work in the area focuses on the environment benefits of MGNREGA and was initiated to improve the natural resource base in the rural areas by promoting conservation, replenishment and sustainable use as a part of the employment guarantee programme.

Impacts of climate uncertainties

The changing climate has significant impacts on agriculture and allied sectors, natural resources, food security and livestock. The region’s climate is expected to become harsher with increased average temperatures, increased intensity of rainfall events, and increased variability in space and time of monsoon rains as per projections. The climatic variations in future will pose a threat to the agricultural communities considering that they are highly vulnerable to climate change.

There are many policies which act as safety nets for coping with climate variability and can help the poor to achieve sustainable livelihoods. One of these policies is MGNREGA. The study conducted in two districts of South Rajasthan-Chittorgarh and Bhilwara looks at the differential impacts of MGNREGA on agricultural outcomes of the the rural communities.

Extreme weather events are common in both the districts. Bhilwara has faced moderate floods (in 1982, 1994, 1996 and 2006) while Chittorgarh has faced both moderate as well as severe floods in the past. The rainfall in Chittorgarh exceeded the district average by 65.9 percent in 2006, which was classified as severe flood. Both the districts have faced moderate droughts in some years.

The study villages include canal command, rainfed and groundwater based irrigation areas. Sharecropping is common in the area. Kharif crops grown include maize, urad, guar, moong, soybean, masoor, til, cotton and peanuts. The rabi crops include wheat, gram, mustard and chana. Small and marginal farmers do not sell their produce while semi-medium and medium farmers sell it. The small and marginal keep the grains for consumption as they do not achieve self-sufficiency throughout the year. Most of the farmers with small landholdings rely on local markets as their source for food especially during stress periods like droughts and floods. Very few farmers were found to use crop insurance.

Every household in the study area has livestock. The large ruminants include cows, buffaloes, bullocks, ox and horses. The small ruminants include goats and sheep. Bullocks and ox are used in carts. Cows, buffaloes and goats are milk-yielding animals. Milk is sold at dairy and locally by some of the villagers in the area. Wool is procured from the sheep and is sold in the markets.

The fodder constitutes mainly of crop residue. Over time, grass diversity has decreased in the pastures impacting livestock health. The private land owned by the local community is not adequate to meet the needs of the livestock. The available pasturelands have degraded or are not accessible to all.

Climate perceptions

The study indicates that climate related risks such as prolonged dry season have become more frequent and intense. Most respondents indicate that there is a great amount of climate variability in this part of south Rajasthan. The distribution of rainfall is highly erratic and the number of rainy days has decreased. Perceived changes in climate like erratic rainfall onset and cessation were studied. Perception on arrival of south west monsoon showed mixed results. The respondents in Bhilwara study villages stated that there is no change in the arrival of monsoon indicating a relatively stable trend. While in Chittorgarh the responses were mixed– ranging from late, early to no change in monsoon arrival.

The water availability in wells, borewells and irrigation tanks has decreased in both the districts, as per the respondents. The people from Bhilwara study area say that the winter temperature has increased while those from Chittorgarh state the opposite. Villagers from both the districts say that the summer temperature has increased. It was observed that the communities are faced with negative impacts on agricultural livelihoods and food security because of climate variability. The traditional coping strategies developed by the communities provide a basis for designing effective adaptation strategies but is on the wane.

Impacts of MGNREGA on agriculture outcomes

MGNREGA acts as a safety net for the rural communities by providing them with wage employment for 100 days. Under MGNREGA there has been development of irrigation canal systems which has helped the communities with their agriculture. But unfortunately, the environmental benefits of MGNREGA were not reported that well by the local communities and they did not find many benefits till now. The communities are still facing the challenges of climatic shocks and have to cope by selling their assets like land and livestock.

The village communities during the survey were not that convinced that MGNREGA helps them improve agricultural production in terms of coping with climate shocks. Drought proofing works were not reported by any of them. They reported works like bunding on their individual fields, that too not much. MGNREGA helped them with better water facilities by building irrigation canals, watershed plans etc. But some of the study villages do not have access to such facilities. This can be correlated with the fact that villages which come under non-command  areas have lower production levels and villages which have better MGNREGA implementation and fall under command areas have better production levels overall.

Individual variations can be seen according to land holding sizes among the farmers. The farmers with large holdings tend to cope better and as such are not solely dependent on MGNREGA for water services or any other work. Small and marginal farmers are much more dependent on MGNREGA and face losses in agriculture production due to droughts, floods etc. The higher yields are observed for the villages which have maximum MGNREGA works especially water related works.

Conclusion

Drought, floods, increased intensity of rainfall events, decreasing water sources, diminishing pastures were the major climate-related risks reported across the two study districts. There is need to study the wide range of agricultural technologies and strategies used by the rural communities to cope with climate change and climate variability.

Study author: Charvi Kapoor

Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons (Licence: CC BY 2.0)

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