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India's farmers are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts

Feb 03, 2013

The potential of the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), can be tapped to increase the adaptive capacities of communities to fight climate change, says Ilona Porsché, Project Director, GIZ, on the sidelines of a DSDS-2013 conference organised by The Energy and Resources Institute. Excerpts...


OneWorld South Asia: How can the Indian government sponsored schemes help people in rural areas, especially the farmers to adapt to the climate change?

Ilona Porsché: A study, which will be shared with the public by April, is being carried out jointly by GIZ and the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc), on behalf of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), with support from the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) and IIFM Bhopal, to explore the potential environment benefits that can be generated through the Indian government’s flagship scheme, MGNREGA.

Though the primary aim of MGNREGA is to create employment opportunities in rural areas, one of the secondary objectives of MGNREGA is to create long-term valuable assets and protect the natural resource-base through various works undertaken by it, like the building of check dams and afforestation. Based on this study, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and India’s Ministry of Rural Development have come together to start a new bilateral project to increase environmental benefits generated through MGNREGA.

There are a lot of restraints which we are going to look at through various aspects like technical sound construction, maintenance of the works, capacity development and training of all people involved in the implementation of MGNREGA works, including the technical engineers who support MGNREGA.

OWSA: How does the Indo-German project, Climate Change Adaption in Rural Areas of India, run by GIZ equip rural communities to gear up to meet the challenges brought in by the climate change?

Porsché:  Through this programme, we are working on seven intervention areas, one of which is to support 16 states and two Union Territories of the country on developing action plans on climate change. We expect that by addressing framework conditions, assessing vulnerability and by directly working with the rural communities we will help to increase the resilience of the local population vis-à-vis climate change. We showcase ways of physically dealing with climate change. For example, in the watershed development in Tamil Nadu, we increase the height of bunds to deal with the greater runoff and we also look at alternative means of income for the farming communities.

OWSA: How do you think management of natural resources in a sustainable way can help improve livelihoods of  farmers with small land holdings?

Porsché: Environmental benefits will not only make the natural system more resilient but also increase the adaptive capacities of the communities as their natural resource base is strengthened.  In the event of unfortunate events like flash floods or increased rainfall in a shorter period of time, the communities are in a better position to deal with such extremes. In a country as big and diverse as India, localised solutions should be devised to deal with extremes of climate variability.

OWSA: How vulnerable do you think is South Asia in general and India in particular to the adverse and the negative impact of the climate change?

Porsché: In 2010, Maplecroft's Climate Change Vulnerability Index identified India as the second most vulnerable county in the world which gives us an idea of how vulnerable this part of the world is to climate change. In my opinion, Indian farmers are particularly vulnerable in many areas as they face many other challenges apart from climate change. For an Indian farmer, challenges from climate change are in addition to the other existing challenges, like of survival or regular income. The two challenges combined will make the farmers very vulnerable.

OWSA: Who do you think will bear the actual brunt of the adversities ushered in by climate change in developing countries like India?

Porsché: People are particularly vulnerable in mountainous regions and coastal areas. Also, people living in dry lands or having little access to quality information on climate change could be at the receiving end. Women too, are particularly vulnerable in rural areas where they have a low participation in the decision-making. Since, women are the ones who actually carry out agricultural activities; they also need to be updated with the developments regarding climate change.

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