- Faced with both higher temperatures and lower monsoonal rains, farmers in Chakrata and Bhikiyasian tehsils of Uttarakhand have been grappling with falling crop productivity and incomes, combined with rising expenditures on commodities such as food.
- But the farmers are a diverse group and impacts differed depending on their household resources and type of farming. Subsistence farmers, who were poorer, felt more of a pinch while the relatively richer farmers saw lower impacts. The landless farmers, who were among the poorest of the farmers surveyed, had to contend with deteriorating social community bonds.
- To be more equitable, climate change adaptation policies should consider the diverse types of farmers in the region, say the researchers.
Climate change adaptation policies for farmers in the Himalayas should cater to the differences in their household resources and farming practices, states a study that has conducted a new survey of farmers from the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
The Himalayas have been witnessing rapid changes in climate and with most of the agricultural land in Uttarakhand being rain-fed, farmers — who have been left at the mercy of the vagaries of nature — are feeling the pinch.
Shedding light on the diversity of farmers in the region, the study finds that while almost all farmers were able to perceive rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation, the impacts were felt differently depending on the level of resources they possessed (financial, social, physical, human and natural), the type of farming they practiced and other household factors. Subsistence farmers with low resources were struck hard in terms of food security whereas landless farmers exclusively felt deteriorating social bonds.
“The study will guide inclusive adaption planning in the Himalayan region,” said Roopam Shukla, lead author of the study and P.K. Joshi, senior author of the study. They explain that a “deeply rooted social hierarchy,” based on caste, poverty, and power relations exists among the farmers in the study villages.
“We reiterate the need for the adaptation policies to be nuanced to the diversity within farming communities to not reinforce the existing structural inequality (based on caste, tenancy and wealth),” said the authors.
From April to June 2017, the team interviewed 241 farmer households belonging to different classes and castes from ten villages in the tehsils (administrative regions) of Chakrata in Dehradun district in the Garhwal region and Bhikiyasian in the Almora district of Kumaun, on their perceptions of how the climate has changed over the past few decades. The researchers also asked questions about the impact of a changing climate on their crop yield and quality, soil fertility, irrigation water availability, food security, income, expenditure, and social bonds. In particular, they focused on whether different types of farmers face varying impacts.
They validated farmer responses with annual and seasonal trends in temperature (1951–2013) and precipitation (1901–2013) in both tehsils obtained from the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Drier and hotter climate taking a toll on crops
Using statistical methods, the team identified five unique types of farmers depending on the level of resources they possessed (income group, landholdings, livestock), as well as their farming (crops grown, irrigated land) and household characteristics (education, access to credit). The first two types possessed the highest resources; the third type was endowed with a medium level of resources; while the fourth and fifth types had low resources at their disposal.
Although most farmers were unaware of the term climate change, an overwhelming majority (97 percent) felt that the climate had changed compared with 20 to 25 years ago.
The IMD data shows a similar worrying trend: Annual precipitation in Chakrata and Bhikiyasian in Uttarakhand decreased by 0.70 mm per year and 0.33 mm per year, respectively, with a notable drop in monsoonal rainfall during summer and winter. Indeed, almost all the farmers perceived a fall in both summer (99 percent) and winter (95 percent) precipitation (both rainfall and snowfall).
To make matters worse, rainfall has been erratic and uneven with prolonged dry spells. As a result, the farmers have been grappling with water shortages in recent years and they are unsure when to begin sowing. One farmer claims that in the earlier times, rains were continuous during the monsoon season, which was suitable for his crops, but over the past few years, they have become unpredictable and often appear unexpectedly. Another Chakrata farmer vividly recalled how snow used to be a foot-high and last for weeks whereas now if it falls, it is less than 5 inches in height.
The data revealed that average annual temperatures have been rising at a rate of 0.01 degrees Celsius per decade. Underpinning these trends, 96 percent of the farmers reported increased temperatures in the summer. They linked this with decreasing rainfall, which in turn was responsible for making the soil drier and harder to plow. Hotter summers were scorching their crops and causing them to wilt.
All farmers, irrespective of the level of resources they had access to, had higher household expenditures on food because of declining crop production, especially wheat. According to one farmer, wheat production used to be around 300 kg a decade ago when rains used to be timely, but now it has dropped to 30 kg. Because of the lack of food self-sufficiency, they have to now rely on purchasing wheat and rice from the market, says another farmer.
“Further, enhanced expenditure on livestock health and human health was reported due to the changing nature of winters and summer,” added Shukla, a Ph.D. scholar at the School of Advanced Sciences in The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
And the heat is not just taking a toll on their crops and livestock. Most farmers in the region never had to keep themselves cool in the summer. But with mercury levels rising over the past few decades, many are struggling to beat the heat. Electric fans, which were rare earlier, have now become a necessity.
The farmers were not on an equal footing regarding the impacts on annual household income. Farmers growing cash crops felt greater impacts because agriculture forms a more significant contribution of their income “as they grow cash crops and have a market-oriented approach towards farming,” explained Shukla.
In contrast, the farmers who grew food crops intensively with high resource inputs felt the least impact on income because they had other non-agricultural sources of permanent income to fall back on such as salaries, pensions, and house rents, “which have the least bearing of climate change,” said Joshi, professor of environmental science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
When it came to household food sufficiency marginal subsistence farmers suffered the most because they mainly cultivate on rain-fed lands.
The landless farmers, who are typically extremely poor, felt less of an impact because they worked under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and relied on the government-controlled public food distribution system to buy low-cost wheat and rice.
Among all the farmer types, the landless farmers were stricken by worsening social bonds with other members in their community. These farmers “are most dependent on social bonds for managing their household food and financial security as earlier they were mainly employed by wealthier high caste farmers as laborers,” explained Shukla and Joshi.
“Due to declining productivity and increasing hardship in managing agriculture fields, there is increasing competition for resources, mainly perceived by the type 5 farmers. Further, the type 5 farmers reported that they do not have equal access to information about government programmes and schemes and they are being excluded due to caste hierarchy,” they added.
Although all of the farmers need climate change adaptation support, special provisions need to be made for those with lower resources because they lack financial capital, skills, education, and social bonds, said Shukla and Joshi.
“As India and other middle-income countries design their national adaptation plans, these differential impacts across different groups of farmers must be taken into account,” said Vis Taraz, assistant professor of economics at Smith University.
Rajiv Pandey, a senior scientist at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun, says that “these recommendations ensure that adaptation policies in the mountains do not reinforce the preexisting structural inequalities among farmers’ groups rooted in the existing power dynamics and socio-cultural dimensions.”
Shukla, R., Agarwal, A., Sachdeva, K., Kurths, J., Joshi, P.K. (2018). Climate change perception: an analysis of climate change and risk perceptions among farmer types of Indian Western Himalayas. Climatic Change, doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2314-z