Heritage and diversity hold many answers for climate change resilience

When tropical cyclone Fani made landfall on India’s east coast at the start of May this year, the authorities had moved over a million people from their homes in order to keep the toll on human life to a minimum. Nonetheless, Fani killed 64 people in the state of Orissa alone and caused an estimated $2.46 billion worth of damage. For many, though, Fani wasn’t even the worst of it, coming as it did after severe summer hail storms that destroyed food crops across the state.

Three months on and 24 of the 30 districts in Orissa are affected by drought, which is already impacting on crop production and leading to ‘distress’ migration.

These events, these ‘phenomena’ are not unique to Orissa and they are not unique to now. But they are turning into the new ‘normal’ and as a result, people across the state, the nation – the globe, even – are having to learn to adapt, to build their resilience to this changing climate.

Indigenous cultures hold many answers

At the start of July, when the rains are expected to start and rice transplanting will begin for the kharif (or monsoon) season, members of the Kandha tribe in Ganjam district, Orissa, come together to celebrate the diversity of rice varieties they have in their stores. It is this store that is their weapon in the fight against climate change, this store of diversity.

There were once many thousands – some say around 200,000 – of rice varieties in India. Thanks to traditional cultures, there are still many hundreds of varieties available, many of which can grow in stressed conditions.

Seed preservation is very much the women’s domain and they use this ritual to share with other women the seeds they have so carefully preserved and the prized properties each variety possesses.

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In 2018, organic farmer and social activist, Sabarmatee, received India’s highest civilian award for women’s empowerment, the Nari Shakti Puraskar . She works with these local women and has helped with organising their ceremony.

“In 2013,” she says, “we had another serious cyclone, called Phailin. The wind speed reached 150km per hour. At that time, we had 350 varieties, and out of those, 37 varieties could withstand that wind speed. They were just half bent over – they were not completely lost.”

Sabarmatee is very interested in the potential of this traditional biodiversity because she grows what is probably the world’s biggest collection of indigenous seed varieties under what is known as the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI.

What is SRI?

SABARMATEE SEED FESTIVAL 2019 15SRI is a way of growing rice that is quite different to the conventional method. Normally, people will plant older (45-day) seedlings in tight clumps and in flooded fields. SRI requires that seedlings are just 8-10 days old and are planted singly, wide apart in a grid and in drained soil.

SRI works best under an alternate wet and dry system of water management. It requires less water, up to 90% fewer seeds, less labour and it yields more than conventionally-grown rice. And with particular reference to climate change, SRI plants produce stronger root systems which means they can withstand strong winds, flooding and very dry conditions. “Growth is so vigorous with SRI.  We first learnt about it in 2006 in March, when it was not a rice-growing time so we just planted a few seedlings to practice, to see how to do it. And you won’t believe me, the temperature went up to 35+. We didn’t even have water to irrigate those few plants. And for 15 days, they withstood that.”

For Sabarmatee, as well as offering a way to build resilience to extreme weather, SRI is also a means of preserving multiple rice varieties in a very small plot of land. “We have just 2 acres of land here. The question for me was: how can I collect more and more indigenous varieties, conserve them here and be able to share with people? SRI showed us the way to conserve indigenous varieties.” Sabarmatee goes on to describe how with just 200 10-15-day old seedlings spaced 10 inches x 10 inches apart, it is possible to produce enough seeds for 1 acre next year.

The wonder of indigenous seeds

“You know,” continues Sabarmatee, “the indigenous varieties have been knocked down, they became the ‘bad boys’ for scientists, mostly rice scientists, who said that they don’t produce so much. And this has been the idea floating around, injected into the minds of people over the many years of the green revolution, which started in India. So, research was more and more concentrated on rice breeding.” But having grown so many varieties now and having seen the high yields and resilience many of these have to severe weather, she has become more convinced of nature’s own capacity to breed resilient rice. And this isn’t just a way of fighting severe weather. Indigenous varieties grown under SRI conditions have also shown resilience to pest and disease.

“When you have so many varieties, you also have so many pests and diseases and we’ve studied that too. It’s very interesting. Like, if you have two varieties just next to each other, one variety can be affected by blast (fungus) and the other one doesn’t have anything. Absolutely nothing. Even as the neighbour of this diseased plant! And then we have learnt that OK, this means it tolerates blast, you know. It’s blast resistant. So we could now recognise all these properties and then if someone comes and says that in their area there is a big blast problem and ‘do you have a variety for that?’ ‘Yes, we do!'”

And so the 2019 rice season begins

The transplanting starts with a ceremony which opens with prayers to Mother Earth, to Devi Lakshmi and to the rice plants.

Sabarmatee now grows well in excess of 450 varieties and has the tiny seedlings ready and organised for transplanting.

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With the drought conditions that prevail right now, it is not going to be an easy season. There is a little water remaining in the ponds at Sabarmatee’s farm, Sambhav, which are fed by a canal. Enough, it is hoped, for these small plants to establish themselves. The SRI planting will hopefully give them the chance of surviving whatever the weather throws at them. It remains to be seen how many of the 450 varieties make it. But many will and Sabarmatee will have a good store of rice she knows will produce climate resilient crops, and that prized knowledge she will be able to share next year, with the women of the Kandha tribe.

Sabarmatee has a Facebook page for her farm, Sambhav
To learn more about SRI, visit the Cornell University SRI-Rice Center


Further reading

Odisha’s Sabarmatee Tiki receives ‘Nari Shakti Award’

Diversified Farming

Pests fail to attack traditional variety of paddy

Nilima’s story

It’s dusk and that point in the day when all is still but for the occasional distant clatter of pans or the whoops of a few children still at play. The sun stretches shadows across the fields as the cows are being brought in from pasture.

From nowhere, the tranquillity is shattered by the blast of a megaphone that emerges atop a 4 x 4: “Vote Nilima Topno!! Vote Ath-Kosia!!” The vehicle sweeps to a halt outside our building and three women climb out, all appear bristling with election fever.

They have been on the campaign trail for some time and are ready with their pitches:

My name is Nilima Topno, I am the President of a People’s Organisation called Ath-Kosia Tribal People’s Organisation.

Namaskar … My name is Ahalya Sa and I am working with the CIRTD team in Sundergar District.

Namaskar … I’m Cicilia Kandulna and I too work with CIRTD.

Read more …

Mountain women live and work with bent backs

See original article here

Durga Devi deftly digs up a fistful of rice saplings and transplants them on to an empty space in the pliable soil. As her hands work without a pause, so does her tongue. She chatters non-stop with Chandrakala Devi, her sister-in-law, who is transplanting rice in another corner of their field. They talk about their children, the food they have cooked, the weather, and other household matters.

“Old age caught up with us while we were working,” Chandrakala laughingly tells VillageSquare.in, as she progresses through the field. At 34, Chandrakala considers herself an old woman.

Durga and Chandrakala spend the entire time in the field bent over double, progressing a step at a time through their little plot of land in Mandal village of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. Their work is strenuous, leaves them with aches and pains, but they must continue. They are surrounded by mountains, and a stream gurgles down the slopes near the fields. The Himalayan village is home to 108 families, and has a population of 452.

Read more …

Scaling up the System of Rice Intensification in India

See the original article in Farming Matters here

Authors: BISWANATH SINHA & TUSHAR DASH

It is said that ‘rice is grown on women’s backs’. Globally, women provide between 50 and 90 percent of the labour in rice fields. They perform backbreaking tasks like seedling removal, transplanting and weeding in bent posture and under wet conditions for more than 1000-1500 hours per hectare. In addition, they are exposed to chemicals. Women working in flooded fields for long hours come into contact with various disease causing vectors exposing them to multiple health risks like intestinal to skin diseases and female urinary and genital ailments. This affects their ability to work and earn, and furthermore, it drains out their money on health care, sometimes making them indebted.

Read the whole article

Rural women have resilience to cope with climate risks: study

See original post in vigyanprasar.gov.in

Author: Dinesh C Sharma

Climate change impacts are being felt in many parts of the country, as manifested in erratic rainfall, extreme weather events and changes in cropping patterns. Adapting to these changes at farm and household levels is critical. A new study says women, particularly in marginalised communities, possess necessary knowledge to cope with climate risks.

The study assessed the role of individual women in coping with climatic risks, particularly in managing agriculture, energy and nutrition in flood and drought-prone paddy growing region of eastern India. It was found that women’s participation and involvement is much higher in managing nursery as well as in other farm-related functions like transplanting and weeding. Women resort to exchange of knowledge and resources at their level to face exigencies of climatic variation, given the absence of timely governmental interventions.

For instance, women use creative ways to manage food and nutrition security in their households in lean months. Many of them plant cucurbits like bottle gourd, pumpkin, satputia (a small cultivar of ridge gourd) and okra in their homesteads, catering to vegetable needs of the family since these are costlier in summer. A few women ensured food security by processing fruits and vegetables and storing them for consumption later. They harvest weeds and segregate them for consumption by human and some for cattle, while non-edible ones are composted.

Women in high-risk zones, especially arid and semi-arid zones choose leaves and stem of many plants available throughout the year for food. “This becomes an important coping strategy to fight food shortage or famine. Many of these plants have been used in traditional medicine systems for their therapeutic effects,” the study says. Researchers have documented such weeds used in three villages in the study area. Their expertise and knowledge about non-agricultural food sources help in dealing with food and nutrition availability resulting due to fluctuating climate, the study says.

” This becomes an important coping strategy to fight food shortage or famine. Many of these plants have been used in traditional medicine systems for their therapeutic effects “

“In a situation when not many technological alternatives are available and climate risks have to be coped with, there are ways in which individual women find creative ways by managing resource exchange and pooling, overcoming class and cultural boundaries,” explained Dr Anil Gupta of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, who conducted the study along with Anamika Dey and Gurdeep Singh of Indian Institute of Technology, Dhanbad.

The research is part of a long-term study on loss of agrobiodiversity underway in three villages (Isoulibhari, Shivnathpur, and Kharella) in Faizabad district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The villages, located in floodplains of the Sarayu river, are flood prone and mostly follow rain-fed rice-wheat cropping system. The region is facing vagaries of climate change. Data of the past 25 years obtained from Narendra Deva University of Agriculture and Technology showed high fluctuation in onset and withdrawal of monsoon, number of rainfall days, total rainfall received and average rainfall received per number of days.

“We found that knowledge networks of women contribute immensely to tide over the adverse effect of the risk episodes. But these informal channels of dissemination of the knowledge are often not recorded in formal scientific discourses,” Dr Gupta told India Science Wire.

Instead of ignoring the role of such informal networks, they can be used as channels for targeting climate adaptation policies and programmes, the study has suggested. If women groups become focal points of knowledge and resource dissemination in situations like crop failure due to flood or drought, there are fair chances that they will share these more openly. In addition, weather information needs to be provided according to local calendars, which are different from the Gregorian calendars, the study has suggested. The study has been published in journal World Development.