Time and water wait for no one; if not utilised promptly, they are wasted. This reality holds particular significance in the realm of agriculture. In regions where the natural resources required for agriculture are scarce, the importance of judicious use becomes paramount. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has stated that climate change leads to increased desertification, loss of biodiversity, frequent droughts, cyclones, and flooding. The repercussions of climate change manifest in poverty induced by crop loss, heightened infestation, and a decline in employment opportunities.

The only practical wisdom lies in climate adaptation and resilience building, alongside reducing emissions of CHGs (Greenhouse gas). A parochial view focused solely on emission reduction cannot achieve climate goals. Regardless of the collective emission cuts enacted by all nations, the Earth will continue to warm for decades. Failing to address this now will inevitably result in exacerbated poverty. Climate change poses a threat to the livelihoods of 93 million agrarian households in India, varying in degrees of potential loss.

Bankura district women farmers’ example

In this context, it is crucial to identify and facilitate climate-resilient practices among rural communities, the section which is directly impacted by the effects of climate change. In this context, it is worth examining an example set by the women farmers of Hirbandh block of Bankura district in West Bengal. Women had started inculcating climate resilience into their livelihoods, by converting 26 per cent of total paddy land into early-season mustard cultivation (source: Office of Assistant Director of Agriculture, West Bengal), effectively safeguarding their livelihoods from the threat of complete crop loss due to erratic rainfall.

During the 2023 monsoon in West Bengal, the government declared drought, particularly in the Jungle Mahal region (comprising Purulia, Bankura, and Jhargram districts), exhibited significant irregularities. In the entire Hirbandh community development block, only 29 per cent of land where paddy is cultivated, could be sown. Upon scrutinising the rainfall pattern, it became evident that although the received precipitation fell short for paddy cultivation, the available water was sufficient for cultivating less water-intensive crops, thus averting a complete loss for the farmers. Unfortunately, farmers often lack this backup plan (Plan B) and end up succumbing to inadequate rainfall. The problems lie with the fact that agricultural practices are deeply ingrained in cultural rhythms, aligning with periodic crop-specific activities. If the rainfall deficit during a crop cycle is severe enough to render the water supply inadequate for planned cultivation, farmers face the distressing prospect of potential crop loss, which the local community perceive as drought.

Innovative conversion

There is a need to transform a relationship, where water and crops are both independent but co-related variables, and there is a sustained engagement with the community and cultivating on the indigenous knowledge and practical demonstration. Marginalised women of Bankura in association with PRADAN (a national level NGO) professionals and HUF (Hindustan Unilever Foundation) in the “Evergreen in the East” project have demonstrated this transformed relationship quite aptly in this kharif season.

A total of 1,635 hectares of paddy land in Hirbandh block where paddy couldn’t be transplanted due to water shortage; the land was converted to early season mustard cultivation. Considering, the crop was sown in September 2023, it was very less susceptible to aphids. There has been a 120 per cent increase in the area of mustard sown compared to 2022. Their efforts effectively illustrate that drought is not merely an absolute lack of water; instead, the adaptation strategy revolves around a timely balance of water’s demand and supply. If the supply is less in the form of rainfall, demand for water in terms of crop choice and technique has to be calibrated. Crucial aspect of climate adaptation lies in promptly rising to the situation to address the unpredictable nature of environmental fluctuations and not left bewildered.

Climate change is no longer a remote occurrence; its impact is now evident in daily life. The women from the Hirbandh block of Bankura district demonstrated that the crucial element for enhancing resilience lies indeed at the local level. Utilizing indigenous knowledge, preparedness, and fostering community unity can effectively address climate change distress to a significant extent.

The author is Team Coordinator - West Bengal at Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN).