These women are championing the fight against climate change in India with timely innovations
According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, farm revenues have declined for a number of crops despite increasing production, and market prices falling below the Minimum Support Price (MSP). It also states that the projected long-term weather patterns indicate a reduction in annual agricultural incomes between 15 and 18 percent on average, and up to 20 and 25 percent for non-irrigated areas.
Determined to solve these issues, farmers and entrepreneurs in this sector have been improving their farming methods, making their crops more adaptable to the changing climate.
From Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu to the Sundarbans to a small remote village in Uttar Pradesh, women are leading a sustainable revolution by making introducing innovative methods of farming with the help of various organisations. They are fighting battles with the climate, difficult terrain and drought to ensure they reap the benefits of not only their hard work but also their ingenuity.
Here's how some of the women do it.
Millets to the rescue
While the levels of rain in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu have remained normal on paper, the duration of rainfall has decreased, while the intensity has increased, making the district drought-prone.
Battling drought and unpredictable rains, many farmers of Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu have turned to growing millets and a variety of pulses, oilseeds, and vegetables. Unlike rice, which is a water-intensive cash crop, millets are sturdy against the erratic climate conditions.
Farmers in Dharmapuri who cultivate millets to fight climate change
“Being on the hills, with no irrigation canals, I can grow rice only when it rains. Otherwise, I am happy growing millets from which I can feed my family,” said Valliammal, who has an acre of rain-fed land.
Valliammal, who manages rain-fed land in Dharmapuri
The Tamil Nadu Planning Commission has advised the farmers to implement mixed farming to improve soil health and build more resilience against the reducing rains.
Supporting this suggestion, Sheelu Francis, founder of the Tamil Nadu Women's Collective, said, "Women who did multi-farming and grew millets managed better than those who grew only cash crops."
From chemical to organic
Through Amar Khamar, over three hundred farmers in the Sundarbans are trained and encouraged to switch from chemical-intensive cultivation to organic farming, which helps soil retain water and nutrients, and gain resistance against floods, droughts and land degradation.
Some of the farmers working with Amar Khamar | Image credit: Amar Khamar
Women being trained in organic farming
Amar Khamar operates as a bridge between farmers and consumers, and works with nodal organisations to empower women in the agriculture sector.
The farmers sell their organic produce, including a variety of rice, pulses, millets, spices and honey, to Amar Khamar and other wholesalers and retailers.
Through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a Pune-based NGO, more than 1.5 lakh farmers across six states in India have been educated about drought resilience and recovery, and enabled to practice sustainable, climate-resilient and nutrition-sensitive farming.
Prema Gopalan, Founder, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, with farmers from a village in Pune | Image credits: India Today
Founded by Prema Gopalan in 1990, SSP encourages its farmers to adopt an agricultural model that combines food security and biodiversity, leaving behind the ways of cultivating chemically enhanced cash crops that pose a long-term threat to land, health and the environment.
The model promotes the use of bio-fertilizers and pesticides, preservation and exchange of local seeds, multi-cropping, hydroponics and tree planting to keep the soil, groundwater and crops healthy. SSP has additionally launched over 50,000 women through micro-credit in agriculture and non-farm businesses since 1998.
Withstanding the harshest of calamities
Sohabati Devi is a 35-year-old farmer from Dodghat village in Uttar Pradesh who cultivates a variety of vegetables, pulses, and rice on her lush farms.
She was approached by a local NGO to try out a stress-resistant variety of rice called BINA dhan-11, which is a medium-duration, high-yielding variety that tolerates heavy flooding.
Choosing to plant the BINA dhan-11 just days before her farms were unexpectedly hit by excess rainfall and floods in August 2017 was a smart choice, because she discovered that nearly 50 percent of the crops survived the calamity.
Sohabati Devi looks at her crops that withstood the harsh floods, ready for harvest | Image credit: IRRI India
Sohabati Devi has since been encouraging other farmers to start using the stress-resistant rice variety to ensure their food security even during natural disasters.