Farmers in north-west India are already struggling due to unpredictable rainfall and extreme heat, but they know that future generations will feel the impact of a changing climate even more acutely.
Looking back over the past few years, Daniel Tudu, lead for EFICOR's Bhil project in India’s north-west, can quickly outline three observations of the impact of climate change: unpredictable rainfall, increasingly hot temperatures, and frequent migration of families whose livelihoods are threatened by these changes. These are changes that 80-year-old farmer Dhulji Meghwal has experienced firsthand, as he and other farming families find it increasingly difficult to meet their daily needs.
“In earlier times, there was timely rainfall, but now we are struggling with the lack of water for our needs. There is an open well here, the water depth is very low. We are not getting enough. Now we are struggling a lot, we don’t know how to cope and survive in this time.”
Many families like Dhulji’s rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods, yet rainfall has become sporadic. The balance between the dry and monsoon seasons is unreliable, and extreme heat has led to dry and degraded soil. The desire to overcome these challenges see the land flourish is evident, but initiatives are crushed by the hostile conditions.
“When I was younger we cut the forest land to construct our houses. Nowadays we understand the value of the forest land, and we are wanting to grow a plantation, but because of less rainfall, we are struggling to grow the trees,” shares Dhulji. “People love their horticulture – mango, guava, fruit tree – they want to develop their horticulture. But these plants are going dry and dying because of the lack of water.”
Almost 90% of households face crop failure, and live half of the year with acute food insecurity. “Most families have 1 bhigha [around 0.4 acres] of land for agricultural production. That used to produce enough for the whole year, Now, that land will produce only enough for 6 months. People are falling into debt because they are purchasing seed from the market and then they are not getting the production they expect.”
These factors mean that in 64% of households, at least one person has to migrate for four to five months in the year to find work. The amount they earn is not sufficient for them to meet the basic needs of their families, and as a result, they borrow money, pushing them into a perpetual cycle of debt and poverty. Dhulji speaks emotionally about other impacts of migration. “When our younger people migrate to other areas for work, they are not thinking about how older people are staying home and struggling. Older people are not taken care of,” he shares. “Sometimes we don’t know whether people [migrating for labour] are alive or have died. If we had enough water for agriculture, we would not have to go outside the village for work and would not have these disasters happen in our family.”
Others in the village are looking outside of agriculture to provide for themselves. But Dhulji knows the urgency faced by the generations to come, who will bear the burden of a changing climate even more acutely. “Farmers provide for the people, but we are not getting what we need for production. If we take care of the farmers, the rest of the people will not struggle. If we don’t produce enough agriculture, how will we survive?”