Battling Climate Change in the Himalayas, One Woman at a Time

by Jennifer Russ

The Indian state of Uttarakhand, in the lower Himalayas, holds the fifteenth rank in agriculture in the country. Almost 88% percent of the land holdings come under the small and marginal category, which is about 55% of the area under cultivation. In the past three years, Uttarakhand has received less-than-normal rainfall, which has affected crop production and adversely impacted the livelihood of the almost 78% of the State’s population dependent on agriculture.

On these mountainous farms, the families’ survival depends on their ability to adapt to increasingly erratic weather patterns. About 90% of agricultural lands in Uttarakhand are fed by rain and are thus highly vulnerable to climate change and degradation due to erratic and unpredictable rainfall and severe erosion of soil nutrients. This has posed a major threat to agriculture in the region, the life support for the state’s population.

1,  , thaheli village, bhilangana block, tehri district, MVDA (Kirti Nautiyal)

Meeting of seed bank group

Women play a crucial role in hill agriculture, as they undertake up to 90% of the total work in agriculture and animal care. The impact of decline in productivity due to climate change and degradation of natural resources has affected the food security of women the most.

Since 2012, Buddhist Global Relief has been partnering with Oxfam India on a project that is equipping women in thirteen villages in Uttarakhand to fight along the front lines of climate change. The core of the project is the formation of women’s farmers associations, where women meet and learn new farming techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and System of Wheat Intensification (SWI). These techniques enable farmers to produce more crops with less labor, fewer inputs, and less expenditures.

The result has been a 40% yield increase in rice and a 30% yield increase in wheat. These increases not only result in more food for their families but more income. With the extra money, the families can stop struggling to survive. They feel less pressure to keep their children home from school.

8, Training on protection of Natural water resources (Kirti Nautiyal)

Training in protection of natural water resources

At meetings of these farmer associations, Oxfam teaches women about climate change and how to maintain farms that are resilient to it. The women establish seed banks that preserve traditional plants while promoting hardier varieties. Farmers give back twice as many seeds as they take, which reduces their reliance on the market. The project also allows farmers to take out lines of credit with low interest so they may expand their farms. Together, women have more power to demand better prices for their products in the market.

Over 550 farmers across thirteen villages in Uttarakhand have benefited from this project. In the Gewali Village, one farmer was inspired to expand the project on her own. Sarita Devi, the wife of a shopkeeper and mother of three, manages the farm and livestock that are her family’s main source of income. Before Oxfam came to her village, Sarita and her husband were unable to support their family. Sarita joined a farmer’s association right away and was among the first to adopt SRI and SWI. That season, she enjoyed a higher yield and more income, but she didn’t stop there. She held demonstrations in her field and persuaded twelve other women in the Gewali village to adopt sustainable farming practices. Oxfam India reports that “Sarita Devi is an inspiration to all!”

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Indian women farmers, taking control of their own destiny

India is not the only country in which BGR has been sponsoring crop intensification programs. With your support, Buddhist Global Relief is planting many seeds of responsible farming in vulnerable communities around the world: in Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Ethiopia, Côte D’Ivoire, Rwanda, and Malawi. To learn more about these projects, please visit our Current Projects page at http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/active/projects2014.html.

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