Marginal farmers in Maharashtra are battling another cruel drought. In Vidarbha, heat waves and droughts have become an annual feature. It doesn't have to be so. Absence of irrigation and efficient watershed management make small farmers even more vulnerable.
Although schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana or the Indira Awaas Yojana are not viewed as adaptation policies, many agree they play an important role in making communities climate-resilient.
Recent reports by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and others have found that the five states where MGNREGA is effective - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan and Sikkim - have seen improvements ground water levels, soil erosion, soil organic carbon and others. The parameters were compared with 'control states' where the scheme is not implemented. Apart from ensuring basic pay, ground water levels and drinking water availability improved in the areas studied. MGNREGA projects such as check dams, percolation tanks, de-silting of natural water tanks have also contributed to an increase in the area irrigated by borewells.
This is significant given that while scientists and policy makers continue to talk ways of 'adaptation', reality is that communities are seized by the challenges posed by unpredictable weather patterns, extreme weather and natural calamities.
Ruth Kuttumuri, co-director of India Observatory at London School of Economics feels loss of life and assets is far higher in India due to the country's low adaptive capacity. She says it should be top priority to incorporate adaptation responses in projects that deal with coastal-zone planning and regulation, agricultural technologies and practices, managing ecosystems, urbanization and forest management. "Programmes such as MGNREGA have the scope and resources to incorporate adaptation activities related to farm efficiency, water and forest management as well as infrastructure development," says Kuttumuri.
Praveen Singh, assistant professor of human ecology at Ambedkar University, agrees communities adapt better in an environment where people have ownership of their resources. "A small farmer has lost control even over his seed, he buys fertilizers. He is more vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Crop insurance may cover input costs but not the 'man-days' lost that are crucial. In India adaptation measures should be designed with inputs from communities," says Singh.