Where Have All the Seasons Gone? Current Impacts of Climate Change in Gujarat

May 3, 2013

By Delhi Platform, Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU) and International Union of Foodworkers (IUF)


Summary: (Click here to download a PDF of the entire report)
Global warming has finally begun to get the attention of the world in the last few years, though a sense of urgency and a commensurate response is still lacking where it is needed most. With that, there has been a plethora of attempts to study and analyze it at the macro level. However, there has been a relative lack of detailed studies of the impacts on the ground, particularly in India. We need to understand better how people across gender, caste and class divides in different regions and ecosystems are being impacted by climate change; if and how they are responding; and which responses are effective and which are not. Many players need to take part in efforts in this direction, because to address the issues meaningfully, participatory response, at the local, regional, as well as the global level, is essential.

This report reveals the already considerable impacts of global warming on small and marginal farmers, and on agricultural labour in northern and eastern Gujarat. A joint team comprising activists of Delhi Platform, of the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), along with the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU), Bandhkaam Mazdoor Sanghatan and Disha, visited villages in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts in northern Gujarat and the predominantly adivasi Dahod and Panchmahal districts in eastern Gujarat in late-November, early December 2010. This report is based on our conversations with residents in villages there; discussions with activists; interactions with those knowledgeable about Gujarat’s social structure, agriculture and water systems; and on relevant primary data and secondary literature.

Residents in villages told us about a range of climate change effects in recent years (presented in chapter 1). These date back from about half a decade to a slightly longer 15-20 years. They include a rise in winter temperature and a consequent loss of dew (atmospheric moisture) for the winter crops; irregularity in rainfall; delays in the main southwest monsoon and a decline in rains in June; more intense rainfall events, a lot of rain in fewer days; patchiness in rainfall over a region; and a rise in summer temperatures and heat. Many of these reported changes are in keeping with changes elsewhere in India; some, such as the loss of dew, we were hearing for the first time. Secondly, whereas people in villages had expectedly a clear idea of changes in rainfall and other climatic patterns, there was very little awareness about why it was happening or that global warming caused by human activity was to blame.

The impacts of climate change on small and marginal farmers (chapter 3) have been varied:
a. Warmer winters have meant reduced moisture for their winter crops, maize, wheat, tuar dal, etc, due to the absence of dew, resulting in sharply reduced yields or farmers even having to leave their lands fallow. Those without access to well water in eastern Gujarat are particularly hard-hit by this, and they typically tend to be from the poor-
est households.

b. Warmer winters are also resulting in the increased incidence of pest attacks in both
regions. Consequently, farmers are being forced to incur a further burden of higher
input/pesticide costs.

c. Irregular rainfall events are harming agriculture in different ways. For instance, the
production of cotton and other crops such as groundnut and potato was devastated in 2010-2011 due to excessively and unprecedented rains until late November. These extensive rains, very likely caused by climate change, extended for hundreds of kilo- metres beyond Gujarat, to southern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, etc.

d. The extraction of groundwater by farmers has accentuated greatly with the increasing cultivation of market-driven cash and water-intensive crops, and by climate change. This has resulted in a sharp fall in the water table, particularly in northern Gujarat. As this intensifies, it has serious implications for the farm economy generally, and in particular for poorer farmers directly and landless labour indirectly through the reduced demand for labour.

e. Milk production – which is central to household economies, particularly among poor households, both in eastern Gujarat but particularly in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha – is getting hit due to thermal heat stress faced by local and hybrid cow breeds. The availability of fodder, free or at least inexpensively, has diminished, putting more pres- sure on households least able to cope with it. This also affects the fat content in the milk, thereby reducing the price at which milk can be sold.

f. Food security of the poorest households have begun to get hit as yields of food crops such as maize, wheat and pulses have begun to suffer, wiping out possible short-term gains from Green Revolution strategies.

Our visit reconfirmed our long-held view that the impacts of global warming are being felt most by those least responsible for it. For small and marginal farmers, crop failure due to climate change can be a disaster and can plunge them into a cycle of debt, or into forced migration to factories or construction work in western and south Gujarat. For sharecroppers (bataidars) and agricultural workers in Gujarat (and elsewhere in India), the impacts of climate change (discussed in chapter 4) means a serious loss of work and wages. In North Gujarat for instance, the damage to the cotton crop meant a loss of about 30-40 days’ work per agricultural worker, or about Rs 4,000 per worker, a big setback to households in which more than one member engages in agricultural labour. It meant migration, but thousands of workers made that journey to find no work at the end of it because the crop had been dam- aged there too. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that impacts of climate change on agricultural workers in India are being presented in a published report.

Climate change cannot be viewed in isolation from social processes. The capacity to absorb the impacts of climate change is crucially dependent on two factors in any agrarian setting: land ownership and access to water. A third factor, in parts of Gujarat, is animal husbandry, given its centrality for household economies. The social structure and land owner- ship, the extensive tapping of groundwater in northern Gujarat and its relative absence in adivasi areas of eastern Gujarat; the development of milk cooperatives and the interconnections between these three elements of the agrarian economy are discussed in chapter 2, along with some recent developments, such as the decline in groundwater, policy variations in electrical supply over the last 20 years, the development of contract farming more recent- ly, and how north and eastern Gujarat differ in many of these.

What might be the way ahead? A concluding chapter (chapter 5) suggests that our responses would need to be at different levels. It mentions specifics such as compensation for workers due to loss of work, and to farmers for loss in crop yields, and possible sources for such compensatory payments. Regarding cushioning the impacts of, and adapting to climate change, NREGA has a considerable role to play in the better distribution of water and electricity, in developing and maintaining ponds; check dams; development of grasslands, revival of forests, water harvesting, etc.

The chapter also discusses crucial wider questions that the issue of global warming revives, without which no meaningful long term solution is possible. Two such central questions are equity, and, connected to it, reviving the notion of the commons. Land reforms are central to any notion of equity in an agrarian setting. But what would equity mean in the context of access to water, and more specifically, groundwater? It would include snapping the link between access to land, capital and technology, and access to water. How does one have arrangements in place at the community level that ensure that even the landless and the poor have a right to water? To understand better these and related questions, we briefly discuss some earlier struggles in Maharashtra and elsewhere around equitable distribution of water.

Climate change is only one among a range of ecological crises that humanity has created and needs to tackle with urgency. Global warming draws our attention, once again, to man’s relations with nature and relations within human society. It forces us to rethink our entire development trajectory itself. The need to tackle global warming hence needs to be made part of a larger struggle for equity. In that longer struggle, reports such as the one that follows below, can at best, but we hope, play a small part.

Download entire report (PDF)

1 Comment »

One Response to “Where Have All the Seasons Gone? Current Impacts of Climate Change in Gujarat”

  1. G.Thirunavukkarasu Says:
    May 7th, 2013 at 12:01

    If every village in India use community kobar gas devices to process cattle/human/farm wastes lot of GHG volume will be controlled. iF EVERY VILLAGE HAs a mini power house 0.5 to 1 MW there will be a sea change about the opinion about a village

    The cities can direct all the human waste, and all waste waters to treatment for generation of gas the green house gaSES WILL BE FURTHER CONTROLLED.

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