Odisha: Climate change badly affects agriculture, threatens food security
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Odisha: Climate change badly affects agriculture, threatens food security

Bhubaneswar : India | Nov 28, 2012 at 8:40 PM PST
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China and India, among the world's biggest polluters, have signed a five-year agreement to cooperate on climate change

From coastal to its tropical regions, people of Odisha living on agriculture, fishing and on the forest produces are now encountering severe livelihood issues as impacts of climate change.

At least six villages Villages around Keluni river mouth, such as Tandahar, Chhenu, Udayakani, Kalamakani, Katakana and Kaanarapur, are threatened in coastal district of Puri because of rapid erosion of the coast combined with a disturbed rain cycle, frequent low pressures and high tidal Waves of Bay of Bengal. 15 km in the north of Chandrabhaga coast near Konark, villages like ‘Chhenu’ and ‘Udaykani’ have already been shifted at least twice in last three decades leaving their first villages about two and half Kilometres in the Bay of Bengal.

Over last 30 years, the sea has engrossed over two miles into the land area that was once hosting villages, community amenities like schools, farmland and grazing land. Now the villages in their recent locations are again facing the danger of submergence.

All six villages are placed between the Bay of Bengal and river Kadua – both meeting at the Keluni mouth. Since the super cyclone of 1999, over 250 families living in the villages live a life of panic fearing tidal waves from the Bay of Bengal and flood water from Kadua River. The villagers also get equally panicked with every sign of a low pressure. It’s not the rainy season only, but the summer is also equally unsympathetic to these villagers. When people start to boil in the temperature and humid, the usual south wind of the summer carries sand particles from the shore and gathers it on the agricultural lands and houses.

‘With coastal climate changing faster since 1980s, we have been living a life of vulnerability. As low pressures become more frequent and intense and the rain pattern gone abnormal and unpredictable, we have lost our basic livelihood source – Agriculture’, said Gandharba Kandoi of Udaykani village in Astaranga Block of Puri district adding, ‘we are experiencing extreme weather conditions through the years.

Extreme weather condition through the year across the coastal Odisha has placed agriculture at the highest vulnerability resulting in loss of livelihood and food insecurity for two major coastal communities like the agrarian and fishing segments of coastal population. While tidal waves flood the farmlands and destroy the crop by increasing salinity of soil and water, extreme heat condition in the harvest time causes severe damage to the one-time paddy cultivation of the farmers who are completely dependent on the crop for their daily basic food requirement of ‘Rice’. On the other side, the fishermen are more often alerted not to venture into the sea for fishing because of low pressure that have become more frequent and intense during last few decades. However, majority of the fishing community is banned to do fishing in the sea from October to April every year as it is the season of mating and nesting of Olive Ridley Sea turtles.

‘The saline water has been our biggest enemy. It damages our crop regularly. As there is no alternate livelihood option available at this place, we are forced to starve only’, said Dhabaleswar Pradhan, a farmer from Chhenu village.

Realising that agriculture has no more remained viable and it’s a trauma gripped life most of the year, many families have shifted to distant places leaving the village, their home land and agricultural land. In their struggle for a standard livelihood, most of them have also landed up in different other states as migrant labourers.

‘Now, almost 50% of youth from each of the villages have migrated out of State as labourers. Even though the old parents need the young members of the family to remain with them, they have no other option but to sacrifice their choice’, says Harihar Jena, a local social worker.

Not only the coastal Odisha, but climate change has also made the agrarian tribal communities living in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Odisha its worst victims. The change in the time and amount of rain during the cropping seasons has badly hit the agriculture practiced by the tribal people like ‘Sumani Jhodia’ who lost her crops last year because of scanty rain during the crop time.

‘There was dry spell in upland paddy fields. Low lands with some irrigation facilities could harvest a little only. So, upland farmers faced a total loss of crop because of scanty rain and dry spell thereof’, said Sumani Jhodia, a Tribal leader and Farmer from Kashipur of Rayagada district.

Deforestation and industrialisation in the name of development has largely impacted the tropical climate across the state. Apart from agriculture, forests have also not remained reliable to the tribal communities and other forest dwellers who mostly live on collecting roots, stems, fruits and other forest produces.

Observing that the climate changed rapidly since the Vedanta Aluminium plant was established on the foot of Niyamgiri hill range, tribal community leader Kumti Majhi said, ‘Earlier there was so much of rain that we couldn’t even come out during down pouring. Now, we believe, because of this industrialisation, the forest does not produce fruits and stems as earlier and the amount of rain has become less as well.’

Social and developmental activists working with the tribal communities of Kalahandi district also believe that industrialisation, leading to deforestation, pollution and unusual carbon emission, has largely impacted the tropical climate resulting in less rain and epidemics since last few years.

‘Ultimately, this destroys the livelihood of the tribal and other deprived communities. For last 5-6 years, we are seeing that the rainfall pattern is being affected due to huge industrialisation in this area. Every alternate year, we are having cholera as epidemic. The rainfall is drastically reduced’, said Dillip Kumar Das, a Developmental Activist heading ‘Antodaya’ – an NGO working mainly in Kalahandi district.

While the amount of rain has come down in the forests and periphery villages, the tribal communities are also experiencing extreme weather conditions in different seasons. When less rain hits agriculture, extreme rainy days further harm it by causing soil erosion in the forests.

The situation is further worse in places of huge mining activities like ‘Barbil’ in Keonjhar district where people are almost forced to abandon agriculture against their will and join as mining labourers. ‘We wanted to continue with agriculture. But the flush water from the hills in the rainy seasons and the mineral dust in the summer seasons have been fatal to our agriculture. So, most of the tribal people have now left their land unutilised and opted to work in the mines or the railway siding sites’, said Bhagaban Chatamba, a tribal leader and former Sarpanch of Serenda. Major companies like Aditya Birla’s Essel Mining and MESCO Steel are involved in mining of iron ore near the village of Bhagaban.

Deforestation and excessive mining activities have their toll on the local climate as well. ‘The rainy season has shifted. Now the rains occur about two months later than usual and the season has been limited to a few days of intense rain or scanty rain harming the agriculture either way’, said Abhay Kumar Mishra, an employee with Adivasi Vikash Samiti, a welfare NGO run by Padmashree Tulasi Munda. ‘Extreme weather added with pollution due to mining has also made people vulnerable to health hazards like Asthma and Malaria’, added Mishra.

Asked about the impacts of climate change on agriculture in most parts of Odisha, an Agronomist with Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Hemant Kumar Sahu said, ‘Due to climate change our agriculture is suffering the most. We are now training the farmer to go for crop diversification - the crops that can sustain this climate change’.

Following the advice of scientists and various policy advocates, ‘many farmers living in the Sea-side villages of Astaranga have opted to raise betel vines instead of doing usual paddy cultivation. Yes, they are earning better these days. But even for their basic need of rice, they are now dependent on the local market as the 25 Kilogram of rice provided by the government at a price of Rs.2 per kilo to each family doesn’t meet their need. Not only that, they are not even growing black and white grams and other pulses during the non-paddy season. So the profit coming from the betel vines are going to the market for other food materials which the people used to grow in their fields earlier! Yet, they are unable to meet the food demands because prices are touching the sky’, says Konark based Social Activist N A Shah Ansari who heads the NGO ‘Young India’ and runs Odisha’s first Community Radio Station ‘Radio Namaskar’.

As it seems, instead of dealing with the issues of the farmers, both coastal and tribal, more sensibly by taking the communities into confidence and picking clues from their traditional knowledge, the government policies rather promote mono-crop cultivation and commercialisation of agriculture. This not only deprives the tribal farmers from growing variety of crops to meet their food needs, but also leave a majority of tribal agricultural labourers unemployed as commercial agriculture requires less labour.

However, Developmental Policy Analysts believe that the communities have their own clues to deal with the issues. But the problem is that their knowledge is never taken into count by our scientific community working in the area which results in a wide policy gap. Seeing a possibility in the blending of imported knowledge system with local knowledge, Vidhya Das, a known Developmental Policy Analyst from Agragami – an NGO working with tribal communities of Raygada and Koraput district – says, ‘Look at the traditional knowledge system and also try to combine more ecologically sound practices, which is the cutting edge technology now. There is conservation agriculture, which is known to sequester carbon into the soil and cut down carbon emissions; there is agro-ecology which is being practised and there are papers and papers being written and Latin America has huge projects on agro-ecology. The Sweden farmers are showing the way for this kind of agriculture. And, if you import that knowledge system and try to combine it with local knowledge, definitely agriculture and the livelihood systems of the tribals will thrive’.

When rising temperature and change in the sea behaviour thereof has impacted agriculture across coastal Odisha badly, increasing human activities and industrialisation in tropical and forest regions have become reasons of climate change and destruction of agriculture practised by tribal communities. Even though some policies have come up in the last years, they grossly failed in addressing the issues due to lack of knowledge about the local situations that differ from place to place. This is why, instead of resolving the issues, such insensitive policies by the government to deal with climate change are badly affecting agriculture not only in the state of Odisha but across the eastern Indian coasts and terrains and pushing the agrarian and tribal communities to food insecurity and, thus, acute livelihood shortage.

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A climate activist holds a sign at a climate change rally outside the White House
Basudev Mahapatra is based in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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