Poverty and Climate Change:
Building Resilience at the Local Level


Bundelkhand, a microcosm of Indian economy is where Development Alternatives (DA) has concentrated its implementation efforts. Sustainability resource centres have been established at TARAgram Orchha, TARAgram Pahuj and TARAgram Datia for innovation, action, training and outreach.

Life is tough for the rural majority in Bundelkhand. This expanse of sun-parched plains spanning 13 districts of southwest Uttar Pradesh and Northern Madhya Pradesh is one of the most marginalised and deprived regions in the whole country. But it hasn’t always been this way. History confirms the influential role that this region has played through the ages in the sub-continent. Beyond the rich cultural heritage, there was a strong tradition of management of the natural heritage-land, water and forests by the people who inhabit this land.

Today, however, Bundelkhand is inundated with the problems of poverty and penury. Dwindling natural resources, poor industrial development and very few livelihood options characterise the rural areas. Agriculture is the mainstay of Bundelkhand's economy. However, recurring droughts and poor land productivity, coupled with impacts of climate change threaten food security. Mass migration to cities is a regular phenomenon.

Development Interventions

The work of Development Alternatives in the region has focused on land-water management and afforestation. This has been closely followed by introducing clean technology based livelihood options that demonstrate efficient use of local resources. Engagement with, and capacity building of local institutions, enabling communities to access basic needs of drinking water and sanitation, shelter and energy have been supported by enterprise development and skill building for job creation.

Increased climate variability is likely to exacerbate the incidence of droughts, floods and extreme weather events which may contribute to food shortages, infrastructure damage and the degradation of natural resources.

Climate change is a serious threat to food security, as it is one of the key drivers of change affecting the food system and contributing to rising food prices. It has been estimated by the United Nations Environment Programme that up to 25 per cent of the world’s food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of climate change, water scarcity and land degradation. Organisations around the world are working to find ways to produce the food needed in a sustainable manner, within the limits of what our ecosystems can support for current and future generations, and to safeguard this production from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, climate change has potentially disastrous impacts for social and economic development, especially for poorer populations in the developing world as most rural communities depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods.

Impacts of ongoing climate change will greatly increase the vulnerability of poorer, more marginal households in developing countries. Research and on-the-ground experiences draw messages which suggest that the development of new adaptation approaches, including policy and institutional support with a consideration of climate risks and opportunities, will be essential in facing these challenges.

Most of the current research and planning assumes that adaptation will occur largely through government-led or directed technical interventions. Efforts to integrate climate smart practices and reduction in emissions have been discussed and implemented at the macro policy level. This is a necessary but insufficient condition to adapt to climate change adversities. Solution to these complex problems must be implemented through close coordination of the efforts of different stakeholders. An effective adaptation strategy involves an enabling policy and institutional environment at all levels – global, national and local.

The impacts of climate change are spatially differentiated – increasing average temperatures will hide a diversity of variations in the impact on regions, communities and households because vulnerability to climate change is socially and institutionally determined. The need to mainstream climate change adaptation at the local level is necessary as: (a) climate change impacts are manifested locally, affecting local livelihood activities; (b) vulnerability and adaptive capacity are determined by local conditions; and (c) adaptation activities are often best observed at the local level. The importance of local rural institutions is, therefore, critically important in promoting effective adaptation and enhancing adaptive capacity of vulnerable rural populations. Local rural institutions are the mediating bodies connecting the community to its local resources. These agencies determine the manner in which the flows of external support will be distributed among different social groups, and furthermore, link local populations to national policies and interventions.

As climate change and its impacts become more obvious, it is increasingly important to integrate concerns for managing risks faced by households and communities into earlier concerns for growth, poverty alleviation, equity and sustainability. Adaptive development will require a greater role for local institutions in both planning and implementation of development projects. As the state of knowledge is sparse about the most effective ways in which institutions can facilitate local adaptation, no blueprints can be advanced for planning adaptive development. It is in light of this challenge that DA is promoting and encouraging climate-resilient practices, efficient use of resources and reduction in emissions at the community as well as local level. This is facilitated through development of watersheds, institutional innovations, encouraging the use of smokeless cooking stoves, promotion of agroforestry, horticulture, resource-efficient and climate-resilient agriculture techniques and climate change related awareness activities. Some of the multidimensional approaches adopted by DA to help fight various aspects of poverty and climate change are listed below.

Institutional Development

DA has facilitated the strengthening of local institutions like the farmers’ federation, providing them information about resource-efficient farming and market linkages. DA has also helped the formation of watershed communities for efficient functioning and implementation of watershed programmes. We help build capacities of panchayats, community based organisations and local administration to help them cope better with the stresses of climate variability by promoting resource efficiency, adopting clean solutions and conservation of existing resources. We also lay emphasis on the role of women in community decision making and ensure their inclusion in our development efforts.

Livelihood Support

In our endeavour to create sustainable livelihoods, we at DA promote green jobs. Under our projects, we have developed support for community based institutions and self help groups to participate in both farm and non-farm based income-generating activities around the watersheds. We have also fostered the development for farmers by providing them with climate-resilient technologies, and access to market links. Women are trained and encouraged to participate in the local economy and bring about change.

Agriculture Development

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the rural poor in developing countries. The compounded threat of food insecurity is worsened by environmental degradation, increasing water shortages and climate change. Agriculture also contributes considerably to climate change by producing 10–12 per cent of the total global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Agricultural practices can significantly reduce emissions if adaptation measures are promoted and practiced. DA helps build capacities of farmers that, in turn, help them avail of services and techniques that are climate-resilient, making them less vulnerable to the variability in climate change. We also work with tribal communities and small farmers to support them in adopting diversification practices which will not only improve their economic security but also accrue environmental benefits.

Environmental Regeneration

Keeping in mind that rural communities depend on natural resources for their basic needs, we have supported land and watershed development initiatives to help reduce the incidence of poverty.

Promoting Nutrition-Sensitive and Climate-Resilient Agricultural Practices

Mainstreaming climate change adaptation and mitigation measures into health and nutrition policies and interventions will help address the food and nutrition security for millions. Under the Tribal Development Fund of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), DA is promoting food security through the development of orchards and agroforestry.

The concern about climate change is pervasive because of the all-encompassing and multi-dimensional nature of climate impacts. Droughts, higher temperatures, flooding, rise in sea-level, heat waves, more intense storms and greater uncertainty in weather patterns translate into more widespread diseases, greater biodiversity loss, crop losses and system transformations which, in turn, imply major social and economic dislocations and threats to livelihoods of the poor. Development Alternatives supports the vulnerable by building capacities of community and local institutions to cope with these stresses in these high levels of scientific uncertainty and the constantly changing nature of global environmental problems. q

Chitrangna Dewan


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