A study of the effectiveness of nearly two decades of nature based and human-centered interventions exemplifying the Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approach.
Grappling with a changing climate and an uncertain future
Heerabai Kondhar has lived all her life in Purushwadi in the Akole block of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, India. Akole lies in the offshoots of the Sahyadri range among the Western Ghats; with heavy rainfall and mostly dense forest replete with rich biodiversity.
Heerabai’s family and her community belong to a tribe called Mahadeo Koli. Predominantly farmers, they also rear livestock as a much needed, supplementary source of income. Here agriculture depends on the rains, and despite receiving close to 1900 mm of rainfall annually, it is restricted to one cropping season during the Kharif. After the rains, water becomes scarce as the rainwater flows away due to the hilly terrain.
Purushwadi, like other villages in Akole, lacks essential amenities such as proper roads, communication networks or education facilities. Often when water sources run dry and there is no fodder left, almost all families, are forced to migrate.
Heerabai was worried about the uncertain future of her family in Purushwadi, till she learned about agro-biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, a part of the projects implemented by WOTR. One of a series of interventions that would change her life and those of her community, in the years to come.
How it began, understanding vulnerabilities and risks
WOTR began work in Purushwadi in the early 2000s. A community-driven, vulnerability assessment survey revealed unseasonal and irregular rainfall, many believed attributable to climate change. The consequences were grave; decline in agricultural production, reduced area for cultivation, fewer sources of fodder and shortage of drinking water. And worse, unseasonal rains destroyed standing crops causing loss of food and income.
WOTR implemented three projects in Purushwadi: Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), 2002-2007 followed by Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), 2009-2014 and the Water Stewardship Initiative (WSI), 2015-2017. All three projects included components integral to the Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approach. Using a holistic approach (Fig 1), several interventions were undertaken under each of the three projects.
Study to assess effectiveness
WOTR, India and TMG Research, Germany conducted case-studies to understand whether and to what extent these interventions achieved desired outcomes. These studies were a part of a project that seeks to understand the criteria and preconditions for EbA and upscale the interventions through participatory, multi – stakeholder dialogues at local and state levels. The objective of the Purushwadi case-study was to assess the social, ecological and institutional effectiveness of the CCA and WSI projects. The framework used in the assessments builds on three elements: EbA should improve i) communities’ adaptive capacities, ii) ecosystems and biodiversity, and iii) participatory governance (Fig 2).
Learning about the results
Did the interventions help people adapt to climate change?
Through the study we looked for evidence of the difference made to livelihoods, incomes and investments, as also the wellbeing of the people, especially with food security, and whether there was a change in the migration patterns.
We found an increase in income by about 40%, improved access to water along with a significant reduction in distress migration (none reported during the assessment). Now villagers commuted to nearby villages and towns, attracted by the increase of employment opportunities rather than being forced to leave. A young farmer, Kishan Kashinath Kondar, shared his experience of having learnt new techniques to grow and manage his crops, which resulted in an increase in variety and frequency. Like him, many others found a similar increase in overall agricultural productivity. They found enhanced production of food crops such as rice, pearl millet and pulses and an increase in cereal yields.
In addition to this boost in productivity, the innovative rural tourism initiative brought in substantial earnings from the hospitality services offered and the sale of local produce. All such additional sources of income added to their purchasing power, which allowed many to invest in consumables, farm machinery, and cross-bred cows to expand their capacity to earn more.
People had more food, of different varieties, available for a longer period of time. They added a diverse range of vegetables to their diets sourced from their farms, kitchen gardens or the market. Backyard gardens added to nutrition value as did growing indigenous crops. Villagers saved indigenous seeds for cultivation and for sale to tourists.
Did the interventions help improve the ecosystem and biodiversity of the area?
We found that it did help. Micro-irrigation and water budgeting made more water available. Rainwater harvesting increased ground water levels. Area and drainage line treatments helped conserve soil. Compost and organic fertilizers improved soil health and fertility. The area under plantation increased from 1 hectare in 2010 to 40 hectares in 2016, 18 of these created from barren lands. However, there was a decrease in the forest cover of 46 ha i.e. by 44% in Purushwadi due to the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (2006).
Another young farmer, Bharat Kondhar shared his experience of how learning to properly manage water helped them ensure judicious use of this precious resource. He explained that through water-budgeting, the village community learnt to take decisions like allocating 50% of water for agriculture, 10% for households and 5% for livestock, and so on.
In addition, there was an increase in the number of tree species from 8 to 35, most of which were grown on farm bunds. About 500 indigenous saplings were planted during 2010-2014. People found that these provided additional fodder for their livestock.
Locals also noticed a rise in the population of bird species like peafowl, langurs, wild boars and fireflies. However, the increase in wild boars and langurs is a cause for concern as they are known to destroy crops.
Did the interventions strengthen participatory governance?
The interventions followed a human centred design which meant community participation was a prerequisite for the success of any effort. Community members were encouraged to work together in committees for specific purposes. Several community-based organizations were created (Fig 3).
These helped promote more inclusive, transparent decision-making and collective action. The VDC, BMC, JFMC, and the Rural Tourism committee, in collaboration with local government organizations established rules for conserving natural resources.
The SHGs played a pivotal role in empowering women by giving them access to credit, disseminating knowledge on health, nutrition, village development activities and government schemes. The BMC worked to preserve indigenous varieties of seeds, maintained the People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) and planned and executed the biodiversity conservation activities.
Overall the local community found improvements on several fronts. Some of the committees have become dormant since the completion of the projects, however several of them such as the VDC, RTC, VWMTs and several SHGs are still quite active.
EbA as an effective adaptation strategy for climate change
Today the people of Purushwadi like Heerabai, Kishan and Bharat are able to build a better life for themselves and their families even under the threat of climate change. Their story is no better indicator of the potential of measures like EbA to improve lives and livelihoods for rural communities across India.
First published by WOTR on 1 Jun. 2021
In sharing this case study, the authors hope to demonstrate the potential of EbA to create a much needed change-for-the-better in the lives of marginalized rural communities in India.
Also read an account (translated from the original Marathi) of this transformation by Mahadu Chindhu Kondar, A teacher and guide of the same Purushwadi village – Every Drop Counts…